Fewer sectors were stopped in their tracks with such ferocity than the travel industry when the Coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe. Almost overnight, international travel became the last thing on everyone’s mind, whether that was for business or pleasure. Even as I write this, news is breaking that Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe, is axing over 1,000 further frontline jobs.
A lot of the attention during the course of the crisis was rightly placed on the solvency of airlines and the prospect of losing some of the biggest names in travel. However, it is often easy to overlook the impact this crisis has had from a root to branch perspective; all the way from passenger, to travel agent, to multi-national airline.
The phenomenal economic contribution which the outbound travel sector provides to the UK economy cannot be understated. The sector itself sustains around 220,000 jobs and is worth over £37bn to the UK economy each year, so the thought of putting this in jeopardy is something we simply cannot consider as the UK enters one of the most devastating recessions in history.
This combination of pervasiveness and economic magnitude is why the Government needs to act swiftly and decisively to restore faith in the travel sector, as well as supporting the hundreds of thousands of employees and customers impacted by the last six months of turbulence.
The current lack of confidence in the travel sector is born out of two primary challenges faced by travelers. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the Government’s ever-changing quarantine measures offer the prospect of travelers returning to the UK with a period of self-isolation. Even given the supposed ‘new-normal’ and transition towards working from home, millions of people across the UK are still unable to and simply cannot countenance the prospect of missing work for two weeks.
Nobody is a stranger to the complexities which the Government faces regarding quarantine measures; however, certainty needs to be at the core of everything the Government does from now on. It cannot become the norm for announcements about quarantine measures to be made at the eleventh hour on Twitter. For the sake of both businesses operating in the sector and the unfortunate passengers impacted by the changes, advanced notice must be provided.
If the possibility of self-isolation is not enough to put passengers off international travel, then the debacle which faced customers when a moratorium on airline travel was announced would be. Millions of UK passengers have been left in the unenviable position of battling with airline operators for their money back and many are still waiting as we enter the seventh month of this crisis. It is crucial that the Government reforms the archaic system governing airline refunds and ensures the Civil Aviation Authority has the clout required to penalise airlines who fail to comply.
It is easy to forget that the travel sector is not solely dominated by commercial behemoths and listed companies. The economic driving force of the UK economy and the travel sector is small and medium-sized businesses who have missed out on large-scale Government support packages. It is crucial that the Government works with travel agents, tour operators and suppliers to ensure viable businesses do not become insolvent due to the crisis and extend sector-specific support where necessary.
We all want to be back travelling again and the first step in the journey is to restore faith wholeheartedly to this economic powerhouse of an industry.
by Hamish Campbell-Shore, Account Executive (Public Affairs)