Irene Hays has described the UK as "an island nation of explorers" who are "absolutely desperate to travel" after more than a year spent for the large part under Covid lockdown.
Appearing on the BBC’s Lockdown Live special on Tuesday (23 March) marking a year since prime minister Boris Johnson told the country for the first time to "stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives", Hays discussed vaccine certification, her excitement for a summer of UK "seacations", and the nation’s growing wanderlust.
Asked by presenter Nick Robinson if people should get used to the idea of potentially going another summer without an overseas holiday, Hays said while Europe may be off limits during the early part of the summer, there would be no shortage of opportunities for other holidays.
"There are still lots of places in the world that will be open," said Hays, appearing straight after a slot with Andrew Lloyd-Webber discussing the potential for a return to theatres.
"In fact, there is perhaps an opportunity to see live musicals because the great news this week is seacations," said Hays. "Cruise ships from the top 12 cruise companies in the world are coming to the UK and cruising round the British Isles and you’d be able to see musicals and cabaret [onboard]."
Robinson asked Hays whether she would like to see vaccine certificates "converted into some kind of passport" that would allow people to travel. "I think that would be helpful," she said.
"They’ve always been there [vaccine certificates]. I remember trying to go to Africa 40 years ago and I needed a yellow fever certificate. So certificates for vaccinations have been around for a very very long time, and I think that is one route to enabling people to be able to travel again."
Asked by Robinson if the UK should follow the example set by Australia and New Zealand and commit to travelling and partying at home and "forgetting foreign travel for another year", Hays said she felt, in the mind of the British public, Robinson would be in a minority.
"As soon as people are able to do so [travel], we know that they are absolutely desperate to travel – and travel they will," said Hays. "We are an island nation of explorers. People want to get across and see some sunshine, they want to explore, they want to see new things and try new food.
"We know travel is in the top three desirable purchases when we bounce back. I am convinced that people will travel in the future."
Hays added the travel sector was mindful of the effect summer holidays had on incidence of Covid infection. "Clearly, we need to be very careful, and we need to listen to the advice from the scientists," said Hays.
"But if you go to a reputable travel agent, and there are lots of them across the UK, they will look after the two things that are most important – the first one is health and safety, and the second is financial security. And they’ll do that for you."