The PC Agency’s Paul Charles sets out how to make sector stronger

It’s been nearly two months since we set about quashing quarantine. It has been a rollercoaster ride but progress was made last Friday when the government finally published not just one, but two lists of where consumers can go without having to quarantine on their return to England. Quarantine measures are being firmly squashed as of this Friday.

The lists, featuring some 70 countries, have caused widespread confusion as they don’t indicate which countries you’re actually allowed to stay in without having to quarantine for 14 days. So the travel trade and consumers have plenty of research to do if they’re to be 100% certain of where they can go. To help the industry, The PC Agency has produced a clear list of the 25 countries you can go to today without having to quarantine on arrival, or when you get back to the UK.

There have been several missed opportunities, by the government and our industry, which have dented chances of the sector’s recovery.

Here’s my 10-point checklist of learnings so far:

  • The industry could have avoided the negativity of quarantine, and the slump in bookings as a result, if UK airports had taken a greater leadership role at the start of the crisis. Airport testing is the only answer to boosting confidence in flying again as well as screening visitors entering the UK to prevent another wave.
  • Coronavirus is the only issue that lobby groups have had to focus on in recent months. They need to reset their strategies and speak with one voice to protect and grow our industry. Everything in the next year is about how we adapt and move on from the coronavirus era. Lobby groups need to work together and represent everyone as the travel chain is so interconnected.
  • The refunds saga has dogged our sector since March and left consumers, and government, lacking confidence in how the travel sector handles itself. Travel brands need to start building their cash piles so they’re in a position to pay back customers should such a health crisis happen again. The best firms have refunded quickly.
  • The quarantine policy emerged partly because there is no Tourism Minister currently. The Government showed its lack of experience on travel and tourism issues. If a Tourism Minister had been in place, they hopefully would have strongly advised Downing Street what a disastrous impact this would have on visitor numbers to the UK, as well as on travel firms booking UK citizens outbound.
  • Travel became a plaything among several Government departments. The Foreign Office, Home Office, Department for Transport and Downing Street have all been involved in the quarantine and travel corridor policy, adding to confusion and miscommunication. Our industry needs to tackle Government to ensure it is not used as a football in future.
  • Do not promise a date and then fail to stick to it. The Government said that 29th June would see travel corridors introduced but then arguments with the devolved administration in Scotland led to its delay. Every day of quarantine was another day of lost jobs and slower bookings in the sector.
  • When introducing a new policy across the UK, ensure that the right people have access to the IT equipment to help enforce it. It’s embarrassing to see the Scottish Health Secretary admit that not a single check has been carried out on travellers obliged to stay at home under quarantine rules.
  • When outlining a new policy, don’t confuse the public and the travel trade with two lists with different countries on each one. Consumers just want to know where they can go, and the travel trade just wishes to book accurately. Two lists aren’t better than one.
  • Improve communications with the UK public to enable the travel sector to flourish. Other countries have talked up their travel firms and given clear roadmaps to help them out of lockdown. Lack of confidence has fed through to consumers.
  • Lay out a plan for helping the sector thrive. Let’s have a UK Government ad campaign aimed at promoting domestic and global tourism. Travel & tourism accounts for 1 in 4 jobs in the UK and is the backbone of our economy. It needs pump-priming.

Ten points, all aimed at making things stronger in our sector in future. As we hopefully emerge from the worst slump in our sector’s history, let’s focus on creating a world-class industry backed by government and loved by consumers.