Kate McWilliams, Managing Director, at LOTUS: 

Today I will be participating in the Travel Day of Action.

I am taking part to show solidarity with my travel industry colleagues – many of whom have gone 15 months without any income or targeted support.

The travel industry I know and love is one where we come together regularly. In fact, my two last travel events before lockdown took place on the same night; one celebrating travel sector achievements at the TravMedia Awards 2020 at the QE11 Centre, followed by a parliamentary reception for the Latin American travel industry just across the road at the House of Commons.

None of us would have known then that the next time we would come together would be at a lobby event 15 months later, and five years to the day since the EU referendum when the UK voted to leave the European Union. The Travel Day of Action takes us back to Westminster but this time to illustrate the challenges that the industry has faced over this 15-month period.

Today I will be joining the Latin American Travel Association (LATA), a trade organisation that has 360+ members and supports travel to and around Latin America. With practically all of Latin America on the UK government’s red list, travel to the continent has more or less ground to a halt with LATA members reporting an average of 85% loss in revenue compared to pre-pandemic levels.

At LOTUS, I also represent a number of overseas tourism boards; countries that rely heavily on British tourism as a significant part of their GDP. Some of the destinations I work with have infection rates well below those in the UK, with impressive vaccination progress. Following the announcement of the traffic light system in early May, proposed by the government as a ‘safe way to resume international travel’, these destinations jumped into action. Based on Portugal’s example as one of the only mainstream tourism destinations on the green list, destinations quickly made provisions for the safe return of British guests. This hope was short-lived and Portugal being moved from green to amber after just three weeks caught many holidaymakers by surprise and left thousands of UK tourists scrambling to get home before new quarantine rules came into force. Confidence came crashing down as we returned to the chaotic travel roulette of summer 2020.

Whilst travel could be seen as a luxury, over 3.8 million people in the UK rely on tourism for their livelihoods. In addition, new data published this week by our client, battleface, revealed the extent to which families have been kept apart due to these travel restrictions. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said that they are planning to travel abroad in 2021 or 2022 for family reasons and on average, they had not seen those family members for 15 months. Two-fifths have not seen their family members abroad for over 19 months, rising to 54% amongst the 55+ age group.

Today, I support the industry in calling for transparency on the criteria that is being applied as the basis to these travel restrictions. I support the sector in asking the government for travel to return in a safe and risk-managed way by expanding the green list in line with the epidemiological data and making the restrictions more proportionate especially given our vaccination progress in line with the rest of Europe. I support the extension of the furlough scheme for the travel sector, recognising that the travel industry’s ability to trade and generate income is slower than first anticipated.

I am also participating today to celebrate our industry and its resilience and to toast the incredible hard work and ingenuity that our sector has demonstrated over the last 15 months.