Taking stock of the crisis so far and planning for the future
It is now 11 weeks since the Foreign Office introduced its advice against all but essential travel and since then it has been difficult to guess when circumstances would allow the industry to start on the road to recovery. The narrative has had many twists and turns, shifting at pace from travel advice changing to repatriation, cancellations and refunds, to quarantine and air bridges. Sadly, much loved businesses have meanwhile fallen by the wayside and thousands of colleagues have lost their jobs or been placed on furlough.
This week’s talk of air bridges being created gives hope to many Members that they will indeed be able to start selling for the summer season. This will depend on a number of factors which is why ABTA has been asking the Government for a strategic approach, as any plans for air bridges will need to tie into FCO advice so that travellers can take advantage of the new freedoms.
ABTA has represented the industry at every level within Government departments to ask for the support our industry needs, and we have had success lobbying for the extension to the furlough scheme. To promote industry-wide recovery, ABTA has recently joined the ‘Future Aviation Group’, a new parliamentary caucus led by Henry Smith MP, which aims to promote the interests of travel, tourism and aviation.
The Group has contacted the Secretary of State for Transport listing urgent questions about the lack of dedicated support for travel and aviation and plans to hold a swift inquiry into what support is necessary and provide a holistic roadmap for recovery.
The financial and employment support the Government has offered to date has been important, but the economic recovery of our sector will depend on a more targeted approach. The Group will be a powerful route to working together and getting this message across to convince policy makers this is the case. One of the remaining issues that we will continue to raise is the need to ensure the travel insurance industry makes adequate cover available to travellers.
ABTA continues to work with our Members to resolve customer enquiries and complaints regarding refunds, and we now taken more than 7,500 calls since the Covid crisis began. The two areas where ABTA acts are in the very small number of cases where a Member refuses to engage with a customer or refuses to acknowledge the customer’s right to a refund. ABTA’s intervention has resulted in Members changing their policies to secure customers’ rights, which is ultimately in both parties’ interests.
The consequences of the measures used to control the pandemic have clearly not been limited to businesses and today ABTA is raising awareness of a disturbing impact that it has had on people’s mental health within the industry. Following Mental Health Awareness Week, ABTA’s poll in Travel Gossip has revealed evidence of colleagues fearing for their jobs, struggling to adapt to new ways of working and being victims of abuse. As with travel colleagues that require help when times are hard, ABTA Lifeline is here to help, and I would like to encourage anyone in need of support to get in touch.
Resources have been stretched to the limit with Members working incredibly hard to support customers and employees as much as possible. It clearly continues to be a difficult time, and we are looking at how we can kick start confidence when the time is right. The equity in the ABTA brand will be an important part of this; in times of crisis people turn to trusted sources and the Association will have a pivotal role to play not only in restarting travel but also encouraging people to book and enjoy their holidays.
ABTA has recently reached out to Members to survey opinion on its lobbying work, communications and next steps to understand your priority areas for support and guidance. Continuing themes include lobbying for financial support, engaging with the Government on travel restrictions, chargebacks and rebuilding consumer confidence. Thank you to everyone that responded as we will use this information to shape our work in the important weeks to come.
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive