FCO advice not to travel poses new challenge

Published 19/03/20

The change in FCO advice ruling out overseas travel from the UK on Tuesday prompted TMCs to formally switch on their ‘business continuity’ plans for clients.

With widespread flight cancellations and reduced rail services now the norm, many business travel providers are now involved in contingency planning, with special task forces taking on dedicated roles such as traveller repatriation and refund processing.

Having access to the latest health information, details of different government policies to address COVID-19, and news alerts has also become part of the everyday service.

For example, CWT and Egencia safety and security partner International SOS is providing a free resource and information portal where clients can get the most up-to-date picture.

On its website BCD Travel offered travellers a country-by-country update of restrictions and bans, TAG has stepped up support available through its emergency contact service TAG24, and ATPI is pushing clients to sign up for its real-time alerts.

It also has rolled-out plans to protect its own business – should ATPI staff globally fall victim to the virus or have to self-isolate, client queries are being automatically directed to in-country homeworkers.

Travellers are being asked to check with their airline to see if flights are still operating if they are returning to the UK. TMCs also have comprehensive medical resources outlining guidance on quarantine, virus symptoms, and potential high-risk groups.

ABTA said the change in FCO advice put the spotlight on the viability of many travel businesses going forward, and called for a change in the package travel regulations.

Mark Tanzer, ABTA’s Chief Executive, said: “The UK Government has advised against all but essential travel for 30 days. People’s health must be the number one priority but consideration needs to be had for the immense damage being done to UK travel businesses which are facing a crisis of unprecedented scale.

“Travel businesses are working around the clock to manage arrangements for customers, including repatriation, and have been trying to provide alternative arrangements for those with imminent departures but this has now become impossible as the virus has spread. Travel agents and tour operators are also facing a huge drop in future bookings.

“ABTA is calling for urgent action by the Government to help businesses in the short-term by making funds readily available to travel and tourism companies and to make temporary changes to existing package travel regulation with immediate effect.

“The existing financial protection structures and regulations were not designed to cope with a large-scale collapse of businesses.”