Northern Ireland travel agent asks Stormont for financial help after Omicron cancels bookings

A travel agent said his industry needs dedicated support from the Economics Department as it bears the brunt of the new restrictions on travelers from the UK.

Ince last week, the rise in infections of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the UK has prompted some European countries to close their borders to travelers from the UK.

This has plunged the Christmas holiday plans of many UK residents into chaos as plans for city breaks and ski trips were scrapped.

Colum McLornan, owner of Friendship Travel, specializing in singles vacations, said: “Everyone is eager to see which country is the latest to ‘ban’ arrivals to the UK.

“France started, then Germany and Holland followed.

“We had 10 guests who were going skiing in France for Christmas last weekend and they were all canceled.

“My team does its best to accommodate requests from customers who have to travel to other destinations for Christmas.

“Consumer confidence in travel has been shaken by the new variant and changing travel advice, as well as the additional costs of testing. New bookings have completely stopped.

“This is a very worrying period for the travel industry and we ask the Ministry of the Economy to provide our sector with dedicated support in the coming days.”

The Ministry of the Economy has been invited to comment.

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

Speaking next, Sir Jeffrey said Finance Minister Conor Murphy should now ensure additional Westminster funds flow to industries, including travel, which have been affected by the Omicron spread.

The Lagan Valley MP, who has since tested positive for the coronavirus, said: “Our overseas travel suppliers have been completely wiped out by the pandemic.

“The introduction of new restrictions on UK travelers has resulted in the official opening of these businesses, but their effective closure.

“The industry cannot simply continue to suffer these excruciating losses.

“The situation has become untenable for many of these companies and without government support, job losses will be the inevitable result.”

He added: “The UK government has provided the Northern Ireland executive with additional funding in response to the Omicron variant and the Minister of Finance must act urgently to ensure that this financial support is distributed without delay to those who need it. need it.

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

“The reality is that many of these businesses will be lost if support is not given urgently.”

Last week, the finance minister said he wrote to the treasury asking for additional funding and the reinstatement of the leave scheme to deal with the challenges presented by Omicron.

On Sunday, the Treasury pledged to provide an additional £ 75million, on top of an earlier sum of £ 75million announced on Thursday.

But in response to the first announcement, Mr Murphy said just £ 25million was new money.

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