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Travel workers demand clarity in Covid rules

Travel sector workers protest at the parliament (pic: Terry Murden)

Travel industry workers are hoping there will be a relaxation of the quarantine rules to open up more holiday hotspots for vaccinated passengers.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will update MPs on the traffic light system this afternoon and any changes are expected to be followed by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But European holidays face further hurdles after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested all EU countries should make British travellers quarantine on arrival to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

A day of action took place across the UK on Thursday, including about 250 travel agents, pilots and others in the sector who staged a demonstration outside the Scottish parliament claiming inconsistency in the travel bans.

They called for greater clarity in Covid restrictions and more help for those facing a collapse of their businesses.

They said a plan for a safe return to international travel and a low cost, easy-to-access testing regime were urgently needed.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had been invited to meet them but she did not attend.

Pilots joined the protest at the parliament (pic: Terry Murden)

One travel agent from Portobello, addressing the protestors, asked if there were any members of the government present. When there was no reply he pointed at the building and said: “They should open the windows and maybe then they’ll hear us.”

One woman, also a travel agency owner, said she had been forced to take a second job in Marks & Spencer as the compensation from government was not sufficient.

Earlier, in a statement, Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association which organised the rally, said they wanted the First Minister “to explain why, despite a world-beating vaccination programme and easily accessible, albeit expensive testing, we’re further behind at opening up travel than we were 12 months ago when we had no rapid testing and no vaccination.”

Joanne Dooey: ‘come and meet us’

The SPAA published a survey showing 96% of Scots who have travelled overseas since March 2020 have felt the Covid measures taken made them feel very or fairly safe. Just 4% of overseas travellers felt ‘not very safe’; with no travellers reporting that they ‘did not feel safe at all’. 

Ms Dooey said: “Our survey of ordinary Scots shows that almost two-thirds of Scots feel devastated, disappointed, confused or upset at the current travel restrictions and more than half (57%) would travel overseas within the next 12 months if they were able – with 17% of all surveyed saying they would be willing to travel in the next 3 months or sooner.

“We want the Scottish government to show us their data, to trust the vaccine and to make testing more affordable.”

Today’s demonstration was part of a UK wide Travel Day of Action.

Glasgow Airport was among those to use vehicles and staff to send out a clear call for “help”. The airport has lost a third of its workforce across the 100 + companies that make up the campus (6,000 down to 4000). 

Protest at Glasgow Airport

“Today Glasgow Airport will welcome approximately 3,000 people mostly travelling on domestic routes. During the same day in 2019 it would welcome over 34,000,” it said in a statement.

The SPAA is also lobbying for robust and accessible testing which doesn’t cost more than in other countries such as England.

The survey noted that the biggest barrier to travel for Scots is the potential to have to quarantine on return to Scotland (39%) or potentially having to quarantine on arrival in their destination (36%). One in five Scots thinks the cost of COVID tests in the UK is a big barrier to overseas travel.  

The protest raised concerns over policy (pic: Terry Murden)

“The travel sector will be out in force to keep up pressure on the Scottish Government for support for travel agents during this disastrous ordeal for our whole industry.

“We’ve challenged The First Minister to come and meet us so we can explain why we feel that our businesses and the wonderful people we employ seem to be being sacrificed,” said Ms Doeey.

Today’s group included travel agents who have had to remain open since March 2020 to handle refunds, cancellation and rebookings which means they have been unable to take the advantage from the furlough scheme which others have managed.

“As we don’t receive income until a traveller departs – even if they originally paid us for their travel – we’re operating on negative income from refunds.

“We’ve used up our life savings, dipped into our pensions, remortgaged our houses, taken out business loans and taken second jobs. The Scottish government keeps telling us that we’ve had support in the form of rates relief but this doesn’t pay for salaries, rent, bills and loan repayments.

“The sectoral support fund didn’t support all agents and was given to us to support us until March 2021. Fresh air isn’t sustaining us, or Scotland’s future connectivity.” 

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, added: “By constantly lurching in and out of policy, they’ve created huge confusion and inflicted even more economic pain on the travel industry and our customers with no real regard for the consequences. 

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“This is no idle warning – the UK travel industry is at risk. The ongoing financial distress, uncertainty, cancellations and industry-wide job losses are taking their toll in more than just a professional capacity.

“I have daily conversations with colleagues, peers and business owners whose mental health has rapidly deteriorated as a result of the situation our industry finds itself in.

“I have listened to stories of depression, marriage break ups, financial ruin and people who genuinely feel like they can’t go on because of the stress and worry they face day in, day out. Colleagues across our industry are suffering enormously because of the uncertainty they face.”



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