A travel agent who says the leisure and tourism industry has had enough of coronavirus restrictions is joining others from across the country in a planned mass protest outside Westminster next week.

Marina Marsh, who runs The Holiday Shop in Livesey Branch Road, Blackburn, said travel agents and others working in the sector are in desperate need of targeted support.

The 45-year-old, who has worked in the industry for more than two decades, said: "The Government has allowed us to re-open our businesses, yet only allowed us to claim the minimum restart grant, even though we cannot sell international travel and Government ministers have been telling customers not to book holidays.

"Hairdressers, salons, non-essential retail, they were all allowed to re-open in April as were we, as we are classed as a retail business, and while they have been able to take advantage of being busy, making back money they lost while closed, we have not been able to sell any holidays.

"We're at breaking point.

"I know hairdressers who have received £8,000 in grants and all we got was £2,600."

Ms Marsh said the traffic light system for foreign destinations implemented by the Government was a 'farce', as no sooner were people allowed to book holidays to Portugal - which were put on the green list - was the country downgraded to amber three weeks later.

She said: "It's a farce. Travel businesses only earn their money when a customer actually travels.

"Some 95 per cent of holidays have been cancelled and refunded in the last 16 months, including the travel company’s earnings.

"Travel companies were unable to make use of the furlough scheme at the start of lockdown as staff had to work to process cancellations and refunds.

"The repeated changes to the destinations that customers could go to has created a massive additional workload for the travel industry and all with no income to cover the expenses.

"This is why I, along with my staff, will be joining employees and businesses from across the aviation and travel industries – airlines, airports, tour operators, travel agents, suppliers and partners – to raise awareness of the challenges facing the travel industry, and to ask the Government to provide targeted support to the sector.

"We will be joining a protest at Parliament on Wednesday June 23, and hope that as many people as possible can attend.

"If we don't get the support we need, there's no future for independent businesses like mine - it's heartbreaking to think about what could happen.

"We are trying to get our local MPs on board too and I have been in contact with Kate Hollern about the situation.

"There's 64million people in this country – we can't all go on staycations as there's not enough room, and we all know some places are hiking up their prices making it unaffordable for a lot of people.

"We desperately need help."

The protest is calling on the Government to:

  • Extend the furlough scheme until May 2022 for travel agencies
  • Allow furloughed staff to work to process refunds, cancellations and amendments (that do not earn the travel agency any money)
  • Backdate qualification for travel agencies to receive the higher level of Restart Grant Awarded to hospitality businesses
  • Make a one off payment of 10 per cent of 2019 revenue to all travel agencies including self employed home workers regardless of whether they are registered as self employed/partnership/ limited company
  • Make one off grants to company directors and others excluded from support under the Self Employed Income Support Scheme
  • Write-off the Government loans to travel agencies

MP for Blackburn, Kate Hollern said: "The leisure and tourism industry has been one of the most affected during the pandemic – and continues to face an uncertain future.

"Whilst holidays may not be considered essential travel those working in this industry still have families to support and bills to pay.

"As the Government knowingly delayed placing India on the red list, leading to the Delta variant not only entering the UK but spreading quickly, the Government must take responsibility for the current situation and give support for those businesses who – through no fault of their own – are now affected and facing potential disaster.

"I shall be raising this matter with the Business Secretary and others."