| 7.8°C Belfast

Northern Ireland travel agent pleads for financial help from Stormont after Omicron wipes out bookings


Colum McLornan, owner of Friendship Travel

Colum McLornan, owner of Friendship Travel

Colum McLornan, owner of Friendship Travel

A travel agent has said his industry needs dedicated support from the Department for the Economy as it bears the brunt of new restrictions on travellers from the UK.

Since last week, the rise in infections of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the UK has been prompting some European countries to close their borders to travellers from the UK.

That has thrown the Christmas holiday plans of many UK residents into chaos, with plans for city breaks and ski trips abandoned.

Colum McLornan, the owner of Friendship Travel, which specialises in holidays for single people, said: “Everyone is on tenterhooks to see which country will be the latest to ‘ban’ UK arrivals.

“France started and then Germany and Holland have followed.

“We had 10 guests due to go skiing in France for Christmas last weekend and they were all cancelled.

“My team is trying their best to deal with client queries for guests due to travel to other destinations over Christmas.

“Consumer confidence in travel has been dented by the new variant and the changing travel advice, plus the extra costs of testing. New bookings have stopped completely.

“It’s a very worrying time for the travel industry and we ask the Department of the Economy to offer our sector dedicated support in the coming days.”

The Department for the Economy has been asked for comment.

Mr McLornan who is also co-owner of the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle, was among travel representatives who took part in a virtual meeting with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday.

Speaking afterwards, Sir Jeffrey said that Finance Minister Conor Murphy should now ensure additional funds from Westminster were circulated around industries including travel which had been hit by the spread of Omicron.

The Lagan Valley MP, who has since tested positive for coronavirus, said: “Our outbound travel providers have been utterly decimated by the pandemic.

"The introduction of further restrictions upon UK travellers has resulted in these businesses being officially open, but effectively closed. 

"The sector cannot simply continue to endure these unsustainable losses. 

“The situation has become untenable for many of these businesses and without support from government, job losses will be the inevitable outcome."

He added: “The UK Government has provided the Northern Ireland Executive with additional funding in response to the Omicron variant and the Finance Minister must move urgently to get this funding support out to those in need without delay. 

"Travel agents are at the heart of our high streets across Northern Ireland, employing over 700 people. 

"The reality is that many of these businesses will be lost, if support is not forthcoming urgently.”

Last week the Finance Minister said he had written to the Treasury calling for additional funding and for the furlough scheme to be reinstated to deal with the challenges presented by Omicron.

On Sunday, the Treasury pledged to provide an additional £75m, in addition to an earlier sum of £75m announced on Thursday.

But in response to the first announcement, Mr Murphy said that only £25m was new money.