Boris Johnson has reached an inflexion point in the battle to protect the nation’s health and wealth.
Thanks to the voices of the government’s scientific advisors, the rates of infection are on a downward path, the pressure on the NHS is gradually dissipating, and the miraculous performance of the vaccination programme is starting to pay dividends.
But now, it’s time to listen to the voices of industry. They are demanding that attention is paid to the hard-pressed owners of British businesses and to the physical and mental health of furloughed and redundant workers.
It’s crucial that both sets of advice are listened to and acted upon, in a balanced, safe manner. But in doing so, the prime minister must hold one question in mind, when he finalises his roadmap out of the third, national lockdown. That question is not "when?" but "how?"
The travel industry needs clarity from the prime minister. We need to know how the lifting of travel restrictions will be prioritised. We need to know how the end of the hotel quarantine process will be triggered. We need to know how the inevitable vaccine passports will become ubiquitous. And we need to know how businesses will be incentivised – and not punished – for helping people to travel the world and rebuilding the economy.
At Global Travel Management, we have kept up regular communications with our clients, customers and suppliers, throughout the pandemic. These conversations regularly provoke questions around how these businesses can start to rebuild the economy.
No one asks me "when can I travel to Rome for a business meeting?" – but I often get asked "I need to see a client in Rome, how can I do that?". There’s a tidal wave of pent-up business waiting to be unleashed. Businesses across the UK are desperate to fill the economic void left by three national lockdowns. Practical, pragmatic, balanced solutions are being sought by businesses, everywhere.
So, trips are limited to those travellers whose work can continue if they are required to quarantine on return. The questions we are being asked are not "when is this going to end?" but "how do we work within the rules?".
A roadmap that attempts to guess when specific restrictions will be lifted will be of limited use. Businesses can’t wait for the "new normal" – they know we are already in it.
Business travel takes place now, within the restrictions that are in place now. That’s always been the case and will continue to be. Economic opportunities are not constrained to calendar dates.
We are finding more and more companies asking the question "how can I travel now?" and fewer companies that are saying "we are happy to wait until all the restrictions are lifted, whenever that will be".
The prime minister has to answer difficult questions in the weeks ahead. Let’s hope he answers the right ones.
Scott Pawley is managing director of TMC and business travel agency Global Travel Management, which he co-founded in 1997 with his wife Natalie and father Frank.