Local Travel Businesses Say Government is “Failing the Industry”

Local travel agents and tour operators are calling on the government to consult with them over the current travel restrictions, with many saying the government are “failing to understand the industry” and “forgetting the hard working people”

Local travel agents and tour operators are calling on the government to consult with them over the current travel restrictions, with many saying the government are “failing to understand the industry” and “forgetting the hard working people” who are left to pick up the pieces of shattered holiday dreams when, without consultation, the government makes snap decisions to put travel restrictions back in place, such as it did with Spain, the Balearics and Canary Islands.

Denise Logue of L&J World Travel said: “The realisation is that the government fail to understand the travel industry in general however what is most disappointing is that they have no interest in learning.

“I can’t think of another industry in which staff have worked tirelessly since the start of lockdown without any income. In fact throughout that time we have had to undo the previous 9-12 months work and refund cancelled holidays. That’s now almost 5 months.

“The furlough scheme is a prime example of how we are forgotten. While it has been a very welcomed scheme, we as an industry have struggled to juggle the benefit of keeping staff on the books however they have not been able to work to assist with servicing the 1000s of cancelled passengers. In most cases the business owners have had to deal with most of this single handed to maintain their business.

“Another very frustrating issue – the FCO advice to Spain changed without warning to ‘advising against all non essential travel’ . However anyone holidaying in Spain currently could continue their holiday? Also (and this has been a problem for months) airlines continue to fly daily from Belfast and other UK airports to Spain and Portugal! Particularly Barcelona – the area most affected!

“The position this leaves agents, tour operators and indeed the general public is that they can’t travel due to FCO advice however they are left with losing the cost of the flights as the airline continues to operate the service! The FCO advice does not match what is actually happening on the ground or indeed in the air. Too many grey areas and loose ends.

“We have seen superb schemes set up for other sectors such as the hospitality industry with the ‘Eat out to help out scheme’. Amazing and so sector specific helping restaurants get back on their feet.

“We have heard from the Government ‘book foreign travel with caution’.  We have seen from Saturday nights events the travel industry is not considered at all when decisions to shut down are made. When travel is stopped it is basically shut up and pay up ! We do not dispute if a holiday is cancelled the refund must be processed but we do need a safety net or at least support, clarity and communication form the Government to weather this storm.

“I believe it is time we had a voice – we are coming out of the summer with more and more uncertainty and low levels of consumer confidence! The furlough scheme will soon end and in the lowest cash flow time of the year for most agents and operators. There will certainly be trouble ahead unless we get the support we need specific to our industry.

“We really have had such a tough time and it’s about time that was recognised!”

Is it time for the travel industry in Northern Ireland to have its own voice, a body able to lobby the government on behalf of the industry here?

Hazel Simpson of Limavady Travel said: “I feel the Travel Industry has been forgotten by the Government during the current situation and there has been no one speaking on our behalf. It took 4 months for the Government to finally back the refund credit notes, and by this time the majority of customers wanted their money as they were concerned for the security of Travel Companies from the negative messages they received through the Media and their chosen “travel experts”.

“The effects of the recent announcement has in my opinion killed any short term confidence for travel.  We were beginning to see customers looking to book for late summer 2020 but the consequences of the recent quarantine for Spain and the mixed messages from the FCO has left customers unable to commit to any travel plans for this summer.”

Paul Gallagher of Downe Travel blasted the lack or transparency said: “I completely understand and agree that public health is a top priority but there has been a severe lack of transparency and communication from government over issues such as quarantine. Mixed messages have knocked customer confidence and it is now time for tailored support packages for the travel industry to avoid further job losses and financial failures and to give us a chance to rebuild this industry and flourish once again.”

Sandra Corkin, Oasis Travel said: “The damage that this is doing to customer confidence is devastating to the industry. It is clear that the government are not considering the effects of their actions. Just when we thought we were seeing a glimmer of recovery we are having to deal with further cancellation and there is little chance of any new business right now.”

Trevor Ardies of Rosetta Travel said: “Life as a travel agent in July 2020 took another beating this week. Just when we thought a degree of normality had been restored, top selling Spanish destinations were withdrawn due to the fast moving and often conflicting advice from Stormont & the Foreign Office. Even while a live TV interview was taking place on teatime news, the Foreign Office was doing the opposite of what the trade expected it to do, by adding the Balearics and the Canary Islands to the list of all but essential travel. The result was the cancellation of hundreds of Spanish holidays flying from Belfast for at least the next few weeks.

“The lack of consultation or notice, left us facing another wave of unexpected cancellations and many disappointed customers. Then we had to contact those currently abroad and explain they should prepare themselves for self isolation on their return. Most have been understanding although surprised at the lack of notice as we all are. Confidence in travel had been increasing steadily after the bans were lifted early July.

“We were making good progress with refunds from Tour operators. There was lots of hope, even seeing new routes appear for the autumn from Dublin to Santorini and Mykonos. The smiles of happy customers were returning, finding the right holiday at a great price, we were getting the buzz that makes our day so enjoyable.

“Customers were telling us they wanted the reassurance of booking a package through a local agent, knowing they will be looked after by a friendly face especially during uncertain times. I do believe those happier times will return, we just need the government to be more focussed on their travel advice and a tailored approach to the medium term requirements to aid the recovery of the travel industry.

“We all agree our health is paramount. We all want to get through this. Everyone has dreams and aspirations for their travel bucket list, and mine is filling quite rapidly. If our decision makers were more transparent with the statistics they say they have, that would help us all respect and understand their actions. Their silence only breeds speculation of whether they’ve made the right call or not. We and our customers require clarity and confidence for our industry to recover. The mixed messages from Government are not helping.”