Via Luke Petherbridge
The Scottish travel industry breathed a sigh of relief when the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce (a Scottish government-led taskforce reacting to the effects of Covid-19) announced a proposal that included measures to “facilitate international travel” and “appropriate compensation packages where evidence-based restrictions are required,” It appeared, after nine long months, that the cries of our industry had finally been heard.
Yet over a month ago (October 23) this proposal was released and we have yet to hear of any action to restore international connectivity, nor any support for the many Scottish travel agents, tour operators or business travel providers who have seen their business decimated.
The first to be infected by the coronavirus was our industry. The pandemic devastated international travel and left an avalanche of cancellations facing travel agents and tour operators that wiped out much of their projected revenue for 2020. The situation is even worse for travel agents who collect fees based on the departures of their clients, as they must not only refund this year’s projected income, but also bookings from the year before. The new ABTA member survey reveals that more than nine out of ten trips were cancelled this summer, and revenues are predicted to be 93 percent lower in the last three months of this year than in the same timeframe in 2019.
Yet, unlike similarly impacted sectors like hospitality, we have seen no targeted assistance from either Holyrood or Westminster. This is especially disappointing considering the tremendous contribution of nearly £ 2 billion per year of foreign travel to the Scottish economy, even if the broader benefits it brings to closely related sectors of the economy, such as airport staff and caterers supplying airlines, are taken into account. Across Scotland, the industry employs nearly 30,000 people.
It is urgent that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes explain that the subsidies given to companies forced to close their doors to trade in Level 4 areas will be extended to travel agents. It is also important to make targeted financial support available to tour operators and the broader travel industry, such as in the form of regeneration grants. In order to provide non-essential travel, the Scottish Government also needs to step away from the recommendation that has been in effect for several months, which has worsened the crisis facing companies in the sector.
Public health security is paramount, which is why, since the beginning of the pandemic, ABTA has called for the development of a test plan as a defensive measure against a vaccine. An significant move forward is the announcement in England of a “test to release” scheme, and we encourage ministers to implement a similar scheme in Scotland.
ABTA market research reveals that when returning to Scotland, 81 percent of Scottish citizens are either moderately or highly worried about having to quarantine. Reducing the time needed for self-isolation would help inspire individuals to travel again.
This will balance public health with the recovery of a sector that is vital to the economy of Scotland.
There is a demand for travel again among the Scots and it is possible to allow travel to be resumed in a safe way, to effectively minimize the safety of travelers and the risk of bringing the virus on return – but to get the test completed, we need the Scottish Government to work with industry. The Scottish economy’s recovery will be intertwined with that of the travel industry. That’s because the health of the travel industry is largely dependent on international connectivity and trade. Passenger aircraft, for instance, help transport Scottish products around the world.
Unless the travel industry is helped by the recession, the overall economic growth will slow down. The present situation is clearly unsustainable, and the “adequate compensation packages” promised are now overdue.
Luke Petherbridge is the public relations chief at ABTA.