A Bakers Dolphin coach from Weston-super-Mare will join a convoy converging on London today (Mon) as part of a campaign to get the Government to offer more support for the struggling industry, which has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vehicles from coach companies all over the country will converge on Westminster and ‘Honk for Hope’ in a bid to save businesses which are vital for Britain’s tourism and hospitality industries.
Similar convoys have recently taken place in Lancashire, Wales and North Yorkshire but today’s convoy will go to the heart of the capital.
Bakers Dolphin has already lobbied local MPs Dr Liam Fox and John Penrose in recent weeks urging them to lobby government colleagues to do more to support coach companies who play a vital role in supporting the wider UK tourism industry, transporting people to and from destinations and attractions.
Bakers Dolphin, a family business based in Weston-super-Mare since 1889, provides holidays, days out and school travel for Bristol and the South West. Its 70 vehicles have stood idle for months with the first of a limited number of tours going ahead in August as lockdown measures have eased.
Many of its 100 employees have been furloughed; some worked as back-up ambulance drivers for Bristol Ambulance EMS across the region.
The firm was awarded the new VisitEngland “We’re Good To Go” charter mark which confirms it meets all COVID-19 Government and public health guidance, but with fewer people allowed on coaches income will be limited this summer.
Managing Director Max Fletcher said: “Our vital industry contributes £4 billion to the UK economy. We’ve already seen one high-profile casualty, with Specialist Leisure Group, owner of Shearings Holidays, going into administration and we know of seven other firms across the country that have announced closure this week.
“The tourism sector will not be able to bounce back from the pandemic without a secure and viable coach industry to take people to the attractions and hotels.
“Many coach companies, like ours, also provide school transport services, which will be vital to support the Government’s intent to fully re-open schools in September.
“But our school’s work is only financially viable with a thriving tourism business alongside it, as the vehicles are used for other purposes between the morning and afternoon school runs.
“Our trade association, The Confederation of Passenger Transport, recently met with government representatives who said that no additional financial assistance for the coach industry, beyond the existing furlough and loans schemes, will be provided.
“That is why we are supporting the Honk for Hope convoy in London today, because it seems as if the coach industry is being forgotten by a Government which has provided additional financial support to the trains, planes, buses and even e-scooters.
“We have been in contact with the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps but he pushed the onus on to local authorities. North Somerset Council are still pursuing a policy of giving school contracts to the lowest bidder, cutting potential income still further.”
Like many operators, Bakers Dolphin has introduced many new safety measures, including investing in on-board air purification technology on its coaches that destroys biological pollutants, such as bacteria, viruses and germs.
Several of the tours it is running next month will use its Gold Service coaches, which already have reduced capacity and more space, making it much easier to adhere to social distancing rules.
But without support beyond the furlough scheme ending in October the coach industry faces a tough winter after the worst summer takings ever.