HELP is needed for the Isle of Wight's coach tour industry to survive the equivalent of an 18-month winter, an industry expert has said.

Geoff Holt, manager of award-winning Isle of Wight Tours, said the situation is a nightmare because the government hasn't classed the industry as a leisure one, which means vital business rates and grant schemes cannot be applied for.

He wonders what the future of coach tourism will look like after coronavirus.

Isle of Wight County Press: Geoff Holt and Shirley Winn, of Isle of Wight Tours.Geoff Holt and Shirley Winn, of Isle of Wight Tours.

The Island has the highest concentration of group tour and coach operators anywhere in the country, with many large hotels owned by coach businesses and employing hundreds of people.

Coach tours directly fill hundreds of bed spaces every night on the Island, and additionally support smaller family-owned hotels that rely on the trade in the quieter months to ensure a long season.

Geoff thinks not classing the coach business as leisure is disastrous and is asking people to back #BackBritainsCoaches — a campaign launched by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).

It wants the government to consider coach tourism as leisure businesses, and amend regulations to allow coach operators longer than 14 days to process refunds and issue refund credit notes as an alternative to cash refunds.

Geoff said: "Coaches play a vital role in our economy and society.

"They help tourists see the sights of the UK, provide accessible holidays and days out and ensure important events, from weddings to music festivals, go ahead without a hitch.

"The Island is even more exposed to the shutdown of the coach industry. There is not just IW Tours, but Kardan Travel, Opal Travel, The Holiday Shop, Sun Island Holidays, The Isle of Wight Experience and more.

"There is Daish's, and coach operators including Kardan, ALS Travel, Seaview Services, Alpha Travel and Southern Vectis’ coaching arm. Between us we employ hundreds of staff.

"Many of the largest hotels in the Bay area are owned by mainland-based coach operators, then there is the spend on the Island, at attractions, in tea rooms and with the seafront businesses."

He said the future was looking bleak, with groups cancelling right up to February 2021.

"Without the coach tours, the Island is on its knees.

"We are really affected as everything has completely stopped, it is a nightmare. We are experiencing an 18-month winter.

"There is no confidence in tourism anymore and we can't get the wheels moving.

"It is costing our business £1,900 a day to stand still, as we still have to be insured, we still have to pay finance on the coaches — we can't get a mortgage holiday on them. We've still got the office.

Isle of Wight County Press: Isle of Wight Tours' luxury coaches.Isle of Wight Tours' luxury coaches.

"We can't socially distance, as on a 50-seat coach it would mean taking only 12 people, which would be pointless financially.

"When coronavirus is over, the Island will need us. You need coaches for festivals, weddings, etc and of course tourism is huge.

"We just need a level playing field. Gyms and tourism attractions have had help, we need it too." Isle of Wight Tours employs 25 full-time staff and won Best UK Group Tour Operator at last year's Group Travel Awards.

Since the lockdown in mid-March the firm has been forced to either cancel, postpone, or rearrange holidays for almost 15,000 customers, covering the period to end of July.

The company has written to Island MP Bob Seely and leader of the IW Council, Cllr Dave Stewart, about their plight and that of the wider industry.