A travel agent has slammed the Executive for providing just £1.175m in Covid support for the entire sector, while a single golf club – Royal County Down – received £1.5m from a separate sports kitty.
he travel industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, with consumers unable to book holidays for most of the last year.
However, Colum McLornan, the owner of singles agency Friendship Travel, said the support announced for the industry was in sharp contrast to the size of grants given to sporting bodies.
Sport NI announced financial support for 29 sport governing bodies as part of a package worth £22.4m this week. Within golf, Royal County Down was awarded the highest figure of £1.5m followed by the Royal Portrush club which received £757,638.
Bodies were able to claim for a certain amount, provided it could be backed up by documentation.
The travel agents scheme, announced by the First and Deputy First Minister last week, will provide a flat payment of either £3,500 or £10,000 to eligible applicants. The scheme closes on Friday.
Mr McLornan said he had received no grants this year for his premises in Antrim and had been forced to reduce his staff numbers from 12 to three.
“I can’t understand why somewhere like Royal County Down golf club ends up with £1.5m while all travel agents receive £1.175m between them,” he said.
“Yes, the £10,000 grant will be nice to have when we get it but our fixed costs and overheads are about £5,000 a month. We have been more or less closed since March last year so you can work out how far that £10,000 will go.”
Even where agents had been open, there had been little new work to do. “Travel agents haven’t been able to sell anything in the last year. Earnings are down 90% but we haven’t been closed fully in that time as we’ve had to do work refunding people and moving people’s bookings.”
He said some travel agencies were in receipt of a weekly grant from the Department of Finance after closing in the present lockdown but that his business had been ineligible.
The Executive was asked if the travel agents scheme might be topped up and if the size of the scheme could be regarded as unfair compared to the extent of the Sports Sustainability Fund. But a response had not been provided at time of going to press.
Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph asked Sport NI for an explanation of the disparity between the amounts received by Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.
A spokeswoman said: “The approved award for each club is reflective of (a) the amount requested by the club and (b) the supporting evidence provided by the club/governing body through their Sports Sustainability Fund application. Sport NI completed 100% vouching & verification on all golf club applications prior to approval of awards.”
The awards reflected the evidence shown by the golf clubs, she said, with Royal Portrush actually ending up with more than they had requested.
She said Royal County Down had requested just under £1.7m but had only shown evidence of net losses of £1.56m, 8% below what they’d asked for. Royal Portrush had asked for £745,211 though verification had shown net losses of £757,638.