COVID-19: Industry update

by Laura Gelder

1 million travel jobs lost every day, says WTTC

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) says that one million jobs are being lost every day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the London-based international organisation, which represents the global travel and tourism private sector, the growing job losses are affecting every level of the industry and are gathering pace, as countries go into lockdown to tackle the virus.

WTTC says the vast closure of hotels, suspension of flights and cruises and growing global travel bans are having a catastrophic ‘domino effect’ hitting huge numbers of suppliers. It says small and medium sized businesses in the sector, such as tour operators, travel agents and sole-traders, are especially vulnerable.

An analysis of WTTC's members, who represent every level of the sector, shows that up to 50 million jobs throughout the world are at immediate risk, with up to 320 million jobs being impacted by loss of business.

Midcounties Co-Op agents to be re-deployed

Agents from Co-operative Travel’s branches are being temporarily re-deployed to other divisions of Midcounties Co-operative’s portfolio of businesses, mainly Co-operative Food.

Co-operative Travel, which has 57 branches across England, will temporarily close its high street agencies to customers. A number of the branches will be turned into virtual call centres or administration centres, enabling the company to continue to look after customer enquiries and bookings over email, phone and social media.

Said Alistair Rowland, Chief Retail Officer for Midcounties: “Our Travel division is suffering along with the rest of the travel industry but the teams in our food business are extremely busy right now. It therefore makes sense for us, where the locations match up, to temporarily move our Co-operative Travel team members to our Co-operative Food branches.”

“This move will help to protect our Travel colleagues’ job and finances at this challenging time, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver the high levels of service to our Travel members and customers, albeit by telephone and technology in the short-term.”

Ssaid Natalie Turner, Head of Branches for Co-operative Travel: “When the time is right, Co-operative Travel will re-open all branches, backed by the biggest media launch in the company’s history. Midcounties Co-operative has plans to really drive the Co-op Holidays brand, put travel at the heart of its member reward programme and dramatically increase its digital capability.

Global Travel Group to postpone 2020 conference

Global Travel Group has announced it will be postponing its 2020 conference as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

Cherie Richards, Commercial Director at Global Travel Group, said: “Our conference has always been an opportunity for our members to network, learn and share best practice. However, these truly are extraordinary circumstances and the safety and wellbeing of our agent members, staff and partners continues to be the number one priority.

“Due to the escalation of the Covid-19 outbreak and after consultation with our members and the wider dnata Travel group, we will be postponing our conference until further notice.”

The conference was due to take place at Caesars Bluewaters Hotel in Dubai from 7 – 11 May 2020.

Global Travel Group will share details of the rescheduled conference when confirmed at a later date.


Advantage launches ‘The Advantage Update’ video message

The Advantage Update, a new video message designed to bring together the travel industry, was launched today by the consortium of independent agents.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, Advantage Travel Partnership’s CEO, presented the first introductory message yesterday which will be followed by a daily update from her and other members of the Advantage team.

'Designed to distil the most relevant news of the day for members and anyone working in the travel industry in a digestible, friendly and reassuring context', The Advantage Update will be delivered on all of Advantage’s social media channels at 6pm every evening, including Facebook.

Julia Lo Bue-Said commented: “COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges for those working in the travel industry both on a professional and personal level.  We are bombarded by a consistently evolving situation and distressing news bulletins which cause information overload and stress.  The aim of the Advantage Update is to share the most relevant, new developments affecting the industry in a clear and concise way and provide advice on all aspects of the business whilst helping to keep our industry connected and forge a sense of community.”

Yesterday’s message is here.


ABTA responds to chancellor's announcement

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: “This evening’s announcement by the Chancellor is a positive statement of intent, we will need the Government to follow-through on its commitment to 'do whatever it takes'to support struggling UK travel businesses. 

"We also need to see some of the measures announced today, such as the government-backed loan scheme, made immediately available to travel businesses, and further clarity on how businesses will be able to access these loans.

"It is also essential the Government acts immediately by making temporary changes to existing package travel regulations.  The existing financial protection structures and processes designed to protect UK consumers were not designed to cope with the demands that are currently being placed on them."


Government promises 350 billion to struggling economy

The cash promised to those struggling due to coronavirus includes £330bn in loans, a business rates holidays, grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses and  three-month mortgage holidays for those struggling.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said:  "That means any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms."


ABTA response to latest FCO advise

Mark Tanzer, ABTA’s Chief Executive said: “The UK Government has advised against all but essential travel for 30 days. People’s health must be the number one priority but consideration needs to be had for the immense damage being done to UK travel businesses which are facing a crisis of unprecedented scale.

“Travel businesses are working around the clock to manage arrangements for customers, including repatriation, and have been trying to provide alternative arrangements for those with imminent departures but this has now become impossible as the virus has spread. Travel agents and tour operators are also facing a huge drop in future bookings.

“ABTA is calling for urgent action by the Government to help businesses in the short-term by making funds readily available to travel and tourism companies and to make temporary changes to existing package travel regulation with immediate effect. The existing financial protection structures and regulations were not designed to cope with a large-scale collapse of businesses.

“Without these reasonable steps, we risk healthy travel businesses going bankrupt, tens of thousands of job losses across the country and customers losing millions of pounds.


Brits to avoid all non-essential foreign travel

British nationals should avoid all non-essential foreign travel to tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, speaking in the House of Commons today (March 17)  advised that travel restrictions will be in place for 30 days initially but could be extended.


ABTA calls for support for travel industry

ABTA has issued a statement calling for urgent support from the government to help travel businesses through the coronavirus crisis.

Without this support, the Association believes that ‘perfectly viable and normally successful UK travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people are at risk of going bankrupt’.

Mark Tanzer, ABTA’s Chief Executive said: “The evolving coronavirus situation is causing immense damage to UK travel businesses. I am calling for urgent action today by the government to make money available to travel and tourism companies and to make temporary changes to existing package travel regulation. Without this action, we risk healthy travel businesses going bankrupt, thousands of job losses across the country and customers losing money.”

The association is calling for temporary changes to the UK Package Travel Regulations at European and UK government level, with immediate effect.

The changes ABTA is asking for are: that tour operators should not be responsible for providing refunds if these costs are not covered by the suppliers (e.g. the hotel or airline); that where those suppliers cannot or will not refund there is an emergency government consumer hardship fund to fulfil refund payments; that the 14 day window in the Regulations for refund payments should be removed; that refund credits should be allowed as an acceptable alternative to cash refunds, with all protections carried forward as part of the refund credit.

It is also calling for: Urgent action to enable the provision to all sizes of business of loans that the Chancellor and Bank of England announced last week with the access mechanisms for these loans made clear; suspension of Air Passenger Duty, the saving of which to be passed onto the consumer to help the sector to recover at the earliest opportunity; immediate deferment of HMRC payments for a period of six months in order to support cash flow.


Budget response to COVID-19

The government’s budget, released just before the World Health Organisation officially declared a coronavirus pandemic, includes measures to support businesses affected by the outbreak.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday has pledged £30 billion to boost the economy and get the country through the international health crisis.

New measures include statutory sick pay for those advised to self-isolate, even if they have not had symptoms. Self-employed workers who are not eligible will be able to claim contributory Employment Support Allowance and the benefit will be available from day one, not after a week as has been the rule.

Firms with fewer than 250 staff will be refunded for sick pay payments for two weeks and small firms will be able to access ‘business interruption’ loans of up to £1.2m.

Business rates in England will be abolished for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a rateable value below £51,000.

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