The government’s continued failure to understand the interconnectivity of travel is continuing to hold back any form of "meaningful recovery" across the sector, the latest TTG Debate has heard.
Kelly Cookes, the Advantage Travel Partnership’s leisure director; James Coughlan, director of sales and business development at Abercrombie & Kent; and founder and chief executive of the PC Agency, Paul Charles, joined TTG’s latest debate on Wednesday (14 April) to discuss the Global Travel Taskforce’s framework for the resumption of international travel.
Cookes said the taskforce’s 20-page report, published on Friday (9 April), didn’t provide enough detail or clarity to build a complete picture of what the eventual resumption will look like, while also offering scant provision on how – and when – to start planning for any significant uptick in international travel. "We are still in limbo," she said.
"It’s making it difficult to advise customers who want to travel imminently, and we do need more detail pretty quickly for the 17 May restart. But from where we were two or three weeks ago, we are making positive steps forward. We’ve just got quite a long way to go."
Cookes added there were still myriad unresolved concerns around the categorisation of countries under the government’s new traffic light system, the required standard – and cost – of testing for those returning to the UK, and the relationship between the new rules and procedures being announced by government and how Foreign Office advice will be issued and maintained when travel does restart.
Coughlan said the lack of detail in the report and the broader lack of transparency from government, particularly with regards to the data on which it is basing its decision, was forcing operators to make their own deductions on the best sources of information available to them.
"You have to try to look beyond where the government’s position is, to try and assess data from the news, from regional governments, from our DMCs telling us what is opening in any certain destinations," said Coughlan. "It’s then about looking to match up with our suppliers and our partners to ensure we can meet that capacity and that demand when it materialises. All we can do, really, is to start to prepare ourselves on the ground and in our offices. It’s not as simple as us saying, ’we’re ready’. It’s all the way through the supply chain."
He said airlift was a particular concern. "One of the key things is ensuring we have the correct airlift, and that will only come when the government gives us transparency," he said. "Without the correct airlift, the return to normality – particularly in the summer when we have a shortened period – is going to be critical. We have to have that to ensure we get the correct airlift so we can get clients and consumers away to where they want [to go] and where we can facilitate demand."
Charles said government still didn’t seem able to grasp the "integrated nature" of travel, notably the knock-on effect of decisions preventing airlines flying to and from a specific destination. "That then has an impact on the ground handlers, the DMCs in the country, all the way through to the tourist guides who can’t do their work," he said. "Travel is a very interconnected sector; there doesn’t seem to be understanding [of that] in government and certainly among civil servants."
He added it was indicative of why travel has not, seemingly, been a top priority for government over the past year, despite the best efforts – and support – of some within the Department for Transport.
"Let’s not forget the Global Travel Taskforce is not just Department for Transport members, it’s Department of Health, Cabinet Office, Downing Street, there’s just that lack of understanding," he said. And in both Global Travel Taskforce one, last October, and Global Travel Taskforce two, now, you’ve still got that lack of understanding, and that’s what’s holding back meaningful recovery in the sector.