Agents have called for the government to find a way to financially support owners of small independent travel agencies who classify themselves as directors.

Kate Harris, of Inspired Travel, explained how she is paid as a director through dividends and PAYE, “so I’ve had no money”, and that she had no success applying for Universal Credit or furloughing herself because of the way her company is structured.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, she said: “Somebody needs to look at the income for directors in the travel industry. I think when people mention the word director they see fat cats and nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s soul-destroying for small business owners. Staff are earning more money than you when they’re furloughed and I’m coming in taking all the flack on a day-to-day basis.”

She added: “It doesn’t just affect me. My staff have come in and sobbed because they feel so guilty because they can’t come in and help when they’re getting income and I don’t have a brass farthing. That’s not their fault, that’s something the government has created and allowed to happen.”

Harris also called on the government to look again at grants, business rate holidays and government-backed loans for small businesses in the industry, adding that the measures given at the start of the crisis “don’t pay mortgages, don’t pay electric bills, and don’t pay phone bills forever”.

“They just need to understand that we’re grafters,” she said. “We have worked through all of this and we now need a bit of help.

“I don’t know whether its fortunately or unfortunately, I used all my savings and bought my shop in February. I’d saved for years, rented for years, and signed for it three weeks before this [Covid-19] happened,” she said as she made her case for industry-specific support.

Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haslemere Travel, said a suite of measure from the government was needed for the industry.

She said: “We need a robust package from the government that says they recognise the difficulties of the travel industry, ‘we don’t know how it’s going to play out over the next six, nine, 12 months, we have to make these decisions at very short notice with immediate effect’. Which we would all understand. ‘But because we need to do this, we will offer you this support’.

She said the government should look at helping travel agencies on business rates, grants, furlough, credit card charges or directorships. “It needs to encompass everything because while we all do the same thing we are probably impacted slightly differently in terms of how we’re set up,” she said.

“It needs to be easy to access. Those of us who have been non-stop working since mid-March are exhausted.”