The travel sector has called for further financial support in the wake of new lockdown restrictions across the UK, but there are signs of optimism ahead of the key summer season.
Prime minister Boris Johnson last night returned England to the tightest restrictions seen since March, following a similar move in Scotland.
Travel is expected to be all but banned until mid-February, with dire consequences for the hospitality sector.
An ABTA spokesperson explained: “It’s right, of course, that the government takes steps to control the spread of the virus.
But this needs to come with the right measures to support travel businesses that have little or no means of operating.
For ten months now, many travel businesses have been unable to generate the income – putting jobs and businesses at risk – and the latest government measures mean this is unlikely to change soon.
Yet, unlike other sectors such as hospitality, there has not been any tailored financial support from the UK government to get travel businesses through the crisis.
“Other countries, including France and Italy, have established targeted schemes in recognition of the unique challenges facing travel.
“Similar recognition and support are long overdue from Westminster, and we urge ministers to address this gap urgently.”
The calls from ABTA were at least partially answered earlier, with the government unveiling £4.6 billion in one of the grants to keep businesses going until the spring.
However, there was also a call for further testing.
The ABTA spokesperson added: “To protect people here and abroad, testing is essential.
“With vaccinations and testing the way forward to fight this deadly virus, easily accessible cost-effective or free testing is key.
“Testing is too expensive at the moment.
“Tests before travel are required now before UK travelers go to most countries.
“Return tests will also help to protect people.
“When people can travel, free or extremely low-priced tests before or after travel need to be made accessible in the community, rather than having to rely on, in what feels like, in many cases, overpriced private testing.
“With only a small number of testing services on the test to release program, many of the services were overwhelmed when the quarantined test and release scheme launched at the beginning of December.
“Access to tests needs to be increased and to be free or no more than £30 each, a much more affordable price.”
Emma Coulthurst from the holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket said some optimism remained in the market.
She explained: “It is positive to hear from the government that it hopes that the most vulnerable including people over 70 will have received the vaccination by mid-February.
“This gives more hope to people being able to safely travel in the future.
“People want to escape and have new, sunny experiences when they can – we see that, with price comparison searches and bookings via TravelSupermarket for package holidays from April onwards and is most popular for June and July at the moment.
“People are looking forward to returning to the beaches in their favorite spots on the Mediterranean, with Turkey, Spain, and Greece currently proving the favored destinations for summer 2021.”
In response to the latest government announcement Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said the new lockdown would delay any nascent recovery in the sector.
She commented: “The announcement of a third lockdown will certainly delay recovery for an industry which has significantly suffered at the hands of Covid-19.
“We had seen some green shoots in terms of bookings for this year and whilst the next three months will be incredibly hard for travel agents, we remain hopeful that the anecdotal feedback indicates some pent-up demand which we hope will translate to a bounce-back for the industry post-Easter.
“We are a resilient industry, and we know the British public will want to travel as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“What is important is they have the confidence to make bookings at a time of terrible uncertainty.
“The effective rollout of the vaccine is critical to the resumption of normal life and if this happens on schedule, we could see confidence start to slowly return.
“For consumers wishing to lay plans for a brighter future once safe to do, our travel agents will be able to advise them every step of the way from navigating country protocols and testing requirements to advising on changes to travel in Europe due to Brexit.”