As summer begins the UK’s travel and tourism sectors face a critical moment.
Before the pandemic hit, our industry was a cornerstone of the UK economy. As the third most internationally connected country in the world, we enabled tens of millions of UK residents to travel overseas, whether on business, for holidays, or to see families and friends, generating over £53bn in domestic spending, and also catered for the 41 million tourists, travellers and business people arriving on our shores, spending £28.4bn in our world-class cities and attractions.
It can be this way again. However, the pandemic has been a catastrophe for our industry, closing borders, and even making most travel to and from the UK illegal for months on end. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, and many more remain at risk. London, the world’s number one most connected city in 2019, saw an 88% decline in connectivity between April 2019 and April 2021. The UK as a whole has fallen to number twenty in IATA’s rankings from being the fifth best connected country in 2019.
Today, as the wider domestic economy reopens, and edges closer to normality from 21st June, the UK travel and tourism sectors remain essentially closed, mired in uncertainty and deeply concerned for our future.
The Traffic Light System launched by Government has failed to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel as promised. Rather than promote safe travel where possible, the Government instead seems determined to stop people travelling and is ignoring the very risk-based system they established.
Crucially, other countries are forging ahead with pragmatic, risk based, schemes that allow safe travel including most recently Germany, France and Spain. The UK is falling behind other nations in its travel restart plans and risks becoming an outlier, undermining our Global Britain aspirations.
The Health Secretary has said that we cannot expect a return to international travel in the “medium term” because of the need to protect domestic freedoms “at all costs”. Those costs will be disproportionately met by those employed in the travel and tourism sectors, who feel increasingly abandoned. Without a meaningful summer season – a crucial period of the year for our businesses – many thousands of livelihoods are at stake, as well as the ability of our sector to recover and reconnect the UK to the world.
Travel Day of Action
On 23rd June employees and businesses from across the aviation and travel industries – airlines, airports, tour operators, travel agents, suppliers and partners – are coming together to raise awareness of the challenges facing the travel industry, and to ask the UK Government reinstate a risk-managed approach around a safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period and to think again about financial support offered to the sector.
We are calling on the UK Government to:
- Allow international travel to return safely and in a risk managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic-light system, by expanding the Green list in line with the evidence and making restrictions more proportionate, whilst keeping a strong red list to guard against variants.
- Bring forward a package of tailored financial support, including extension of furlough support, recognising that the travel sector’s ability to trade and generate income is much slower than first anticipated and more gradual than for businesses in the domestic economy.
Organisers and supporters of the cross-industry day of action include ABTA, Airlines UK, the Airport Operators Association, BAR UK, UKinbound, the Business Travel Association, IATA, Advantage Travel Partnership and the wider industry under the umbrella Save Future Travel Coalition, alongside unions GMB, Unite, BALPA and Prospect.
Backing the travel industry now will help to position us to ensure we can act as a driving force in the long-term economic recovery of the UK.