Westminster View: Travel agents are in dire need of UK Government help to survive - Neale Hanvey MP
In his memoirs Hans Christian Andersen said, “To travel is to live”, and as we discovered over the last year, the reverse is also true. Our lives have been placed on an indefinite hiatus as the global pandemic changed all we took for granted, and beyond the dreadful loss of life, little has been more affected than our ability to travel.
Frustrating as this is for travellers, what about the folk who earn a living from travel? Well, I raised this point in Westminster last week.
During a debate on support for the aviation, travel and tourism industries, I told the story of Bruce Lamond, the owner of Travel Your World in Kirkcaldy. Throughout the pandemic, Bruce and his team have continued to work full time. Due to the nature of that work, he can’t furlough staff and must pay full wages. But with zero commission earned for rescheduling holidays, it brings no income and no means to generate any income.
The travel industry has been badly let down, no more so than travel agents. As Bruce tells me, they’re now being kicked while down. In part it’s because the traffic-light travel system introduced by the UK Government is in chaos. Instead of providing clarity, the system has only added to the confusion.
We have countries designated ‘green’ (safe) while senior politicians tell people not to go on holiday. Those that do go face rapid changes in status, such as with Portugal last week. This is undermining public confidence in travel. Don’t get me wrong, managing our borders and travel effectively are vitally important, but such decisions have consequences that ripple through the industry.
And that is putting massive pressure on travel agents. As the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) told me, travel agents are at the end of their tether. Many have depleted their savings, re-mortgaged their homes and emptied pension pots. They simply cannot survive another summer without proper financial support.
That was my ask from the UK Government last week. In fact, ABTA – the travel association – has organised a travel day of action for 23 June to push for ‘a package of tailored financial support’.
Without that support, we could witness the end of the local travel agent and yet more empty units on our high streets. Travel agents are the engine that powers the travel industry and by withholding support from them the UK Government risks stalling the recovery of travel.