Until just about the end of July, Britons had, for most of 2020, remained stubbornly resistant to the notion that they would have to sacrifice their holidays, even as wholesalers of travel product—domestic, short-haul international to continental Europe and long-haul overseas, especially to Florida—knew very well that the global pandemic wrought by the coronavirus was destroying or upsetting travel-related purchases, income, jobs and businesses.
And then reality set in with a “thud!” last week when the numbers from government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), that the British economy has fallen into a technical recession (two consecutive quarters of economic contraction)—its first since the 2008-2009 Great Recession. In fact, ONS reported, between April and June, when a national lockdown was implemented, economic output contracted by 24 percent. This followed a two percent contraction in the first quarter of 2020.
To make matters worse, not only has the UK’s economy shrunk by one-fifth, it ranks number one among the nations of Europe in the number of coronavirus deaths. Overall, the UK follows the United States, Brazil and Mexico.
Because the pandemic was—and is–particularly hard on travel, the recession has been and will be disproportionately on travel-related activities and businesses.
The week before the ONS data were made public, the World Travel and Tourism issued a report indicating that some three million British travel and tourism jobs were on verge of disappearing due to coronavirus.
Shortly thereafter, it was reported that the number of travel and tourism start-ups in “significant financial distress” jumped 21 percent to almost 4,000 in the previous three months as the UK felt the impact of coronavirus, putting 15,000 SME (small and medium-size enterprises) jobs in jeopardy.
Just prior to the two-week period that brought the above news, there were two surveys with results that seemed to suggest that the number of beleaguered and/or dissatisfied Brits had increased and they were not as keen on traveling as they were several months ago.
—For instance, the poll results in a paper put out by the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations at Cardiff University suggested that nearly half (47 percent) of all people will never take flights as often as before. Only 8.3 percent of survey respondents planned to fly more often and 45 percent intended to go back to their pre-lockdown frequency. (These findings were based on two surveys which questioned a total of 1,800 people in late May and early June.)
—Previous findings by the Centre issued last September—some six months prior to the coronavirus-related pandemic—found that two-thirds of people (67 percent) felt that air travel should be limited in order to address climate change.
—About one third of people planned to work from home more often, having gotten acclimated to not commuting in the previous five months.
—Just 8.3 percent planned to fly more often and 45 percent intended to go back to their pre-lockdown frequency.
Results from another poll of 2,000 people, conducted for Visa, told us that Brits had their suspicions about flying and/or going on holiday because they were concerned that they might not get a refund for cancellations. It is an issue that has been covered intensely by the UK travel trade news media. Highlights from the poll results include the following:
—One in three (34 percent) of people said say they are worried about a travel booking being refunded due to a local lockdown or a possible “second peak” of the coronavirus.
—22 percent said they have had more difficulties trying to get money back on cancelled holidays and events.
—Overall, more than two fifths (43 percent) have been deterred from requesting a refund for an item, service or event at all. They pointed to confusion about the returns process: 15 percent, lack of time for the process; 10 percent; the return window, 10 percent, as well as no access to a printer for return labels 8 percent as key “pain points.”
—Ten per cent were unable to contact the company to pursue a refund.
—The refund wait time has also increased notably during lockdown, with 12 percent of respondents saying that it took more than a month to get their money back; this compares to 7 percent who got a refund beforehand.
—Senior citizens (those 55 and older are experiencing the longest waiting period for refunds, with 5 percent waiting over a month before the pandemic, compared to 17% who have experienced this wait time since.
Commenting on the poll, Visa UK and Ireland managing director Jeni Mundy said, “It’s concerning to see that people are worried about securing refunds should they need to, and that in some cases this is even preventing them from making purchases.”
“It’s important that people understand the many options open to them to get their money back should something go wrong,” Mundy added, saying “A good place to start is to get familiar with a seller’s cancellation, refund and exchange policy before you buy – this can often be easily found on their website.”
She passed along a list of Visa’s “UnRefundables” or its top ten items being returned: