Ministers have raised hopes, but now must provide clarity, says If Only general manager Gordon McCreadie
When Boris Johnson set out his roadmap two weeks ago, and cited a potential restart date for travel, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Many in the industry had valid concerns that we would be overlooked again, so the focus on international travel was a definite positive.
That said, with uncertainty still circulating around mandatory quarantine, vaccine passports and testing requirements, I think we’d be extremely naive to assume it will be all systems go on May 17.
While we’ve observed a spike in bookings and enquiries at If Only, there are still a lot of nervous travellers unwilling to jet off until the fourth quarter or beyond.
Travel agents seem to be veering more towards booking through operators, rather than dynamically packaging, due to the added reassurance of refunds and easy amendments if restrictions change.
But the big question is how does the industry reinstall consumer confidence to drive bookings for this summer onwards, and what do we require from the government to achieve this?
Vaccine certificates are a hot topic. Countries like Sweden and Denmark are working rapidly to produce their own versions before summer, while Greece, Cyprus and the Seychelles have already indicated that proof of vaccination is likely to be a necessity. And in the air, Qantas is hinting it wants passengers to be vaccinated. So it seems a form of certification is inevitable.
In many ways, it’s a great concept. We’ve been providing yellow fever certificates to access certain countries for years without any issue, and to my mind it’s much the same. What’s not clear is whether it will require a letter from your doctor or, more likely, be recorded on a mobile app – and if it will incur a cost.
We also need to know how the government will ensure those who have not had the vaccine will be able to travel without discrimination.
There’s also the question of children, who may not receive the vaccine. Will they have to provide a negative test to enjoy a family holiday?
To truly reassure our customers, we need clarity. Our government needs to work alongside other states to set out clear and concise parameters for international travel.
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d have to self-quarantine with my family following our summer holiday, I’d probably have looked to cancel and rebook for when these measures ceased to be necessary. Fast-forward 12 months, however, with no clarity on quarantine and a severe lack of vitamin D, and I’d be quite happy to spend some time at home as long as I was able to escape to the sun for a few weeks first.
A huge proportion of the public have reconciled themselves to the idea of a short home quarantine stint after travel, particularly with so many now working from home, but the government has to establish clearer guidelines. A two-week period will cause problems for essential workers, for example. At the tail end of last year, the government was allowing arrivals from certain destinations to take a test after five days at home, and cease quarantining if it was negative, so I’m confident that lengthy quarantine times can be reduced.
Mandatory hotel quarantine is a whole other matter, though. The cost makes it unattainable for the majority of travellers. A lot of people won’t have £1,750 per person to spend on their holiday, let alone a secondary hotel stay when they return. If hotel quarantine continues to be a possibility, the industry won’t be able to bounce back by summer. The government owes it to us to come up with an efficient alternative to this blanket approach.
Actions speak louder than words. Questions about vaccine certification and mandatory quarantine need to be answered in the coming weeks if we’re to have any hope of a vibrant summer season.
The government has an obligation to the industry, and to the holiday-hungry public, to make this happen and turn travel dreams into reality once again.