Will the travel industry survive the pandemic?

The truth is, no one knows. It’s certainly a very shaky time for the industry.

29/09/20

Diane Hall

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Quarantine rules change constantly, and the risk of infection is no less in other countries than in the UK. Even if you can find a flight to somewhere that’s not on Covid-19’s ‘naughty list’, there are far fewer planes running, fewer venues open when you arrive, and a raft of health and hygiene measures that are hardly relaxing to adopt.


UK airline Flybe went bust because of the virus’s impact on bookings, and the number of jobs their competitor, Virgin, cut ran into the thousands. Few airlines, if any, have come through the first wave of the virus unscathed.


Travel company Thomas Cook was another household name within the industry that was forced into administration after negotiations to save the company collapsed. 


Deferring holidays until the worst of the pandemic is over was one option for people who had booked to go abroad; however, many were left fuming that this was the only choice offered by some tour operators. Complaining to industry body ABTA didn’t appear to make much difference – two prominent companies, loveholidays and On The Beach, left the organisation, as they refused to back down in disputes with angry holidaymakers relating to refunds for cancelled trips.


All this together certainly points to an industry in chaos. Can the travel sector survive this crisis?


From a practical point of view, ensuring the safety of travellers may take a while yet. As we live alongside Covid-19 and abide by certain restrictions, it’s unknown if we will ever eradicate the world of the virus completely. At least until an effective vaccine has been created, social distancing practices and hygiene as the utmost priority may put some people off holidaying outside the UK. However necessary it may be, it’s neither appealing nor relaxing to think of basking in the sun with a mask on and having to apply sanitiser more often than your sun-cream. 


Another hurdle is the price of holidays going forward. Though demand and supply drive the travel industry – i.e. when demand is low during the wintry months, the price of holidays is infinitely cheaper than in peak holiday season – this isn’t necessarily the case when there’s a global pandemic. 


The lack of demand due to the things we’ve mentioned (and more) should see prices go down - however, due to lost income over the past six months and uncertainty over the future, as well as a million other things, it’s now much more costly for airlines to run a flight, or for hotel owners to open their hotels, etc. So much so that supply has shrunk exponentially. And as a result, the cost of holidays has shot up. 


For the industry to survive, holidaymakers will need to be prepared to shell out a lot more than they’re used to, even if they do want to risk a trip overseas. Also bear in mind that the situation we’re in is playing out across the world. The shaky economy of one country is mirrored in the next. Job losses from virtually no tourism has wiped out many providers in holiday hotspots; we can also boast a high percentage of redundancies here in the UK. 


Fewer people in work means less money in the system. Fewer people who can afford to treat themselves to a fortnight in Greece, given the hike in prices and the possibility of a further two weeks in quarantine on their return.


According to Euromonitor International, “Demand for international travel could fall by as much as 80 per cent this year, and recovery to pre-crisis levels could be stretched into 2023 if the global economy sinks further.”


So, can the industry bounce back? 


Eventually.


Safety, of course, will be paramount. Airlines and hotels must reassure their customers that every precaution that can be taken is being taken, if they wish to attract people on their flights and to their venues. Local knowledge, surrounding safety measures and the impact of the virus within specific resorts - perhaps via good old travel agencies - will also prove valuable; such information is likely to change often and it will be difficult to instil confidence in potential holidaymakers if your intel is ancient.


Until we have a vaccine or there is something else on the horizon that indicates the virus is eradicated/under control, having a flexible approach towards refunds/deferring dates will also help coax the average holidaymaker into putting down a deposit. 


There will be few people in the UK and beyond who wouldn’t like a holiday. Affording one, and covering all eventualities in case Covid-19 has yet more tricks up its sleeve, will be significant issues most of us will need to combat first. 


Experts predict that the virus is going nowhere. Neither are we for a while, by the looks of things.


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