The Travel Association (ABTA) says the travel industry has had no opportunity to recover since the start of the pandemic, as new figures1 reveal that despite the opening of travel corridors – 9 in 10 (91%) holidays in July and August were changed or cancelled due to restrictions.
The lack of an opportunity to recover means that in the current trading conditions businesses expect bookings from October to the end of the year to be 93% down compared to the same time last year. Even before the latest lockdown, redundancies are estimated to have almost doubled over a three-month period – with 164,000 people either losing their jobs or having their jobs at risk in the travel and wider industries, up from 90,0002 in August 2020.
The new findings are from a survey of ABTA Members carried out at the end of October before the latest lockdown measures were announced. They also reveal that a third of businesses (36%) have not yet resumed active operations since the UK-wide national lockdown – demonstrating the constraints on the sector.
ABTA has renewed its calls to Government to deliver a plan which provides tailored support for the industry and put measures in place to ensure a swift return to travel and boost consumer confidence after the lockdown has lifted. It acknowledges that while positive developments this week, in terms of securing a vaccine, will go some way to restoring consumer confidence in booking future travel plans, travel businesses need help now. It highlights that while other sectors – like hospitality, culture and the arts – have received specific support from the Government, travel businesses have been left wanting.
ABTA argues Government policy has stood in the way of a recovery. Under Government measures sectors like school travel and cruise are closed altogether, while others are barely able to operate as the destinations which were open through travel corridors, have only been so for short periods of time due to last minute policy changes. Some sectors, such as winter sports and long-haul travel, have no open destinations.
Having a strong travel and tourism sector will be important for the UK’s economic recovery with travellers contributing more than £65bn annually in GVA while generating spending of more than £85bn in the domestic economy3 pre-COVID-19. ABTA also says the strength and speed of recovery will be intricately linked to the UK’s connectivity, domestically and internationally, and the ability of UK businesses to access the global trade links that the travel industry underpins.
It is also important for the UK’s imports and exports, as significant volumes of goods are imported and exported in passenger planes – with UK regions more dependent on passenger aircraft to transport goods. COVID-19 has not only drastically curtailed tourism and passenger movements, but also disrupted freight flows. The Government needs to support the industry so that these goods routes are preserved and ready for the recovery.
While this year has been dire for the industry, ABTA’s findings show the demand for travel remains and green shoots are appearing in bookings for next year. Members report taking 45% of the bookings for summer 2021 they would have expected to have taken at this point in the booking cycle, which, although far behind normal, is an improvement on the near-term bookings.
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association said:
“The travel industry has had no meaningful chance to recover – bookings have largely vanished, cancellations are common as destinations move on and off the travel corridor list and the Government is yet to deliver a testing framework for industry and customers. The results are stark for businesses – job losses mounting at an alarming rate and viable, longstanding businesses closing their doors for good.
“But there is demand for travel and we are starting to see people booking for summer 2021 – demonstrating the importance of travel and resilience of the market. This will no doubt be boosted by the news of a vaccine, but we must remember that a robust vaccine programme is many months away and the industry is struggling now.
“It is short-sighted of the Government to overlook the industry as travel is fundamental to the UK’s economic recovery. Our Members’ customers pay the airfares which fund the passenger planes and routes – underpinning the UK’s connectivity and imports and exports. We need the Government to step in and support the industry now – as it has done for other sectors – so that the industry is ready to support the UK’s wider economic recovery. Without action the Government risks jeopardising the speed to which the UK’s economy can come back from the pandemic.”
ABTA is calling on the Government to:
- Provide tailored financial support for travel businesses, including renewed grant support for SMEs and those who were excluded from previous support measures, as well as salary support which is flexible enough to allow staff to process refunds whilst in receipt of support.
- Introduce a testing regime without delay and lead international coordination of testing with the aim of removing quarantine. Opening more destinations to the UK traveller and reducing quarantine to as short as possible for arrivals and returns to the UK.
- Fully regionalise the UK’s quarantine policy and approach to FCDO Foreign Travel Advice. This would mirror the approach already adopted domestically and in other countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, allowing a more targeted assessment of risk and the reopening of important trading routes with partners such as the US.
1ABTA’s new figures are based on a survey of ABTA Members, carried out 23- 30 October 2020, prior to the latest lockdown announcement.
3ONS Travel Trends (2019), ABTA/CEBR Driving Growth: The Economic Value of Outbound Travel (2019).
ABTA has been a trusted travel brand for 70 years. Our purpose is to help our Members to grow their businesses successfully and sustainably, and to help their customers travel with confidence.
The ABTA brand stands for support, protection and expertise. This means consumers have confidence in ABTA and a strong trust in ABTA Members. These qualities are core to us as they ensure that holidaymakers remain confident in the holiday products that they buy from our Members.
We help our Members and their customers navigate through today’s changing travel landscape by raising standards in the industry; offering schemes of financial protection; providing an independent complaints resolution service should something go wrong; giving guidance on issues from sustainability to health and safety and by presenting a united voice to government to ensure the industry and the public get a fair deal.
ABTA has more than 4,300 travel brands in Membership, providing a wide range of leisure and business travel services, with a combined annual UK turnover of £39 billion. For more details about what we do, what being an ABTA Member means and how we help the British public travel with confidence visit www.abta.com.