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‘Bumpy ride ahead’ but industry will succeed, says Virgin Group’s Swaffield

The industry faces a “bumpy ride” with some “strong headwinds” in the coming months but will succeed thanks to the industry’s resilience and the strong demand for travel, according to Virgin Group executive Andrew Swaffield.

Swaffield, chief commercial officer of the Virgin Group and chief executive for the Virgin Red loyalty scheme, said he was optimistic about the industry’s future post-pandemic but admitted some new problems lay ahead.

Speaking at Abta’s Travel Convention, he said: “As we now face some of the end of some of the support from government, some of us are going to be facing new challenges.

“We will have regulators looking to protect consumers from the refunds experience of the pandemic.

“We are going to have to be ready for some quite strong headwinds coming our way as we get over the first phase of this crisis.”

As international travel opens up he predicted: “Demand will be strong. It’s clearly going to be a bumpy ride [but] we have created a resilient industry.

“If we can get through something like this [pandemic] I am pretty sure we can get through pretty much anything.”

He attributed the fact the industry had managed to survive the Covid-19 pandemic to the “strength of the industry and the people in it” as well as the fact “people love travel.”

He added: “They love going to foreign shores. Increasingly we are hoping they will love going into space.

Recovery was likely to differ by market, he said, adding there was “room for optimism” for travel worldwide subject to international travel rules becoming “more straightforward”.

“Virgin Atlantic experienced a great bounce-back in terms of booking demand very recently with the end of the red list for places like South Africa and when the US reopened, minus a date. We are seeing demand there,” he said.

Referring to the Virgin Group’s recovery he said: “We have managed to open some hotels, launch a cruise ship and restructure our airlines.

“Not all businesses have been so fortunate. My heart goes out to anyone that is struggling and on the edge of coping from a business point of view.”

He urged any beleaguered businesses to “reach out” for support, particularly from the travel sector itself, adding: “It’s a very positive aspect of our industry that despite all the competitiveness we are a group that will support each other.”

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