Comment: ‘We need to learn to live with this disease’ and founder Olly Brendon favours relaxing travel restrictions and protecting the vulnerable

It was during a Monday lunchtime in Penrith as I walking past a huge queue at McDonald’s that I finally concluded that Boris Johnson’s government was making it up as they went along.

A few days before, I had seen pictures of Boris – never one to miss a publicity stunt – running in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and pleading with the nation to ‘lose weight and save lives’.

Needless to say, the people outside McDonald’s in Penrith were queuing for their half-priced burgers as part of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Taxpayers were subsidising people to get fat. I then went to Starbucks for a coffee and got a 50% discount that I neither needed, expected or particularly wanted. Our taxpayers were inflating the profits of a US corporation that avoids paying tax in the UK. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Having categorically said that they could not help individual sectors or save every business, the government launched a subsidised meal scheme and a tax cut for the domestic hospitality sector which almost certainly didn’t need it. UK hotels and restaurants were always going to boom after lockdown restrictions were eased and whilst overseas travel restrictions remained. Having been on holiday in Cornwall and Cumbria this year, I can vouch that almost every hotel, campsite, restaurant, and pub was full every single day of the week. There is speculation that the government now plans to provide financial assistance to the domestic arts sector; no doubt as a result of lobbying from Boris’s Etonian chums.

The outbound travel industry in the UK plays a critical role in the wellbeing of our citizens and increased tolerance and understanding of other cultures. It also contributes over £28 billion to the UK’s GDP (1.8% of the total) and directly supports 214,000 jobs.

My company operates in the tours and activities sector. Pre-purchase of a theatre ticket or theme park ticket is of course discretionary since there is always the option for customers to buy at the gate and in resort. But, of course, the benefits of customers pre-purchasing is that my company (and others like mine) pays corporation tax in the UK, employs people who pay tax in the UK and boosts the UK economy. Without our sub-sector of the travel industry, customers would buy their attraction tickets in resort and all these benefits would evaporate.

The government needs to provide industry-specific support (as they have proved they can) to save travel businesses and tens of thousands of jobs. In fact, I am in favour of relaxing the travel and general Covid restrictions altogether while expending every effort to safeguard the vulnerable. Since a vaccine is some way off and may never be developed (though treatment of the disease is likely to improve, as in the Aids epidemic), I think we all need to adapt and learn to live with the disease rather than shutting things down when there are inevitable spikes.

We know the number of deaths from Covid, but what we don’t clearly understand is the enormous damage caused by lockdown and the disproportionate fear that people are living with.

The true cost of depression, suicides, cancer, heart disease, job losses, missed education, evictions, tax rises, higher debt, reduced charity donations and mental illness is not being logged in the same meticulous way that infection rates and deaths are.

If, however, the government are committed to imposing restrictions, they should at least be sensible, logical and consistent. Telling people to go back to work whilst also avoiding peak times on public transport, restricting groups of children while also opening schools, prioritising pubs opening above schools, making visitors to Crete quarantine but not visitors to Bolton, just doesn’t make sense.

As with most outbound travel businesses, we have faced a perfect storm of refunding tens of millions of pounds whilst generating virtually no revenue.

Consequently, we recently completed a consultation period which resulted in some redundancies although I am pleased to say that more jobs were saved than lost due to staff agreeing to reduced hours, sabbaticals or job shares.

There seems no doubt that government ministers who are laying down the law in such a bizarre and inconsistent way have never had to look into the eyes of loyal, long-standing employees and tell them they are being made redundant.

They will have never had to shatter the hopes, dreams and aspirations of someone who simply wants to lead a good, normal life serving customers and the company they love. They will not have seen the shock in someone’s face as it sinks in that they are unemployed through no fault of their own and that the lives of their family are going to suffer.

The present government are mostly people who never even had a proper job.  They are certainly people who have never built a company from nothing with graft, sweat, tears, sleepless nights and sacrifice. They could never understand just how precious a business could be to those who work there. If they could, surely they would be doing a better job of assisting travel businesses rather than adopting endless, senseless policies that are slowly killing them.

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