Tour operator bosses have called for pan-European protocols to enable a safe return of holidays across the continent, but say restrictions must be implemented “logically” and “politely”.

Speaking at a virtual Majorca Tourism event, Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy, and Tui’s head of mainland Spain and the Balearics, Ian Livesey, agreed standard protocols were needed.

Heapy said: “There should be a European protocol. We could wait for a vaccine, but it may not arrive, or it may be some time.”

“In the absence of a vaccine governments need to work together,” he said. “So it needs a European framework for the opening and closing of air corridors, a European framework for the categorisation and measurement of infection levels and a European framework for testing.”

He said he’s “seen glaciers moving quicker than things are at the moment”, adding: “We have to get travel moving again, the economy is getting worse and worse and we are heading for quite a severe European recession. If things aren’t put in place quickly, we might not get a recession, we might get a depression.”

He said “we have to put [Covid] into perspective” against rises in deaths from other diseases and mental health issues caused by isolation, and “come up very quickly with a set of protocols that can get Europe moving again”.

“Otherwise, we will go back to the dark ages,” Heapy argued. “We need solutions that will allow the world to continue whilst protecting the vulnerable.”

Livesey said: “I believe we are going to get the vaccine sooner or later but, when, we don’t know. So the European protocols in the meantime are very important.”

He said the way of measuring the number of infected people “should be the same in all countries.”

Livesey said it was also important to “follow up” on travel corridors, to evaluate current situations. “This is going to be a little bit like a rollercoaster, so we need to be prepared,” he said. “We need to know how to act together.”

He added: “Tour operators all want clients to travel. We are all trying to come up with agreements with insurance companies and carry on protecting the client from the Covid situation and give the safety they require for their trip.”

Livesey called for a ‘risk protocol’ so clients are “well-informed of what’s going on in the destination”. Noting the swathes of information available online, he said some “logical protocols” to standardise the process of travelling across Europe would be “a big help”.

“Hotels have been spending a lot on improving the standards, but we have to be able to sell the island  as a place where the situation is controlled,” said Livesey, referring to Majorca.

Heapy added: “People want things to be how the used to be. They don’t want a new normal, they want the old normal back. They don’t want to, for the rest of their lives, walk round with a face mask on, stand two metres apart from people and sanitise their hands every 15 seconds.

“Unfortunately, with the pandemic the way it is, it is very difficult to provide a holiday similar to the ones they experienced previously.

“People want certainty. They don’t want to travel abroad with a chance they might be tested positive and have to go into quarantine,” added Heapy, coneding: “We can’t, as an industry, give them that”.

“When they go on holiday, they want to feel like they’re on holiday,” he added. “They want to relax, they want to do what they want when they want. They don’t want to be told where to go and to put their mask on. They want to go on holiday and not feel like they’re starring in the Shawshank Redemption.”

He said protocols should be “as light touch as possible” and “very unrestrictive for customers”.

Heapy said customers will be “forgiving” of “some disruptions to their holidays” if “done sensitively” and stressed the importance for high staffing levels because customers currently have “lots of questions”.

He said Jet2holidays had “no intention to replace staff with apps” and stressed the importance of “real people with real voices on the ground” to treat customers “with respect, not like cattle”.

“We have to make sure we don’t become too obsessed with rules and regulations and too efficacious and make people’s holiday a misery [but] most importantly we have to make people feel safe so we have to put in place the protocols… but they have to be done in a very polite way,” he said.

“Things have to change, hopefully on a temporary basis, but we have to take customers with us. You do it a lot better when you tell people why. Some businesses are not doing that and slavishly following rules and regulations.”