John Barr, of Stelar Travel, insists businesses like his have been largely ignored by those in power and received little or no financial support amid the coronavirus crisis.
A severe lack of customers and a dearth of destinations to offer to potential holiday-makers, caused by Holyrood-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine rules, have left John with no choice but to rely on his hard-earned savings, and place his only other member of staff on furlough just to stay afloat.
He believes the absence of a “nuanced policy” for firms in the travel trade has left the industry facing its toughest ever challenge.
With 37 years of experience to his name, he doesn’t mean it lightly when he says some “may not survive” unless the government changes its approach.
The announcement of £40 million of further support for the hospitality industry, coupled with the limited help travel agencies have been offered, has further exasperated him.
John, who set up Stelar Travel in Main Street in 2018, said: “Outgoing travel is worth £1.7 billion each year to the economy and the industry sustains over 26,000 jobs.
“The Scottish travel trade has largely been thrown under the bus. There are so many agencies and companies out there that may not survive because they haven’t been properly looked after.
“Some companies fall between two stools for all the grants, and didn’t need any financial support until June or July. We were alright because we were in a local authority which was very forthcoming and easy to deal with.
“Only in the last two or three weeks has the government started dialogue with the travel trade. All they need to do is be more nuanced and think about the whole of the Scottish economy.
“Since lockdown we’ve had no business and nobody to sell to. If you book a holiday in January and the balance is due in July, until you pay it and we pass it on to the operator, we make no money.
“Any refunds going back to clients are full refunds.”
John echoed calls made by the Scottish travel trade body, ABTA, for the Scottish Government to take on board a five-point list of recommendations in a bid to address the situation.
These are: regional quarantines; the introduction of testing at airports; a review of the Job Support Scheme; offering grants to SMEs that missed out on previous support; and Air Passenger Duty relief for summer 2021 to boost demand for travel.
The issue of credit and debit card fees is also a source of concern.
John explained: “As of January 2019, we are not allowed to charge a client a fee for accepting their payment by credit or debit card even though we are still charged a fee for doing so.
“It is now illegal for us to do it but not for the merchandising companies and the banks. Any profit made is depleted by around 1.5 per cent for a credit card payment and 0.5 per cent for a debit card payment.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the First Minister has made absolutely clear, we do not underestimate the devastating impact this pandemic has had on Scotland’s tourism sector – but we are at a critical point, the virus is rising again, we face the risk of exponential growth and everyone must play their part in stopping its spread in Scotland.
“As part of this, we must limit social interaction and that is why we are asking people not to book travel overseas if it is not essential.”