Airport Angels, providing Meet & Assist services at UK airports sits among so many sectors of the Travel & Tourism industry which puts us in a prime place to look at how Covid is impacting on these.

We meet passengers from flights, so aviation is the key component of our business, we meet business travellers and VIP clients whose bookings often come from Travel Agencies, DMC’s, taxi and chauffeur companies and Tour Operators. Our services extend to providing check-in services on behalf of Tour Operators, Cruise companies and School Travel Operators, many of these involve connections with the coach industry. We are dependent on the success of all these sectors who are currently fighting for the government to throw them a lifeline during their greatest crisis in history.

Not only are we linked to all of the above, but the main volume of our work comes from Language Schools, Guardianship Companies, Boarding Schools and Universities who, like the travel industry sectors have been left behind with little mention of the massive impact Covid_19 has had on their businesses and the associations that endorse them. To date 33 Language Schools that we are aware of have ceased trading, all of these destroyed by the worldwide travel restrictions imposed by the virus.

We absolutely understand the desperate need for preventing the horrific number of Covid deaths and cases in the UK especially those rules that have been put in place in response to new emerging variants of the virus, it could not be more important to us, but recent media negativity surrounding travel and new border rulings are decimating our industry. We as an industry, all the components that contribute to Travel & Tourism many of them small businesses as well as large organisations are at the heart of the following;

  • As a nation, tourism is worth in the region of £17.5 billion annually to the UK economy which not only creates and supports jobs to the tune of around 275,000 but boosts economic growth across the nation.
  • Overseas visitors made 40 million visits to the UK in 2019
  • There were 93 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2019
  • Overseas visitors spent £28 billion on visits to the UK in 2019

Close to our heart is the ELT sector – English Language teaching which tends to be largely invisible to the public unless they come across large groups of teenage summer students in their hometowns! ELT is a huge and incredibly significant industry, bringing in 650,000+ international students a year.

The current restrictions which should have been put in place last year are not only slowly killing the desire to fly but are making life increasingly difficult for the international students attending UK Independent schools and universities.  44,300 students were set to start their studies at our universities in 2020, a 9% increase on 2019, this shows the underlying strength of our higher education system and yet the work that is going into enabling them to jump through hoops to get here is not recognised, we know, we are providing many Meet & Greet services at Heathrow for them. They are facing barriers with their visa processing, restrictions on travel due to limited flights and increased prices.

On the 5th January we were put into lockdown again in the UK and schools were closed. How often have you heard from the media about parents overseas who had sent their children back to school 2 or 3 days prior to this to then faced the challenge of the school closing and having to get them home.

This is an example of emails we were exchanging with parents.

The boys flew back to school in the UK last Monday 6 hours after the Prime Minister said it was safe to do so and arrived 3 hours before he announced all schools were closing… Tough week. 

They will be travelling on their Diplomatic Passports and have all sorts of extra documents and authorisations with them to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. They hold Covid 19 negative tests results too, so I cannot think of anything that could go wrong but we really must put them on this flight, they have been stranded far from home for a week now.

We spent days reassuring parents, assisting with these young children who required Covid tests to get home. The schools and guardianship companies working round the clock again to either get these youngsters home or arrange host families for them in the UK after only a few days before going through the red tape to get them back to school! This involved so many sectors of our industry from airlines to taxi companies and the airport services we provide. At this time parents needed reassurance that their children had all the correct documentation and someone to remain with them until boarding the aircraft whilst keeping them updated throughout.

As a link in the huge chain of these business it is so difficult to measure the number of people that are involved in providing each step for every trip, excursion, flight, transfer, ground operation, holiday, tour, study trip and the list goes on. Without the Travel Industry doing what it does best the world’s busiest global industry is on its knees, the first industry to be impacted and will be the last to recover. There have been no sector specific grants, funding and now not even sight of a pathway forward. In fact, during a key booking time the government are discouraging travel in the summer of 2021, word is out there that any kind of normal will not be seen in the travel industry until 2022.

We have seen so much support for Hospitality, businesses that have been required to close and recently saw that the government has stated that sexual entertainment venues and hostess bars are specifically eligible for Local Restriction Support Grants…. Tour operators, destination management companies, coach operators, language schools, event organisers, airport services such as ourselves are just a few from our sector which are not listed as businesses eligible for support. Hospitality benefits from tourism, those 93 million visitors to the UK are spending in restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions yet still this connection seems to have been lost somewhere, we bring them in, without travel and tourism their profits would plummet.

All of us in the travel industry are intricately connected yet independent in what we do but we are part of a huge family. Travel people are more often in the industry for life, I started in a travel agency at the age of 16 and 36 years on proudly have my own business which relates to virtually all parts of the industry. Seeing the groups that have been formed on social media to personally support our industry professionals is heart-breaking, so many of them are seeing their life in travel cut short by the huge number of job losses or businesses that have been financially destroyed, it is soul destroying.

The UK is cutting business off by effectively blocking the desire to travel for everyone. The government is not prioritising Travel & Tourism enough to find a solution to the current situation, understandably the end goal is the same for us all, we want to eradicate this cruel virus but taking businesses with it too should not be in the plan. It is now 12 months since our industry began to be affected, we have no tailored financial support, no clear roadmap forward and long-standing businesses are collapsing under the financial pressure.

Why is the fastest growing sector who bring so much to the UK’s economy being side-lined by the government? Why have we been fighting to be heard for 12 months?

The Travel industry is an industry that the world cannot afford to be so broken.