Travel has long called for a clear and concise roadmap out of the Covid crisis, one that allows people to book with confidence – even in the knowledge that their trip may not go ahead.
No responsible travel sellers or operators are demanding an immediate resumption of international travel, recognising the importance of continuing to suppress Covid-19 and new variants.
However, Boris Johnson’s admission that the government will set out its plans for a roadmap out of the current Covid lockdown on 22 February has every sector on tenterhooks, not least travel – which has been all but shut down for a year.
Many have tried to codify an appropriate roadmap for travel, from trade bodies like Abta and Aito to individual businesses, travel sector campaign groups and a plethora of others.
What is so desperately needed, though, is some clarity from government on when it might look to lift certain restrictions, what parameters it will use to judge this, and what other factors will affect changes in the restrictions placed on travel.
While the substance of the government’s roadmap remains to be seen, TTG caught up with two supporters – an agent and operator chief – of the TTG-led #SaveTravel campaign, which has sought to highlight to government the key reassurances travel businesses need to continue weathering the Covid storm, to protect jobs and to plan for the future.
A year ago, none of us could have imagined we would see a time when the UK government ran an ad campaign stating that going on holiday is illegal.
Our industry is unique. We incurred costs repatriating customers from around the world, couldn’t make use of furlough for much of the year and refunded millions of pounds earned before the pandemic hit, often with
no refunds from suppliers.
Now, at a time when we could be taking bookings to bring in much-needed cash to help us through the next few months, we are up against unhelpful comments from the government, advising us not to book holidays.
Most are in agreement that we shouldn’t be travelling on holiday right now. All we are asking is that people have something to look forward to – not be dissuaded from booking a holiday. Just a subtle change in government communication is all that is needed.
No one can give any guarantees, but we can work to a roadmap, safe in the knowledge that if the public book a package, they will be entitled to a refund or be allowed to defer to a later date, should it not be possible to travel.
The same roadmap should cover financial support. We need to know now that furlough will be extended and that a sector-specific support scheme will be available for travel if the industry is unable to restart; a scheme that covers all within the industry and not just airlines and airports.
Without this support many more well-respected, long-established businesses will disappear, just as we are starting to see a light at the end of a very long tunnel.
The #SaveTravel petition gives new impetus to efforts to highlight the travel industry’s problems with government. We are right behind it.
Agents and operators are dealing with clients whose holidays were changed from last spring and who are now asking for refunds as they can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
They’re uncertain about when they’ll be able to travel again, whether they will have to pay for Covid tests to travel and quarantine upon their return, and when they’ll get their vaccine.
On top of all that, they’re seeing ministers make TV and newspaper headlines by saying “don’t book your summer holiday yet”.
Many operators have addressed the issue by putting 2022 and even 2023 on sale – a positive step towards getting new bookings in.
But government doesn’t appreciate the mental health boost that comes from booking a holiday – the excitement and anticipation. Ministers need to help #SaveTravel with tailored financial aid for travel businesses, including those set up as limited companies and homeworkers.
They must set out a future travel roadmap so everyone has an idea what will restart first. They must seek to boost consumer confidence in booking ahead by highlighting the protection provided by the Package Travel Regulations, as well as bonding and other safeguards.
Agents, meanwhile, must be ready to advise clients on local Covid restrictions and requirements, and any post-Brexit changes.
Travel is the best industry in the world; we need everyone – government, consortia and trade bodies – to work together to ensure we are strong enough to survive and emerge from this crisis ready to deal with new challenges.
You can find out about the three-point #SaveTravel manifesto here and pledge your support too.