Can travel be saved?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Of course it can.

with fewer customers, travel companies need support

It is a stupid question  but it has been going the rounds lately in order to try and persuade the trave industry to get more governmental support.

To deal with the question at the outset, there will always be a travel industry because an entrepreneur will spot a gap and try to fill it. Just as online travel agents (OTA’s) were supposedly the death of the high street shops and was the killer for hotels so there will always be travel. It might be different from what we know and companies will disappear just as airlines have come and gone.

Names like Braniff, Pan-Am, People’s Express, Buzz, Air UK, Horizon, ILG, British Caledonian, Meridiana, have come and gone in the last fifty years and some brands we know now might disappear. But others will grow.

Who, ten to fifteen years ago was aware of Airbnb, Holidu, Skyscanner, Icelolly, Travelzoo nd the like?

But the travel industry has been badly hit by coronavirus which is why aid has been given by some governments to keep the aviation and tour operators in business. The German government has given €1.9 billion to the German arm of TUI, and Air France-KLM, Alitalia, Lufthansa and Singapore have all received state support.

It has also been hit by government’s ducking and diving to impose lockdowns, local lockdowns, quarantine restrictions and recommended no-fly areas.

To an industry that plans a year ahead in some cases, longer and shorter in others, changing the guidelines every couple of weeks is a nightmare and not what they are good at doing. They like consistency and, if nothing else, they have been taught that coronavirus breeds inconsistency.

You could argue that in the UK companies have been helped by the furlough system but that might not prove enough.

With the budget coming up a body called the “The Save Future Travel Coalition” suggested that there be changes to quarantine policy, the introduction of testing and the granting of an APD holiday.

Will any of that – even if the Chancellor agrees to it – be enough to stop widespread redundancies and a shrinking industry where less competition, at least over the next few years, might drive up fares for passengers?

In the beginning of the pandemic the World Health Organization and most airlines called for there to be no restrictions on international travel. Their logic went that it would have little effect on the rise in cases.

They were wrong as countries around the world soon found out. Politicians are now a little bit wary but also concerned of the number of their constituents who might face the sack.

Could governments, for example, guarantee a number of seats on planes and with tour operators so that there could be stabilisation? It has guaranteed so much already why not 50% of 2019’s carrying figures.

At the same time it could insist as part of such a deal that the development of green fuels and electric flights be speeded up so that technical skills at engineering and manufacturing plants were maintained.

It might insist that tour operators who took up its support offer had a percentage of their portfolio as holidays in the UK so that if such a problem arose again, companies would face less of a liability.

Rail companies have support so why not other parts of the travel industry?

It is also the cruise industry that will need support but resolving that will be a bigger task. It is largely due to passenger confidence that ships should be as virus-proofed as possible. Early signs from Costa and Hurtigruten suggest that their sanitisation introductions are effective. As the months weave into the end of the year more confidence will be seen by potential passengers and that might be sufficient to kick-start cruises.

For an industry that supports about 10% of the working population around the world, some help is needed. For politicians this means finding a way to marry the movement of people at the same time as protecting them from the pandemic.

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