Interview: ‘Travel needs to learn from the Covid-19 crisis’

Jacobs Media Group chairman Clive Jacobs speaks to Ian Taylor

The Covid-19 pandemic will “transform the industry”, according to Clive Jacobs, chairman of Travel Weekly parent company Jacobs Media Group.

He said: “I’ve seen travel become an essential part of our lives. Economically, it has made a difference to the world and helped many countries improve their income, particularly some of the poorest. So this is a tragedy.

“It caught governments completely by surprise. A crisis like this needs people who can be decisive, but we’ve seen a lack of decisiveness. When you’re indecisive and eventually make a decision, invariably it isn’t the best one.

“This has to be treated seriously. But there have been numerous misjudgements, not just by our government but by governments around the world.

“Lockdown was too late and didn’t include quarantine. Now we have quarantine and it has created dramatic uncertainty in travel and in confidence to fly or book. Why didn’t we have quarantine at the beginning?

“The UK government is certainly not unique. Countries that locked down hard are paying a price. Covid isn’t going to go away. We have to accept that, and the chance of a vaccine that is highly effective is pretty slim for some time. So we’ve got to learn to live with it. The efforts really should be on shielding the vulnerable and working out ways to live with this virus in the medium term.”

‘Change way we deal with client money’

Speaking during Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week, Jacobs said: “The government doesn’t really understand our industry. They don’t understand its overall contribution to GDP. They don’t understand outbound or inbound. They don’t understand if you don’t support outbound, you’re damaging inbound.

“One of the reasons they don’t understand is that the industry talks with many voices. Frankly, even if everyone collectively took a rifle shot at the government, it would be a challenge. But when we’re so scattered in our approach, it’s like gnats biting an elephant.

“The government will run to the cause that causes them most grief in the press. When furlough ends and three million people hit the dole, most from hospitality or travel and associated industries, they will start to get the message. But the damage will be done.

“One of the things the industry needs to learn from this is to work more closely together. There are so many elements to our industry. We don’t have a powerful voice that is consistent and coherent [and] that has cost the industry.

“We need to learn to communicate better, more strategically with the government. There are too many cross conversations going on.

“But the industry has also done damage to itself, because certain businesses have not been refunding customers in the way they should.

“If the industry wants to get back credibility and confidence with clients, we need to change the way we deal with client money.

“I built Holiday Autos on client money. That is the way the industry works. Customers crowdfunded my business – that is how I was able to build Holiday Autos. Truth be told, the risks have been exposed many times, but this [pandemic has] tipped it in a different direction.

“We’ve got to learn lessons, otherwise confidence in this industry will be severely damaged.

“If [customer] money had to go into escrow [trust accounts] people would have to find other ways of raising money. We have to move forward in a way that creates confidence.”

Industry should ‘lead on health protocols’

Jacobs argued: “People are hailing Rishi Sunak as the next leader of the Conservative Party. But to me, it’s common sense. Do you want a situation where hard-working people with mortgages and families find themselves out of work?

“The right thing to do would be to continue to support industries that are affected and get everyone else back to work.

“There are going to be good companies that fail. Many businesses have not got the right levels of funding. The problem is we’ve been in this state of suspension and people have been able to muddle through. Just as businesses feel they can come through, they will run out of cash.

“We can’t keep taking on debt. There is no point piling more on to a business which eventually would sink it. There has to be the right balance.

“We have to learn to live with this disease. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything possible to create [health] protocols.

“As an industry we have to lead the way. It’s no use waiting for the government. You’ve only got to look at the track and trace system. We need to set protocols and lead in terms of best practice, not just for now but for the future.

“If we want travel to move forward, people have to comply or they can’t travel. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got to take measures to create confidence, and prove to governments and particularly Centres for Disease Control [CDCs] that we’re taking measures that are best practice and minimise risk – because this is all about risk minimisation.

“Covid has wreaked havoc. In future, there might be other viruses. We had Sars, Mers, swine flu and there is no reason not to expect a more lethal virus than Covid. The fact is these viruses cross borders on aircraft. So we have to put in place protocols, like post-9/11. The likelihood of terrorists being able to get on a plane was rapidly diminished by the measures taken post-9/11.

“We’re in the thick of Covid, but we should be asking ‘how are we going to stop this happening again?’ How can we protect our industry and protect people?

“I’m no expert but there should be ways to stop diseases moving around the world. We can learn from this, protect people better and insulate ourselves from a repeat.”


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