Agents and operators have 27,000 staff on furlough ahead of scheme end

The Travel Network Group has made a ‘last-ditch plea’ for sector support after government figures show that 26,800 travel agents and tour operator staff were still on furlough on July 31.

The government figures, released on Friday (September 10), show that agencies and tour operators have the second highest rates of furloughed staff, after the aviation sector.

Officially called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, it ends on September 30, with many in the travel sector warning of widespread job losses.

Gary Lewis, chief executive of TTNG – which represents more than 1,200 travel businesses, said: “The travel sector is of huge importance to the economy but has been consistently overlooked by the government throughout the pandemic.”

He said outbound travel contributes £37.1 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy and sustains 221,000 UK jobs – a larger number than the British steel industry.

“Where is the support for the businesses that are at risk and the jobs of 26,800 people?” he asked.

“The government has said that they have provided the tourism, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors with billions of pounds-worth of funding, but tour operators and travel agents do not fall under these categories so have not benefitted.

“Because the travel industry works on a commission basis, many travel businesses don’t earn a penny until a traveller sets off on their trip, so future bookings have not helped companies with cashflow problems after 18 months of little or no revenue.

“With the furlough scheme coming to an end, travel business owners are now in an even more difficult position than last September.

“We estimate over 70% of these business owners to be women, and it’s vital that help is provided for the hard-working families and local workers that make up the travel industry, some of whom have worked in these businesses for decades.

“To enable these people to keep their businesses afloat and support their families, the government needs to urgently look at providing dedicated grants to travel businesses, which will allow them to survive until the time when people are travelling as frequently and freely as pre-2020 levels.

“If no support is forthcoming in the next three weeks, then the travel industry will be irreversibly changed.”

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