The government’s long-awaited confirmation that Refund Credit Notes are financially protected may have come too late for some travel firms, says Aito executive director Martyn Sumners

I am not sure whether to laugh or cry as I write, having heard that finally common sense has prevailed, and Refund Credit Notes have at last been underwritten by the government. Perhaps we should have a travel industry clap for them this Thursday at 20.00 hours to show our appreciation?

To add insult to injury, Which? is claiming the credit for this action. Fortunately, we all know differently – trade associations such as Aito and Abta have been championing the cause for last four months.

Is it however just a panic reaction to the fact that Shearings and Fleetway have failed and that Funway has declared it is no longer financially viable to continue to run a tour operation? Is it too little, too late? It certainly could be touch and go for many.

Our industry could be compared to the pandemic itself, split into four groups of patients. We have some operators and agents that have symptoms of being unwell. The second group are getting gradually worse by the day and in need of hospitalisation. Next are those on life support and finally there are those that are terminal.

It’s very sad that we have been put into this situation by a government that has chosen not to listen and does not understand – or perhaps does not want to understand – our industry, which contributes so much to the economy.

They seem to think the industry revolves around half a dozen large tour operators and airlines, which could not be further from the truth; it is the small and medium sized specialist companies that are the lifeblood of the UK travel industry.

It has been said many times that this is an inexperienced government. That may be; however, if Sir Alan Sugar had this cohort of apprentices, he would have sacked them all in one go without hesitation. Having people in positions of power when they don’t understand business – and haven’t even worked in one – is a sure recipe for disaster. It’s been one error after another.

Quarantine was poorly thought-through and a complete farce and ruined any chance of the travel industry having some kind of summer season. The number of destinations actually available from both sides – UK and host country – was relatively small, not surprisingly based on the UK’s track record of infection. Once again, too little too late.

The assumption by the powers that be that we have a tap that will immediately turn on bookings is laughable, too.  Organising flights/other forms of transport, checking accommodation availability and then finding out if the key people in the transaction process – our clients – are keen to book and to pay their final balances after months of uncertainty on every front does not happen overnight; it will take weeks.  And there is also the question of Covid insurance cover to consider.

The financial assistance schemes, although welcome, have merely been basic antibiotics, designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution, and were only a temporary pain killer.  We have been left to our own devices to find a way to create our own vaccine.

In the meantime, let’s hope that lobbying from the industry bodies continues to gather pace in the form of work by the Aito and Abta teams and that further appropriate levels of financial support are forthcoming, without many more companies moving into the terminal category.