The tourism and outbound travel industries are certainly no strangers to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Across the globe, international and domestic travel has been brought to its knees by the far-reaching impacts of coronavirus, and the ramifications are no clearer than in the United Kingdom.
In the last few months alone, we have seen the collapse of established household names such as STA, the loss of over 40 per cent of all jobs at Gatwick airport, and multinational airlines teetering on the brink of administration.
And that was before the latest border chaos, with multiple countries suspending travel from the UK.
To make things worse, travel agencies and airlines were neither consulted nor pre-warned about the last month’s lockdown or new tier rulings, leaving them facing another stream of cancellations and fighting for survival at the end of the year.
The economic magnitude of the travel sector is often misunderstood. The outbound travel sector alone sustains around 220,000 jobs in the UK and is worth over £37bn. The industry is a fundamentally vital cog in the UK economy, and needs to be leveraged with full force as we traverse one of the most difficult recessions in recent history.
And yet, as the travel industry cries out for reassurance, certainty and support, it has faced ever-changing regulations and setbacks.
From last-minute lockdowns to blanket travel bans and unworkable quarantine policies, it is no exaggeration to say that the government’s egregious mishandling of coronavirus has come close to decimating this vital industry.
Of course, the challenge of balancing public health and economic recovery is tremendous, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. At the start of the crisis, the government can be forgiven for acting quickly without thinking through every eventuality.
But once the latest crisis has been resolved, the travel industry needs to be given some breathing space and clarity on regulations in order to recover.
Tragically, the government has failed to deliver this on almost every level.
Even the government’s new “test to release” scheme, which aims to reduce quarantine periods and restore consumer confidence, does not talk sufficiently to industry views. The UK’s satellite test centres are notoriously slow, so even testing on day five would force travellers into isolation for a week or more. Launched last Tuesday, the scheme has also fallen apart within days, with a number of the 11 testing firms already announcing that they cannot meet demand.
Concerns from agents like me have been swept aside, with the suggestion that we should all be celebrating the new vaccine. Certainly, these vaccines will help improve the economy’s prospects, but the rollout will be slow, and those first in the queue are — understandably — the most clinically vulnerable, which will do little for the travel industry. There is also still uncertainty around how long they are effective for.
If we are to pull many businesses back from the edge, we need the urgent implementation of a cheap and efficient pre-departure testing policy — especially vital with this new strain of virus — along with clearer warnings and guidance on quarantine rules and consumer rights. If not, the industry faces annihilation.
I can say with complete sincerity that the complexities this government has faced this year would not be wished upon anyone. Yet if we are to recover consumer confidence in travelling for 2021, consumers and industry leaders alike must have faith that the government is on their side.
Main image credit: Getty