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Comment: Give travel sector time to prepare

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson warns government industry ‘cannot just switch back on’

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I’ve heard this quote from Benjamin Franklin many times in my life and it always feels relevant no matter the situation. I’m a strong believer in preparation and this attitude has stood me in good stead over the course of my career.

But what happens if something outside your control prevents you from preparing? What happens if you’re not given the opportunity to prepare? In the travel industry, that is what is happening right now.

Without laying out a roadmap – even a tentative roadmap – the UK government, and its devolved administrations, are preventing the industry from preparing its recovery. Travel businesses of all shapes and sizes have been left to float in a detached limbo with no real indication of when or how travel may begin to gradually resume. And it’s this lack of information, and lack of opportunity to prepare, that could have the biggest impact on businesses.

Travel cannot just switch back on with a couple of weeks’ notice. I’ve been speaking with our travel partners this week – cruise lines, airlines and tour operators – and we’ve discussed these concerns at length. It seems there is a lack of government consideration and understanding of how much work will need to go into getting ready to travel.

Restart logistics

The optimum timeframe for those preparing the logistics to reopen large-scale operations such as flight routes and cruise lines seems to be two to three months. From restarting recruitment of seasonal workers to retraining staff and liaising with destination partners to planning and implementing Covid policies that meet requirements from all countries – it’s a mammoth task.

For travel agents, like Barrhead Travel, while we don’t need much notice to get our stores open, we rely on our partners to be able to trade. It’s therefore just as important for agents to support our partners by making these issues known. Speak to your suppliers, find out their challenges and ensure you make reference to this when reaching out to your local MPs or local government.

Of course, we face our own challenges as agents. Colleagues who have been on furlough since March will need huge amounts of support and training to make sure they can come back to work with confidence. We’ll be relying on partners to help us with training to get all our employees up to speed with what’s changed, what’s new and how each product has adapted to the new way of travel.

This knowledge will be more important than ever as customers turn to agents and expect real-time advice about all types of travel. That’s a significant training operation and one we’re already planning to deliver to hundreds of employees.

We’ve been preparing for every possible scenario. Contingencies for resource, training, what product to sell, how much marketing to initiate – the list feels virtually endless. It’s taken tireless dedication from our teams, and real resilience, to prepare so much and I’m so grateful for their commitment.

Information is key

Any number of formulas for travel’s restart could appear. We can’t predict exactly how it will unfold – we can only do our best to map out as many scenarios as possible. Writing in advance of the prime minister’s announcement this week of its general roadmap out of lockdown, I doubt very much that there will be clear information or even thresholds for international travel to reopen.

Information will be the key ingredient to giving us all the best possible chance of recovery and we must continue to press all governments for this. It has to be at the forefront of conversations, media engagement and discussions with MPs because the success of reopening international travel will be contingent on how well-informed we are and how the information we have lets us prepare.

While we might not be able to prepare as fully as we would like without in-depth information, we are certainly not failing to prepare. As we have throughout this pandemic, we’ll be preparing to adapt, change, react and respond to whatever comes our way.

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