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Comment: Rules fatigue has set in

People have been putting off travel but want to get on with their lives now, says Cosmos and Avalon chief executive Giles Hawke

We are now into 2022 and none of us know what sort of year it will be. If we were to delve back into history, as far as January 2021 maybe, we would see all sorts of predictions of what was going to happen and when everything was going to be back to normal and we would be shocked at how our expectations were so far ahead of reality.

True, a number of people did get away for holidays in 2021. True, the vaccine rollout has prevented a significant number of deaths and people getting ill. And true, the travel industry didn’t get any dedicated support from government.

I will therefore resist making any big predictions about the coming year as it is impossible to know what will unfold. What I will focus on is what is true as we begin 2022.

The debate about restrictions versus protections is as strong as ever. Some would argue the things we are asked/obliged to do restrict our freedoms and our lives, while others would say they protect us and others so we can have those lives back sooner.

Risk assessment

There is also debate about what will prevent Covid-19 spreading and whether international travel is a good or bad thing in this pandemic. I would, obviously, argue that international travel is a good thing and should be properly opened up.

We are allowing people to go to sports matches, travel on public transport, visit pubs and restaurants, go to cinemas and theatres and live a pretty ‘normal life’ domestically. There is nothing about going on an aircraft or ferry to another country – with their own restrictions, often way more stringent than ours – that makes international travel any more of a risk than doing all of these things within our own borders.

Maybe testing is the answer to letting us all get on with our lives and allowing our great industry to bounce back. But if it is, we need tests to be much more affordable, and easy to administer – and we need rules to be set without constantly being changed.

Overall, it’s clear that things like masks, vaccinations and vaccination certificates, sensible social distancing and good public health messaging are important protections. After this, we really do start to move into what I see as restrictions – forcing people to spend significant sums of money to test several times just because they want to go to another country, constantly changing rules to create a climate of fear and distrust among consumers, threatening lockdowns and further restrictions without any clarity around what, how and when.

Big opportunity

All of this is just trying to be seen to do something rather than actually doing something, and it is an important distinction. We are stuck with Covid-19 and all need to learn to live with that fact and work out how life can resume normally with the right protections in place for all of us.

This is where the big opportunity is for the travel industry in the coming months. People want to get on with life; many people have Covid-19 fatigue; and many just want to do the things they have been putting off or not allowed to do for almost two years now, including travel.

The respect that may once have been there for following the rules seems to have greatly diminished, and there is a growing sense that people understand and accept the protections that are necessary, but aren’t prepared to accept the restrictions deemed heavy-handed.

Most of those related to international travel fit into the latter bracket of restrictions, rather than protections, and it’s likely consumers are going to begin to ignore them, book holidays and find ways to travel and enjoy life while staying safe by employing sensible protective measures.

I may well find this prediction comes back to bite me, but I feel that we have to remain positive and optimistic and believe common sense and pragmatism will come out on top.

I hope, for all of our sakes, that we see some form of normality return in the very near future and that we all have a successful 2022.

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