SPAA president ‘confident’ travel rules will ease

The president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) expects international travel rules to be eased when ministers review the much-criticised traffic light system this month.

The outcome of the review is due on October 1 and reports suggest the traffic light system will be replaced with a two-tier regime based on the vaccination status of travellers.

Speaking ahead of the SPAA’s centenary dinner on Thursday (September 9), Joanne Dooey said: “I do think there will be changes to the restrictions that are in place for green countries. I am confident that more things will happen.

“Hopefully, we’ll scrap the traffic light system, because it’s not worked at all.

“It has been a barrier, and people are just not confident in booking to go anywhere that’s amber in case it goes red.”

Dooey told the Travel Weekly webcast that politicians have made it “very clear” that they are not going to give travel any sector support despite the end of furlough on September 30.

Her speech at the SPAA dinner will continue “hammering home” the travel agency sector’s message that government support is needed and the traffic light system must be scrapped.

“We need to get back to opening up international travel,” she said, highlighting how Scotland had been particularly badly hit by the requirement for testing to be done by just one company.

“It’s time for us, as an industry, to say right: enough’s enough. We need to start travelling.”

Dooey – who is also the owner of Love to Travel – said her agencies have seen a “massive swing” with more enquiries and pent-up demand – but the barriers to travel still need to come down.

“Let us open up again, and green should be green for go. If you are double-jabbed, and it’s a green country, you shouldn’t have to do that [testing],” she said.

She said the three-week cycle of announcements about traffic lights causes a surge in bookings then people hold back as they don’t want to risk having to quarantine on their return.

Furthermore, Scottish agents “got nothing” from the summer season and schoolchildren returned to classes earlier than in England.

Now the trade is hoping to see better sales for October half-term and even November as some parents are prepared to take their children out of school, said Dooey.

“There is pent-up demand. We’ve got a big market for the US and people are desperate – lots of homeowners that are desperate to get out to their own houses in America that they have not been to for nearly two years,” she told the webcast – but highlighted how cashflow remains a problem as agents don’t get paid until customers travel.

She said the SPAA has shared details of a survey of members with MPs and MSPs which was “heartbreaking” to read.

Agents have had to use money from pensions, savings and inheritances to keep afloat but now face paying back loans.

“We hvae now got this big monkey on our shoulder of debt that we didn’t have previously,” she said.

“I totally understand why there’s a lot of agents who have decided enough’s enough on the high street [saying] ‘I’m going to go and do it from home’.

“I know of people who have been in the industry a long time, [they] know that furlough is coming to an end and have now jumped ship and went to work in other industries.”

Despite the problems facing Scottish agencies, she agreed there is an air of excitement as people travel to the SPAA dinner.

“100 years is a big one to celebrate. We are looking forward to seeing a lot of people that we’ve not seen for 18 months,” she said.

“It feels as if we are getting some sort of normality back into the industry.

“Over the 100 years, our objectives haven’t changed; we still try to be the voice of Scotland, for the travel industry.

“We have built really good relationships. Moving forward, we will have a better year.”

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