Allowing ‘tsunami’ of job losses is ‘economically short-sighted’, says Alastair Donnelly, co-founder and director of Inside Asia and Inside Japan parent Inside Travel Group

You have to be a special kind of person to work in travel. Resilience, patience, determination and a wry sense of humour are qualities us travel professionals all have in spades.

Crisis management isn’t something we do on the side – it’s the main event. Whether it’s an ash cloud, a tsunami, an earthquake, terrorism or a customer with a broken leg, we are all professionals at handling challenging situations and by hook or by crook, we get through.

I recently read an article in Travel Weekly quoting the chief executive of one of our industry’s respected brands, and they referred to the plight of the travel industry and discussions around furlough extensions. They suggested, among other things, that we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and that we should have planned for the worst.

As the director of a travel company with a specialist destination that is hit by hundreds of earthquakes a year, suffers typhoons regularly and almost ten years ago got hit by the biggest tsunami in a thousand years, we always plan for the worst and have to look ahead as we do with everything in our business in order to keep ahead of the game.

At the moment, the borders to all of our destinations across Asia are firmly closed. We don’t know how long that will be for and, until they open, we cannot send any customers there. It is a bit of a tough one for a destination specialist. We would love to be able to shift destinations to suit situations, but we are specialists. We pride ourselves on the service we give to our customers and what we have added to the industry over the last twenty years. Us specialists are innovators.

With the aim of offering a genuinely outstanding service, as a company, we are always looking to change, evolve and get better. But in terms of the destinations we offer, we are unable to ‘pivot’. Perhaps you would say that our specialty is our weakness. But some of the country’s very best travel businesses are specialists and find themselves in a similar position today.

Our clients have given us a massive vote of confidence with, to date, more than 70% of our 2020 customers choosing to rebook for 2021. However, with our destinations closed we have had very little new business this year and we can’t just pull down the shutters and wait for the big bounce back. We need our teams in place to look after our clients and manage those cancellations and rebookings. And when travel restarts, we need to have our operations and customer support staff in place in destination along with our Insider ground crew so we can continue to provide the very best travel experience possible.

It feels like the wider travel industry sits on the edge of a precipice. The abyss is opening up in front of thousands of businesses up and down the country and without targeted government support for our sector, a tsunami of job losses will sweep across the nation this autumn, gutting large parts of the industry.

That is why our company is supporting calls for the government to put in place sector-specific support measures to replace furlough when that scheme ends next month. And we believe that as an industry we need to come together, to speak with one voice and to support one another.

Of course, we all know that the government cannot prop up our sector indefinitely, nor do we ask it to. But it is economically short-sighted to risk letting it collapse. All the millions spent so far on the furlough scheme will have been for nought in terms of long-term gain. There will be no ROI on that spend. Great businesses will disappear having never had a chance to get back on their feet and be drivers of economic recovery. Potentially hundreds for thousands of jobs will be lost.

It is not just elements of the travel industry calling for the government to take action. The opposition parties, the treasury select committee, the unions, the CBI, the British Chamber of Commerce – that’s quite the coalition – are all calling on the government to act to avoid a “cliff-edge” at the end of October when the furlough scheme ends.

While we are, of course, preparing for the end of government support, we are buoyed by yesterday’s news that the chancellor is considering potential replacements for the furlough scheme. We don’t want to rely on government support, but my company stands in solidarity with those independent travel companies up and down the country who need targeted government assistance to retain their highly-skilled staff so, when the bounce back comes, they are ready to flourish.

So many positives – economic, social, and to general wellbeing – come from what we, in the travel industry, all do. I believe it is important to continue offering the adventurous and curious British public that exciting, eye-opening and inspirational sustainable travel that we and countless others have built our names on.

We have enormous talent in the industry. We have great companies. And we all work incredibly hard. But at this time, we’d all welcome an additional helping hand.

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