Embracing testing will help industry reduce ‘stigma’, says Steve Endacott
The Sunday Times last weekend reported on a YouGov poll showing that seven in ten people would be prepared to sacrifice foreign travel if it meant that lockdown restrictions could be eased as planned in Britain.
Based on that information, you could be tempted to stay shut irrespective of the financial damage done. But when did the choice between an overseas holiday or a UK break become an either/or situation?
Of course, if you ask customers a question phrased in the way the YouGov survey did, who wouldn’t vote to sacrifice their overseas holiday?
But where is the evidence that travel represents such a massive risk to a vaccinated population? Sorry, but it’s not been presented.
Instead, we have just had scientific posturing and the usual leaks from government officials. They are clearly trying to set public expectation, even though the full travel review will not be issued until April 12. It is truly frustrating, given the devastating impact on forward bookings it’s had for many companies.
As an industry, we need to demand a risk-based approach with clear rules stating the criteria to be used in deciding risk levels and how destinations will be allocated to the green and amber travel corridors, and the red no-go zones.
Fortunately, the UK government last summer recognised the need to operate travel corridors at a destination or island level, rather than applying blanket countrywide rulings, for instance when locations like the Canaries are nowhere near mainland Spain.
In my opinion, the best the industry can hope for in terms of short-haul travel is to keep the Balearic, Canaries and Greek Islands in green/amber zones, as it’s unlikely travel will be possible to mainland Europe if a third wave of Covid-19 continues to take route.
Few customers will want to travel to the destinations where Covid restrictions reduce restaurant or bar opening hours, as the whole point of a holiday is to escape and enjoy life. The government’s biggest Covid travel policeman will be customers themselves.
Scientists tell us that a fist vaccination dose gives 65% protection, which increases to 90% after a second jab. As the UK has seen, increasing vaccination levels dramatically reduces the death rate, and the rate of Covid-19 spread.
Most holiday destinations will welcome UK customers with either a health certificate showing two jabs or a negative PCR test.
Using simplistic maths, if we take an average vaccination protection of 75%, then 25% of customers carry some risk of infection and therefore it is important to limit green destinations to locations that have similarly low infection rates.
However, imposing rapid flow tests 72 hours before return, and again after five days of quarantine, should allow a much larger range of amber destination to go on sale because the combination of vaccination and testing should provide a high degree of protection against importing Covid.
The government righty fears Covid mutations resistant to vaccination. However, and as demonstrated by the highly contagious Kent mutation, most aren’t resistant and like flu.
We will have to amend the vaccination and continue to vaccinate the county against new strains each year. We cannot be locked down by a fear of the unknown when that unknown is going to be with us forever.
Politicians’ behaviour is driven by public opinion, so if we allow government to drive a fear-led agenda without challenge, we will stay closed until at least August. It’s time to fight fear, with a risk-led approach using logic and science but balanced by economic damage.
As an industry, we need to remove the stigma of going on holiday being a ‘selfish’ act, by embracing testing and minimal quarantine as the key ways to protect against imported Covid outbreaks.
Expecting large amounts of green travel corridors that require nothing more than a vaccination certificate is not realistic for summer 2021.
This summer, let’s be clear that overseas holidays are an issue of survival for large swathes of the travel industry that desperately needs some cash to get through the dark winter ahead before we enjoy a travel bonanza in summer 2022.
Read more from Steve Endacott on his blog.