The industry must be ready to hit the ground running whenever restrictions on travel are lifted, says Steve Endacott
For economic reasons, the leisure travel industry needs to be able to restart operations as early as possible, which is why we don’t like the 14-day isolation plan which will effectively kill holiday demand as long as it is in place.
However, the fear of a second Covid-19 peak means the move is likely to get general support from the public regardless of whether it’s enforceable or will have any real impact on the infection rate.
It is important we don’t fight the rule with economic impact arguments, as these simply don’t trump public safety. Instead we must provide a credible alternative, based on science.
We may not save this summer’s travel, but if we don’t “prepare to fly”, we have no clear way of getting the quarantine lifted.
As an industry, we need to work to deliver the following four things.
Pre-departure testing and immunity passports
Testing in the UK continues to ramp up and if customers want to travel they will need to prove they are corona-free.
They will either have taken an antibody test showing that they have had the virus already, and in effect have an “immunity passport”, or will need to be tested in the week prior to their departure for holiday and receive a negative result. Thermal imaging temperature tracking at airports can add a further level of detection.
As an industry, we need to accept that customers will have to prove that they are fit to travel if we are going to take them. This will mean engaging in the testing and certification process by capturing “fit to fly” results in our booking systems and communicating these to destination countries.
We also need to change our terms and conditions to ensure customers understand and accept any risks related to travel or the potential refusal of travel.
Track and Trace
Downloading the UK’s Track and Trace app, along with equivalents used in destinations, needs to be made a compulsory part of the airline booking process. Checking these apps have been activated will also need to form part of the boarding process.
Social distancing replaced with compulsory travel PPE
Social distancing is simply not practical in the travel journey, just as it is not practical on the tube or other crowded public transport. We have to acknowledge this and focus on making personal protective equipment” (PPE) in the form of mask and gloves compulsory during the travel process as an alternative.
If PPE is the front line defence of the NHS when dealing with confirmed infections, it must also be an effective defence when dealing with risk from the general population where infection rates are 0.25%.
Most customers will accept the need to wear mask and gloves during travel though airports and on planes. Customers should be asked to source their own PPE prior to travel or, like checked luggage, they will have to pay more to buy it at the airport.
Currently, most holiday destinations customers want to visit have lower Covid-19 infection levels and “R” rates than the UK, meaning there is no logical increase in the risk of getting infected, compared to travelling to other parts of the UK.
However, further flare-ups of Covid-19 infection will occur and, as an industry, we need to have agreed rules in place with government to quickly stop flying to these destinations and offer customers a guarantee of “free” transfers to another destination or full “immediate refund”.
This guarantee is needed to rebuild customer trust and the confidence to book. It is also needed to fully re-engage with insurance underwriters, who are happy to cover the medical risk of Covid-19, but less happy to cover the cancellation risk which is now significant in comparison to before the pandemic.
Travel insurance is still available, but it is currently relatively scarce and increasing in price rapidly. Without access to comprehensive insurance, customers are less likely to travel.
Widespread testing, tracking and tracing is still months away. But, as an industry, we need to lay the groundwork now so that we can argue that we have a better “science-based alternative” to a blanket 14-day self-isolation rule.
Airlines, airports, tour operators and travel agents for once need to work closely together and speak with one co-ordinated voice.
The alternative is further uncertainty and economic damage.