Interest Pieces

Maybe the Travel Industry Shouldn’t Recover After Lockdown

For the many people feeling the sting of their summer holidays being cancelled, the idea of not wanting the travel industry to recover may seem like madness born of a lockdown cabin-fevered mind!

The thought of being able to travel again eventually is a comforting and encouraging one for a number of people during these difficult times, so there’s no question that the travel sector will be greeted back with open arms once the lockdown ends.

But to play devil’s travel agent — should it?

Criticising a sector that has been quite so thoroughly battered by the coronavirus pandemic may seem like throwing salt on a wound. Everyone from airlines to cruises, travel agents and tour operators have seen their business suffer during lockdown.

These aren’t sectors that can simply transfer to the online world after all, and no amount of live-streaming sandy white beaches and sun-glittered seas will quite satisfy frustrated and out-of-pocket customers.

But ironically, while the travel industry has to pause to catch its breath, now would be good time to assess the damage and ask ourselves: should the travel industry as we know it recover from lockdown? Or should it look to reinvent itself to return to the stage as a reformed, more dynamic industry?

Some shouldn’t recover

Of course, the effects of the coronavirus lockdown has already seeped into the travel sector and many businesses have already ceased trading as a result. For a number of businesses, closing down is the best move they can make in these difficult times, as painful as it may be to shut the doors.

Global car rental brand Hertz went bust shortly after the lockdown began. This was soon followed by luxury travel brand Jacada Travel undergoing liquidation.

No one can deny the pandemic has been catastrophic for the travel sector, and in particular, for aviation. With 90 per cent of global flights have been grounded, slews of customers have been left without their booked business or holiday flights. An unprecedented 13 airline carriers have had to file for administration, including the UK’s Flybe. More are looking at bankruptcy, with countless staff losing their jobs in the process.

The current state of airlines

Government furlough schemes have offered some temporary relief for airlines, and while lockdown restrictions on international travel are being looked into every day, the UK has set a 14-day self-quarantine regulation that will depress the market and traveller’s spirits even further.

Chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen De, said: “We’re disappointed that the government has decided to go ahead with a simplistic, blanket approach to quarantine all arrivals, without any consultation with industry.

“As our neighbours and key trading partners move towards a science-led, risk-based approach, the UK should do so as soon as possible or risk being left behind. Industry proposals such as “air bridges” would facilitate travel from low-risk countries and protect the public from high-risk arrivals.

 “This would enable the restart of aviation and support the UK’s economic recovery. Crucially, this would give us time to get a testing regime in place for arriving passengers like Greece, Iceland and other countries are doing.”

The “air bridge” proposal is an idea that came from the industry itself. An air bridge would see quarantine measures relaxed for travellers who are heading to countries where the outbreak is under control, provided they have an adequate tracking and testing system in place.

The current state of cruises

While the airline industry’s current business model has crumbled under Covid-19, the cruise industry all but sunk. What airlines that are operating are flying at around five per cent capacity, whereas cruises are not operating at all anywhere on the planet.

Just like the airline industry, the cruise industry is taking on water in the form of wave after wave of furloughs and redundancies. Plus, the idea of a 14-day self-isolation looks all the worse for travellers stuck on a confined space such as a cruise ship — after all, the memories of loaded cruise ships being anchored painfully close to land but being unable to let its sick passengers disembark are still fresh in the mind.

No tourists isn’t the only problem

Naturally, the travel industry relies on tourists. Right now, the sector is suffering due to a complete lack of travellers and tourists. But, while no tourists is certainly wounding travel businesses, too many tourists has damaged a lot more in the past.

For example, a few weeks after lockdown began, pictures of Venice’s clear canals quickly went viral. The city was rapidly becoming more famous for its murky, polluted waters in recent years than for its picturesque gondola rides. But after lockdown, the lack of tourists meant a lack of traffic snaking through the city. This meant the sediment could, for the first time in years, settle, revealing clear waters and even glimpses of aquatic life.

Introducing: slow tourism

Like fast fashion, fast tourism has seen the likes of Venice and Amsterdam begin to crumble under the sheer weight of tourists flooding the cities but as previously mentioned, the cities can’t survive without them. So, what’s the middle ground solution?

The Guardian reported on Venice in particular, with the city’s councillor for tourism commenting that: “In Venice — one of the most over touristed cities, with an estimated 25 million foreign visitors a year — officials are using the pause to rethink “an entire Venice system”, with sustainability and quality tourism at its core.”

The Chancellor went on to say: “Our goal is to trigger a renaissance of the city. We want to attract visitors for longer stays and encourage a ‘slower’ type of tourism. Things can’t go back to how they were.”

Indeed, the travel industry shouldn’t recover to simply go back to how it was. Instead, this is the chance we’ve all been waiting for the reset, rediscover, and reimagine what travel and tourism should be. And that means going right back to basics — slowing down and making sure you leave the place you visited in a better condition than when you found it.

Hopefully this will apply to the remaining travel businesses too.