A united front came together for a “Travel Day of Action” — but it'll take an extremely loud voice to convince policy makers to fast forward the proposed July 19 reopening date and pry open wallets for more cash handouts.
All bases are covered, as UK travel agents, operators, airports, pilots and industry associations protested on Wednesday, pleading for the government to speed up the opening of borders for international travel and boost financial aid packages.
Events took place in Edinburgh, Belfast and London, where the capital saw hundreds of people protest on College Green, opposite Westminster, for a “Travel Day of Action.”
UK body The Travel Association, which represents agents and tour operators, estimates 195,000 travel jobs have either been lost during the pandemic or are at risk. It wants to put pressure on prime minister Boris Johnson to accelerate the UK’s reopening in time for the peak summer season — but that time is running out, with one airline boss saying next month’s easing of travel restrictions would be “too little too late.”
It urged protesters to remember the maximum number of people who can be at the event at any one time is 400, and said there were two time slots for people to register.
Corporate travel is being represented by the UK’s Business Travel Association, which on Friday said the UK lost £3.18 billion in gross domestic product for the second week of June, due to the decline of business travel trips. That number was down 68 percent (or 366,018 trips) compared to the same week in 2019.
Revenue for Focus Travel Partnership partners shrunk by 84 percent over the duration of the pandemic, with ticket sales falling by 75 percent.
As well as outbound travel, the UK inbound market continues to suffer, according to the European Tourism Association, which is also supporting the Travel Day of Action. “Some 520,000 jobs depend on overseas leisure visitors to the UK,” said CEO Tom Jenkins. “The UK inbound tourism market was due to generate $42 billion in 2020, only 20 percent materialised.”
Jobs at Risk
One of the key drivers behind the action is that travel agencies weren’t able to take full advantage of the government’s furlough scheme in the early phase of the pandemic, as employees were kept on to deal with repatriations, and then to manage refunding customers on a scale never seen before.
At the same time tickets weren’t being sold, prompting a wider debate on commercial models. In the future, more corporate travel agencies could charge subscriptions, rather than relying on transaction fees. Some travel management companies also pay suppliers up front, later invoicing their customers, which proved to be another downfall during the pandemic.
The Travel Association has called for a package of tailored financial support, including extension of furlough support, and wants the government to recognize the travel sector’s ability to trade and generate income is much slower than first anticipated.
A range of business leaders are participating on June 23, including Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director of Global Travel Collection UK, who attended the London event.
“The current Travel Taskforce model appears illogical – we were assured a system based on science, yet we are placed in a situation where the scientific data and the traffic light placements do not align,” he said. “We continue to be denied insight into this logic and our survival as an industry hangs in line.”
The world’s biggest corporate travel agency, American Express Global Business Travel, has also lent its support. “With the successful roll out of a national vaccination programme and the technology already in place via the NHS app, there is no reason why the UK cannot act,” said Jason Geall, its senior vice president and regional general manager, EMEA. “Every day the Government fails to act, we risk falling even further behind the EU, which is beginning to safely resume travel with its key trading partners. The hundreds of thousands of UK jobs dependent on the travel industry, and the wider economic recovery, cannot afford to wait.”
Pilots are also contributing to the lobbying effort. “The government has to decide if this summer it will make or break the UK travel industry,” said Brian Strutton, acting general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association.
North of the border, the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association organized protests. “We are all passionate about working in the travel industry and today we want to #speakupfortravel and show our support,” it wrote on Twitter.
Manchester Airports Group also coordinated its response across its locations in London, East Midlands and Manchester.
“This week’s Day of Action has the full support of our entire global network of advisors,” added Mike Batt, chairman of parent company Internova Travel Group, with leaders of its Belfast and Edinburgh divisions attending the gatherings on those cities.
The lobbying comes after the UK’s aviation minister failed to turn up at a Travel Association online event on Tuesday. Robert Courts MP was due to speak at Abta Travel Matters, during its “Recovery of UK aviation and travel” panel, but he reportedly cancelled at the last minute due to a “diary clash.”
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Photo credit: The travel industry gathered at Westminster in London to protest on June 23. Jason Clampet / Skift