'Too late' to save summer holidays claims boss of York-based Great Rail Journeys as he warns on redundancies

It’s too late to save this year’s summer holidays and the travel industry faces a cliff edge when furlough ends in September, according to a Yorkshire travel boss.

Peter Liney, chief executive of Great Rail Journeys in York, said that the travel industry is being used as a political football by the Government which has shattered consumer confidence and cost his business tens of millions of pounds and 60 Yorkshire jobs.

He warned that more redundancies could be on the way as the company looks to reduce costs.

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Great Rail Journeys, which specialises in escorted rail holidays all over the world, saw activity within its UK business plummet by 95 per cent in 2020. So far this year it has seen a 90 per cent fall in business compared to pre-pandemic activity levels.

The industry faces another summer of uncertainty.
The industry faces another summer of uncertainty.

The company, which also has a smaller US operation, had a global turnover of £140m in 2019 which has been decimated by the Covid restrictions.

“As a business we are overwhelmingly internationally focused,” said Mr Liney.

“Although we have a reasonably-sized domestic programme, it’s a small part of what we do.”

The company made 60 people – 62 per cent of its 160-strong York workforce – redundant last August during the uncertainty over the extension of the initial furlough scheme. There are currently 27 territories on the green travel list, which enables holidaymakers to travel there without having to quarantine, although most are inaccessible to Britons. The industry has warned the Government’s “overly cautious” approach will continue to have “major financial impacts” on the sector.

With very few countries on the green list, Great Rail Journeys is relying on its tiny UK market until mass overseas travel resumes.

The question of how to bring money into a travel business that is unable to sell holidays is at the forefront of his mind.

“We will almost certainly have to bring in new money as shareholders, work with our banks and look at our cost base,” he said.

He added: “There are only two places you can look at with your cost base in a travel business like ours: one is marketing and the other is people.

“The only thing that prevents us from having to do that is if the Government provides some aid to the travel industry. We face a cliff edge in September when furlough ends. The company will come through this but to what degree of pain?”

He added: “There’s an absolute shattering of consumer confidence by the drip feed of nonsense policy that we’ve had over the last 18 months.”

Mr Liney believes that destinations currently on the Government’s amber list should be moved to green. There should also be a consistent testing regime, he said.

“We can’t have a view that says lateral flow testing is good enough for Wembley but no good for Rome.”

Mr Liney described last week’s revision of the green travel list as ‘virtue signalling nonsense’.

He added: “I truly believe we’re a political football and the Government has used the travel industry.

“They gloried in the vaccination success and kept comparing themselves with the rest of Europe but now Europe’s catching up, our infection rates are going through the roof and Europe’s are dropping like a stone.

“The politics have changed and in the middle of all this is a wonderful travel business getting absolutely smashed.”