Travel firms call on NI Executive to ‘pay out grants they promised’

Co Armagh travel agents have been at the forefront of calls for more help for an industry which is one of the most badly hit during the pandemic.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 2:25 pm

Top local firm Terra Travel, who have offices in Portadown, Lurgan and Craigavon, have taken a lead role in uniting the industry and lobbying for help.

Last week, June 23, saw travel groups from across NI attend Parliament Buildings in Stormont to lobby.

Damien Murphy of Terra Travel founded ANITA, Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents in April 2020 and is currently chairman. It organised the NI Day of Action.

Damian Murphy (front right), chair of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents), and representatives from the travel trade  met with MLAs including (from left) Mike Nesbitt (UUP), Sinead McLaughlin (SDLP), Caoimhe Archibald (Sinn Fein) and Stewart Dickson (Alliance) at Stormont to lobby for the payment of support grants promised to travel agents back in March 2021 and the reopening of international travel.
Damian Murphy (front right), chair of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents), and representatives from the travel trade met with MLAs including (from left) Mike Nesbitt (UUP), Sinead McLaughlin (SDLP), Caoimhe Archibald (Sinn Fein) and Stewart Dickson (Alliance) at Stormont to lobby for the payment of support grants promised to travel agents back in March 2021 and the reopening of international travel.

Mr Murphy described the last 16 months as ‘the toughest in the industry’s history’ during which revenue fell by on average 93%.

“We were unable to fully utilse furlough as we needed staff in work to help process refunds and to help our customers re-plan their travel arrangements. The pandemic was something no-one could have forseen or could have known how long it would continue.

“So, for our clients, it has been a stressful and frustrating time as well.

“Travel is not just about going on holidays. It is so much more, visiting relatives and friends, trips for medical reasons, important business trips most of which have not been able to happen. We have had to reduce staff numbers and cut our costs to the absolute minimum in order just to survive.

“We want to be clear that we know the number one priority the world over is to protect and save lives and to get the level of this Pandemic as close to nil as is possible so our day of action was for two reasons.

“Firstly, to ask the government to re-start travel in a cautious and risk-managed way. The one thing they have done throughout the pandemic is to keep data to themselves and not reveal what level we need to be at for travel to re-start. The Global task-force was set up to plan a travel re-start safely and the government said they would follow whatever was set out. They have gone back on their word already (the recent Portugal fiasco proved this).

“However we do know that re-starting travel is difficult just right now (although the rest of Europe are making much better progress than us).

“So secondly we are calling on our NI Executive for a tailored support package for our industry. In mid March of this year we were awarded a small but very welcome grant. We are still waiting on that to be paid.

“We are now calling on the NI Executive to pay what they promised now. We are asking for further support to see us through the rest of the year and help retain the highly skilled jobs needed to fully run our businesses.

“We are a robust and resilient industry and most of us will find ways to keep our business going - so we are really fighting to keep as many jobs as possible alive.

We hope as this year progresses travel will begin to return to normal- the vaccine passport should play an important role here and as we progress into 2022 we hope the pandemic will fade and people can once again travel.” freely.”

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