The Coach Tourism Association has warned that 40,000 jobs could be at risk from the Covid-19 pandemic and called for a change to rules which currently prevent operators from claiming the same state aid as other businesses in the leisure sector.

The CTA said its members generate an estimated £6 billion a year for the economy, and issued its warning following the collapse of Shearings owner Specialist Leisure Group on Friday.

The Guardian reported calls from CTA chairman John Wales for coach operators to be reclassified as part of the leisure industry, allowing them to access the same state fiscal aid as restaurants, hotels and pubs.

Wales said: “The key action we are looking for from government is to recognise coach tour operators as leisure businesses. We are aware that many of our coach operator members are being denied support that is being made available to other tourism businesses in terms of rates relief, which is crazy; our members’ whole business is about tourism and leisure.”

He added: “Coach operators are understandably aggrieved when they see billionaire airline owners go cap in hand for support from the government, when the largely family-owned coach tour sector delivering holidays for millions of customers is unrecognised and unsupported.”

Shearings owner SLG failed on Friday with more than 64,000 forward bookings, the majority of which were coach holidays.

Chief executive Richard Calvert said: “The effects of Covid-19 on our 117-year old company and the wider travel industry have been devastating.

“In the most trying of circumstances, over these past few months, we have fought tooth and nail to save the Group and the jobs of our 2,400 loyal employees serving over 1.1 million customers annually.

“It is heart-breaking that the required funding or investment could not be secured to get us through this unprecedented crisis in order to save SLG and our amazing travel brands.”

Earlier in the month, David Urquhart Travel announced plans to wind up its coach tour operation and focus on its beach, cruise and city break package business as a result of the coronavirus crisis.