Six more months? A harsh one-two punch for travel companies like mine

·3-min read
beach - getty
beach - getty

Just as we were starting to recover, Boris has delivered a new and unnecessary blow

Derek Jones is CEO of luxury travel operator Kuoni

In his statement yesterday, Boris Johnson once again called on all of us to take additional steps to protect the most vulnerable in our society whilst recognising the huge sacrifices that have already been made to contain the spread of Covid-19.

All that is, except one.

As we gathered with our friends and families this summer on the chilly pavements outside anonymous chain restaurants - eating out and helping out for Rishi - conversations inevitably turned to the one big sacrifice that so many of us were making – our overseas summer holiday. How strange then, that giving up such an important and precious event in our annual calendar has received such little acknowledgement.

The travel industry, already on its knees following the ban on all overseas travel in April and the haphazard, last minute implementation of quarantine throughout the summer, is now bracing itself for at least another six months of restricted movement.

Faced with the one-two punch of refunding existing bookings while new bookings were grinding to a halt, travel businesses have been left reeling. Every new step to limit the viral infection rate has seen the opportunity to holiday abroad disappear further into the horizon.

For far too many previously successful companies, the cash has run out and tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost; and with the end of furlough looming and a long, vacationless winter ahead, many more are set to follow. Only decisive government intervention and sector specific support will save them now.

Travel will of course recover and, when the opportunity returns, those like us that have the backing and wherewithal to survive will see a huge surge in demand as people are released from the shackles of lockdown, but as Boris Johnson made clear in his speech yesterday, the time for that is not now.

For now, we need to double down and hibernate our business. We need to plan for the future - for the day when we can all travel freely again - and the catalyst for that will be the same as the one that frees us from domestic restrictions; an extensive testing programme followed by the deployment of a vaccine.

In parallel with the evolution and implementation of a nationwide testing programme, we need to use the next three months to accelerate the introduction of testing for all UK arrivals. However well-intentioned the use of quarantine may have been, there is no escaping the fact that it kills travel.

Worse still, the use of Foreign Office advice to manage movement during a pandemic is at best inappropriate and at worst may do lasting damage to the credibility of a system that has served travellers well for over half a century.

Winter is almost upon us, the days are getting shorter, the evenings cooler and the sacrifices greater. We all need something to look forward to, an extra incentive to knuckle down and to do what’s needed. What better than the promise of a real holiday next summer?

It’s time to stop pretending that our overseas holidays don’t matter when they matter more than ever. With ambition and determination we can implement a two-stage testing process for all arrivals before the winter’s out, and come January, when Christmas is done, we can all start planning and booking our summer holidays with confidence.

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