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Comment: I’m super-excited not only for my own trip but for travel’s future

We need a clear and unambiguous message from government about how international travel will be opened up, says Cosmos and Avalon Waterways chief executive Giles Hawke

As you read this, I’ll be packing my bags to go on a five-day Cosmos coach tour. I’m super‑excited just writing this column – we will be taking UK customers on holiday for the first time in 15 months and have three tours to different places, all heading out on the same day.

This is a big boost for our whole business and all our people here in the UK, as well as all those travel agents who have helped us sell these holidays.

During the last year, there have been a few times when many will have wondered whether we would ever make it to this point – people actually taking holidays and (most) businesses still being around.

In some ways what makes this feeling of relief and excitement even more palpable is the fact that, despite extremely challenging conditions, we are here and the future looks brighter.

As I think about what to pack (not having been anywhere for a year) and check all the documentation to ensure I’m bringing the correct confirmation of my Covid jabs, it makes me reflect on the amazing efforts and resilience of those working in the travel industry worldwide.

The tempest

I would suggest that, outside of those working in frontline medical care, no other sector has been as deeply impacted by the pandemic as travel. People’s whole means of making a living was removed overnight. And businesses haven’t been able to just ‘shut up shop and weather the storm’, as there have been existing customers, future-booked customers and future-booking customers to look after to try to retain or gain in order to have a business when this whole situation has ended.

The uncertainty and lack of clarity throughout has made the task even harder than it should have been, and we are not yet out of the woods.

One of the remarkable things about working in travel, though, is that the people involved are passionate, hardworking, customer-focused individuals with significant resilience – the last of these qualities built up over years of contending with awful, bizarre and downright laughable circumstances which get thrown our way. Yet all these barriers are invariably tackled with a shrug, a smile and a ‘let’s make it happen’ attitude, which is how we will weather this particular storm too.

As you like it

So, on June 20 we operate our first tours in Jersey, Shakespeare Country and Scotland, with members of our team joining each to report on what is happening and how it’s all going.

From then, we have a whole series of UK tours over the summer and into autumn. These are booking so well, we keep having to add more dates.

What we need now, and don’t have at time of writing, is a clear and unambiguous message from our government about how international travel will be opened up, and when.

Other countries are managing to make it work and committing to timelines and criteria for travel that are way less onerous than ours, and much easier to understand and work with.

What we seem to be dealing with is a case of British exceptionalism in extremis, with us trying to do things differently but creating a monster that is impossible to manage.

Working with the EU and with the US on a common approach to protocols such as vaccine certification, testing and border controls would open up a massive chunk of our world very quickly if the will is there. I sincerely hope we will see an easing of this crazy approach by the end of this month.

Back to my packing. I usually have a ‘go bag’ as I travel often for work. This has been dismantled over the past 15 months, so I’m pretty certain I’ll be at hotel reception on the first day asking for a toothbrush, a razor or a pair of socks since I’m so out of practice at this travelling business.

What is for sure is that even though I’m there in a working capacity, I will be ridiculously excited to be jumping on the coach, meeting my fellow passengers, setting off on an adventure and restarting travel with a view to a very bright future for us all.

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