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Travel industry at a ‘standstill’ as Scots hold back on bookings amid Covid concerns

Shoppers browsing holiday deals in Dundee city centre this week.
Shoppers browsing holiday deals in Dundee city centre this week.

Travel industry chiefs claim bookings for holidays are at a “standstill” as Scots hold back on making plans for 2022 amid Covid-19 concerns.

Many travel agents have historically looked for a boost in the period between Christmas and New Year as sales on trips abroad are launched.

But the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) says uncertainty over what the rules will be means customers are few and far between so far.

It comes as high street retailers across Tayside and Fife are reporting a drop in footfall this year.

‘No Christmas bonus for travel sector’

Joanne Dooey, president of SPAA, said: “There’s no Christmas bonus for the travel sector this December.

“There is no post-holiday spike for Scottish travel agents, as holidaymakers’ confidence in travel has been shattered over the last 20 months.

“This will push travel agents who have fought tirelessly for almost two years to save their businesses to the edge.

“In 2021, travel agencies were operating at just 22% of their previous annual revenue compared to pre-Covid yet their fixed costs remained the same.

Fewer people are said to be planning overseas trips.

“Many of our members tell us they were operating at 10% or less of previous years.”

While local firms are also reporting seeing fewer customers compared to previous years, some are choosing to remain optimistic.

John Stewart, from Hays Travel in Dundee, told The Courier: “We have been kept busy this week booking customers to the Canaries over New Year and early January, as they want to celebrate with less restrictions and enjoy some winter sunshine.

“Yes, footfall is down compared to previous years for this period of time.

John Stewart (second from left) with staff outside the Hays Travel branch in Dundee.

“But as we return from the New Year break, January is our busiest month of the year for summer holiday bookings, and early indications from enquiries are that everyone is needing something to look forward to.”

SPAA is calling for action from Holyrood to ensure that the sector can operate in 2022.

Ms Dooley added: “We need a structured plan to be drawn up by the Scottish Government in full consultation with all aspects of the travel industry, which supports the future of Scottish travel rather than allowing it to wither and die.

“A viable plan would include winter resilience grants to keep travel businesses open and their staff in jobs.

Quiet Dundee city centre streets on Boxing Day.

“The return of some form of furlough scheme to give income support to the sector is also vital.

“Travel agents cannot simply close down as they need to remain open to continue to help their customers.

“Rates relief to all high street travel agencies ought to be extended.

“Agencies also require help with loan payments as they now face the repayments on the bank loans they took out at the outset of the pandemic after 20 months of negative income.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are all too aware of the impact that coronavirus has had – and continues to have – on business and the Scottish economy.

“The emergence of the new Omicron variant and the speed at which it is spreading brings even more economic uncertainty.

‘Action taken to support businesses’

“That is why the actions we have taken so far, including extending non-domestic rates relief which is helping travel agents get back on their feet, are firmly focused on supporting businesses, protecting jobs and mitigating the continuing impact of Covid on our wider economy.

“The Scottish Government is acutely aware of the financial implications for many businesses and we are working at pace with business sectors and industry to develop targeted financial support for businesses that will be impacted by the restrictions, including those required to close.

“Businesses need the scale of financial support available earlier in the pandemic such as furlough which can only come from the UK Government, who has borrowing powers the Scottish Government does not.”

The UK Government says travel restrictions are a matter for Holyrood.

UK international flights down 71% from pre-virus levels

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