Convoys of passengerless coaches arrived at London’s Parliament Square on Monday as firms from around the country held an impactful demonstration of the plight the travel industry faces - dubbed ‘Honk for Hope’.
Operators, such as David Mills’ Yorkshire Rose Holidays, based on Dodworth Road, are calling for a support package similar to the landmark £1.57bn bailout announced for theatres, museums, galleries and other arts and culture venues earlier this month.
The industry is not eligible to apply for that funding, and ministers have said it won’t be entitled to any special financial support.
At a time when they’d be fully booked with summer trips, many firms - who are often called upon in times of crisis, for services such as rail replacement - are instead facing huge financial difficulty with spiralling finance repayments on coaches and uncertainty over wages once the furlough scheme ends.
Some potentially risk losing their homes and businesses.
“We’re in a lucky position, we’ve done all right - but so many operators haven’t had a penny since March,” said David.
“They’re literally on their last legs. Nobody knows where to turn.
“It’s not just the coach industry. It’s the knock-on effects on theatres and other venues that rely on coaches coming in.
“We take trips to Birdwell Venue twice a day sometimes with four full coaches.
“We can’t survive without everybody else.
“We have a big presence locally and can support others in the area, and that’s why we got involved with this.”
The demonstration was said to have attracted around 500 coaches - although David said it looked ‘closer to 2,000’ - which lined up outside Parliament.
Police were called to warn the drivers who sounded their horns outside Westminster.
David said: “There was a 14-mile long queue. The first coach arrived at Parliament Square as I was coming off the M4.
“There were generations of families there - people in their 20s, their dads in their 40s and 50s and then their granddads, all with the same company.
“It was horrendous to see, some of them were in tears - they’re losing their houses and having to refinance their yards and coaches.
“Even we didn’t realise how big this could be, until this week.
“The problem is they’re splitting up Parliament for the summer. By the time they come back, there might be nothing left.”
Yorkshire Rose, which normally transports thousands of passengers a year, has seen around 200 customers since March.
Just before the lockdown came into force, David had seen his purchase of local firm Goodyear Coaches go through - at which point he said he had to furlough 14 staff members who he ‘hadn’t even met’.
David added: “We’re slowly getting back, and just about breaking even.
“But those losing money won’t make it back - you can’t send a coach out with 20 people on, because it’s not cost-effective.
“You can get on a plane now as long as you’re wearing a face mask. I’d argue most coaches have better air conditioning systems than planes.
“A lot of people want to start back up, but they can’t.”