Aberdeen International Airport bosses say the travel sector faces a “critical moment” this summer – amid concerns over the future of the industry.
Employers and businesses from across the aviation and travel industries – airlines, airports, tour operators, travel agents and suppliers – will join forces today to put pressure on the Scottish and UK governments to support a safe return to travel.
Protests will be take place outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, the House of Commons in London and in Belfast as part of a national Day of Action.
Mark Beveridge, operations director at Aberdeen International Airport, said: “As summer begins the UK’s travel and tourism sectors face a critical moment.
“Before the pandemic hit, our industry was a cornerstone of the UK economy.
“Today, as the wider domestic economy reopens, and edges closer to normality, the UK travel and tourism sectors remain essentially closed, mired in uncertainty and deeply concerned for our future.
“The traffic light system launched by government has failed to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel as promised.
“Rather than promote safe travel where possible, the government instead seems determined to stop people travelling and is ignoring the very risk-based system they established.
“Backing the travel industry now will help to position us to ensure we can act as a driving force in the long-term economic recovery of the UK.”
‘Long journey to go’
Aberdeen International Aiport has remained open throughout the pandemic to support reduced schedules that consist of lifeline routes to the Highlands and Islands, air ambulance flights and for key workers in the energy sector.
The north-east travel hub welcomed 2.9 million passengers in 2019 but this dropped to just over one million in 2020.
In the year up to May 2021, around just 290,000 passengers visited the airport.
Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Liam Kerr, who visited airport bosses on Monday, said it was “encouraging to see the great work the airport has done to protect its future”.
He added: “But there is still a long journey to go and the Scottish Government has yet to give any clarity on long-term plans to aid the recovery of airports like Aberdeen.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the SNP government fail to fully engage with all areas of the transport sector and impose discrepancies which have a detrimental impact on passengers.”
Representatives from the travel sector are putting pressure on the Scottish and UK Governments to support a safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period.
It follows a decision by the UK Government to move Portugal from the ‘green list’ to ‘amber’ earlier this month, with those returning to the UK having to isolate for 10 days on their arrival.
Among their key asks are an expansion of the ‘green list’ in line with data and making restrictions “more proportionate”, while keeping a “strong red list” to guard against variants.
The sector would also like to see governments bring forward a package of tailored financial support, including the extension of furlough support.
‘Jobs and livelihoods at risk’
Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said the government’s “overly cautious approach” to reopening travel has “real world consequences for the 1.6 million jobs in the UK aviation and tourism industries.
She added: “Unless the Government makes a meaningful restart of aviation possible by extending the green list at the next review, moving to rapid and affordable tests for returning travellers and following the examples of the EU and the US by reducing restrictions on fully vaccinated passengers, aviation and travel are in for an extremely difficult summer.
“If the government decides it cannot reopen travel more meaningfully, then they should stand ready to give substantial financial compensation to airports and others in aviation and tourism.
“Jobs and livelihoods in businesses across the economy that need air connectivity for their success are at risk. The Government cannot afford to let those go.”
‘Wide-ranging’ measures to support sector
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not underestimate the significant impact the pandemic continues to have on the tourism sector, both outbound and inbound.
“International travel restrictions are important in limiting the importation of further cases of the virus, in particular new variants, which could undermine the rollout of our vaccine programme.
“Wide-ranging measures have been put in place to help the sector. Scotland is offering the most comprehensive non-domestic rates relief in the UK for retail, hospitality and aviation and this includes travel agents.
“We were the first country in the UK to extend 100% non-domestic rates relief into 2021-22.
“The Business Minister also met the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association and ABTA on Tuesday to hear directly the sector’s concerns and consider options.
“The financial challenges facing the travel agents’ sector cannot be resolved by the Scottish Government alone: a UK-wide solution is necessary in order to mitigate the financial challenges. We have written to the UK Minister for Business and Industry seeking a dialogue on this issue.”