Travel industry leader fears ‘more failures’ of firms in just weeks

More travel firms could go bust in just weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, the head of an industry body has warned.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer accused the Government of failing to provide “basic tools” to help consumer confidence as he expressed fears that the list of firms unable to survive will grow.

He said at least 20 travel companies with UK operations have collapsed since March.

“The summer was pretty much a washout and winter is not looking great,” he told the PA news agency.

“As the furlough scheme comes to an end – unless there is a replacement for that – the pressure on companies is going to increase.

“I am concerned that we may see some more failures over the coming weeks, which is tragic.”

Travel firms which have fallen into administration since the coronavirus outbreak include STA Travel, Specialist Leisure Group, which ran brands such as coach operator Shearings, and Cruise & Maritime Voyages.

Abta commissioned a survey of 2,000 consumers which indicated only 15% of people took a foreign holiday between February and July.

More than nine out of 10 respondents (93%) were concerned about potential last-minute changes to travel advice issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Speaking at Abta’s annual convention, which was held remotely due to the pandemic, Mr Tanzer acknowledged that the Government faces “a difficult balancing act” of trying to limit the spread of the virus while “keeping the economy moving”.

But he expressed frustration that more has not been done to help the travel industry.

“We’re more than six months into this crisis now, and the basic tools that would help build customer confidence to travel are still missing,” he claimed.

“We must now move away from the blanket Foreign Office advice and have a regionalised, targeted approach to both Foreign Office advice and quarantine.”

He added: “The virus does not travel on a passport so adopting a whole country approach to health measures makes no sense at all.”

People arriving in the UK from overseas are required to self-isolate for 14 days, unless they have travelled from a location with a so-called travel corridor.

But most recently, weekly updates have left the list of exempt locations smaller.

A policy of treating islands separately from their mainland countries was launched last month.

Mr Tanzer said travel corridors “may exist in theory, but if you actually look at where we can go, there are very few places”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted that the importance of the travel and tourism sectors is “appreciated and understood by everyone in Government”.

He told the convention: “It’s precisely because the travel industry is so important that we’ve supported it with unprecedented measures across the British economy.

“The furlough scheme… paid up to 80% of employees’ wages, with more than 55,000 staff benefiting within aviation alone.”

He went on: “We’ve been working flat out all summer to try to revive tourism and travel.

“We created those travel corridors, to give families the chance to enjoy a holiday after those months of lockdown.

“But from the very start, we’ve had to be cautious because as we know, new Covid spikes risk wider restrictions down the line and ultimately, even more pain for travel firms.”