Travel leaders were “cautiously optimistic” about whether travel will “take off” on 17 May during TTG’s latest debate, but added the industry needs to be represented on the relaunched Global Travel Taskforce.
Cosmos and Avalon Waterways chief executive Giles Hawke said while he welcomed a “roadmap” and “trigger points for the next stage being reached”, the announcement of specific dates for reopening was a “bit risky”.
“I think it’s a little bit risky, the announcement of specific dates, because I think everyone is going to pin everything on those dates,” he said.
“Certain things have to be achieved for those dates. So I do think there’s a risk of customers getting very excited, travel agents, tour operators and airlines getting very excited, getting bookings in, and then having to go through the whole pain of cancelling and rearranging if those triggers aren’t achieved in time for those dates.
“So I’m surprised they were so clear with the dates thing.”
Hawke added though: “It’s great. If we can get international travel going again by the 17 May all to the good, but I have a little bit of cautious optimism. Anyone booking close to that 17 May date does risk disappointment.
“That said, we actually started seeing a real uplift in customer bookings for this year at the back end of last week.
“So I think all the leaks around what was going to be said has given people more confidence.”
He added the “fairly aggressive” timetable for vaccinations was helping with confidence, but most bookings were for beyond June.
Alison Holmes, head of the Co-op Travel Consortium agreed the days since Monday’s announcement had been busy, but conceded this was “from a low base”.
“We did actually see an increase in bookings yesterday (Tuesday 23 February) and it was about 50% from the same day last week.
“So it is still from a very low base, and I think that has to be taken into account.
“But what we did see yesterday is a shift in where customers are making enquiries for.
“Last week summer 2021 was only really receiving around about 13% of the total sales we were doing, whereas yesterday it did actually jump to 30% of the bookings that were done.”
Asked about the relaunched government Global Travel Taskforce, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, made the point that “we cannot borrow our way through another summer”.
“But it’s given some confidence, both to consumers, but also to the sector, that we will have some revenue coming in this year that can be replenished on those balance sheets.
“But there’s a huge amount of work to do. 12 April (when the taskforce will report back on the resumption of international travel) is not that long way.
“And that needs to deliver a piece of work that the prime minister will sign off on and say, ‘yes I think this is sustainable’.
“And crucially it needs to work with more passengers than we’ve had in the last 12 months.”
He added: “It’s easy to come up with a system potentially that’s catered for 10% of passengers, but we want to see that volume increase. So really the hard work starts now.”
Hawke said it was important for the travel sector to be involved in discussions.
“It’s going to affect our livelihoods, our businesses and all of our staff.
“We need to know what progress is being made, who’s involved in making it. And I honestly believe there needs to be people from the industry, as well as official people from the government, from civil service.
“They need to be people from the industry who understand how things work to help come up with the correct recommendations so that they are practical and usable.”
He said the last task force consulted travel companies, but asked “what was actually taken from their consultation, what was done with it?”. “I have absolutely no idea,” Hawke said.
“I also think the last taskforce was eight months too late in starting and it’s been a bit of a wasted time between the last taskforce being disbanded and this one being re-invigorated and all the thinking could have been ongoing even during complete lockdown.
“We could have been a lot further forward than we are.”
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