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Comment: Positivity around booking holidays would be nice

If you can’t sell customers long-haul or ski, sell them something they can do, says Cosmos chief executive Giles Hawke.

Should you book a holiday? Consumers could be forgiven for feeling confused. The recent furore over government telling people not to book holidays – only for some ministers to say they had booked – plus caveats around the prime minister’s lockdown relaxation dates, have all contributed to a less-than-clear picture.

Alongside this is the soundtrack of some people saying holidays aren’t important and trying to create a sense of shame and guilt among those trying to get holidays booked. This judgemental attitude over whether a holiday is important or not (it is!) and whether other industries are more important is extremely unhelpful to our beleaguered industry with many businesses teetering on the edge.

Inbound and outbound tourism combined are worth hundreds of billions in tax and contribution to GDP. The sector also employs millions of people and provides millions more with life‑enriching experiences.

Look further and tourism contributes 10% of global GDP and means many people around the world are meaningfully employed and kept out of poverty, especially in countries where tourism is an even-bigger economic contributor. So we need to keep fighting for our sector and working in a joined-up way to help government come up with a clear roadmap out of this situation and create a positive soundtrack around taking a holiday.

Half-term challenge

I spent most of half-term on leave and we tried to do family things to make it feel like a holiday even though we couldn’t go anywhere or do things we usually would. We set some challenges, like a bake‑off competition (I lost), had a family sleepover in the lounge watching films, and everyone read a new book (Mark Beaumont’s The Man Who Cycled the World, in case you’re interested). I even agreed to one game of Monopoly and one game of Risk (I can’t bear either).

The week’s crowning glory was a 100km/ 100 mile challenge: get to 100km on foot or by bike and you’re entitled to a takeaway of your choice; get to 100 miles and you can have a second one. This was never intended as a competition but was taken up with gusto by all, with everyone going out whatever the weather each day. I now have the expense to come of two family takeaways – who knows if we will get them to agree to the same food type – but it was well worth it for the exercise and fresh air benefits. We made the most of what could have been an awful week of cold wet weather and everyone feels like they have had a break.

That said, it wasn’t anything like an actual holiday. We didn’t see new places, we didn’t experience new food and new activities, and we didn’t fully escape the day to day. If we have to, we will find a way to make Easter an interesting and exciting homestay, but I’m hoping we will get to go away and experience a proper holiday now it seems as though domestic self-catering may be possible from April 12.

Agent opportunity

From mid-May, it seems we may be able to travel farther afield in the UK. Within the Cosmos and Globus portfolio, we have 30 tours that cover the UK and Ireland, with durations from five to 25 days to suit all price points. In the short to medium term, I see this as a big opportunity for agents to cater for customers who are desperate for a holiday but aren’t comfortable or able to go overseas.

If we are able to go overseas from mid-May or mid-June, we may find many destinations are closed to us due to vaccine passports not being ready, or quarantine rules. We also don’t yet know what our own travel corridor and quarantine rules are likely to be. We will be heading overseas, but it may take a while until it’s straightforward. That time will come.

Until then, we’ve all learnt in the past year that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So if you can’t sell your customers long-haul beach breaks, tours of North America, ski holidays or a cruise around the Med, sell them something they can do.

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