A hoped for Q2 recovery evaporates and Q3 is now in peril. Were he writing Richard III today, perhaps Shakespeare might change the word “winter” to “summer” so that King Richard would utter the widely used quote from the drama so that it would say, “Now is the summer of our discontent …” For, judging from the content of the news coverage and commentary coming out of both the trade and consumer news channels of distribution in the UK, the travel and tourism industries—as well as their clients and customers—are feeling pretty miserable.
How things have changed. On February 23rd, the day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it might be OK for long-haul travel to outside of the UK to start by May 17, business at travel agencies exploded. According to a Bloomberg news item at the time, easyJet ticket sales more than quadrupled in the hours after Johnson made his announcement, and TUI UK said that reservations to Spain, Turkey and Greece jumped sixfold overnight. Later, June 21 was established as Freedom Day, the day upon which travel most restrictions imposed on travel because of COVID-19, would be eased.
Then, last week, the Johnson government announced that an additional month had been tacked on to the proposed “Freedom Day” on which most restrictions on outbound international travel would be eliminated—pushing it back to July 17. The reason cited for the postponement was an increase in the number COVID cases that involved a new variant.
Johnson said if the government were to lift restrictions on June 21, as first planned, there could be thousands of more deaths. So, the government’s goal is to get all adults vaccinated even more quickly than before. As summed up by Euronews, the situation, then, looks like this:
—Full opening of restrictions delayed until July 19.
—Delay in the opening is due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
—Accelerating vaccination for all adults to get two doses.
—There will be a plan for ‘booster vaccines’ coming out soon.
—Furlough scheme for employees’ wages continues to September 30.
Just as the Johnson announcement was sinking in, the authoritative travel trade publication, Travel Weekly(UK) released some details of a report based on survey research it had commissioned. A key finding was that merely 31 percent of UK adults planned to take an overseas holiday by April next year, but of these only just 15 percent (just a breath above five percent of the adult population) would “travel at the earliest opportunity.” (You’ll find more results from the study below.)
And it didn’t help the industry’s esprit de corps when a TV doctor, Amir Khan, said last week that no one should be able to travel abroad until everyone in the UK is vaccinated. No wonder, then, the historically sedate and polite professionals in the British tourism industry called for a “Travel Day of Action” (scheduled to take place today, June 23) at major cities that would include talks with government officials. Organized by the Save the Future Travel Coalition, the day’s action was also convening virtual and local events for those unable to travel.
What the public is telling us—more from the survey: Whether there is a causal relationship between the discouraging news about the COVID-19 virus and the British public’s attitude about travel is irrelevant. What seems to matter is how the industry can analyze the survey and take steps to help the travel and tourism industry salvage something in the remaining half-year of business. Some of the survey findings include the following:
—Almost one in three prospective holidaymakers (30 percent) intended to “wait and see” how the traffic light system (the colors of red, amber or green—red meaning “don’t even think of trying to go there”) for international travel develops before booking.
—One in four (26 percent) either said they were “unlikely” to take an overseas holiday “while the traffic light system is in place” or were uncertain of the requirements for travel.
—The remainder simply didn’t know when they might book or travel.
—The findings suggest substantial caution among consumers even before the government removed Portugal from the destination green list in early June.
—There was a clear division by age on almost every response.
—Almost one in five would-be holidaymakers under 54 (18 percent) said they would travel at the earliest opportunity compared with 5 [percent of those aged 65 and over.
—Twenty percent of those aged under 35 felt reassured they would be able to travel before the end of the year. It was just 14 percent or less among all aged 35 and above.
—One in four (26 percent) of those under the age of 45 said they would wait to see how travel’s restart develops before booking, compared with 39 percent of those who are 55 and over.
—Only one in nine of those under 45 (11 percent) said they were unlikely to take a holiday while the traffic light system is in place, compared with the one in five (19 percent) who would delay booking among those 45 and above.
—One in seven (14 percent) young holiday buyers (aged 16-34) were unsure about overseas travel requirements, second only to those aged 65 and over (18 percent). Less than one in 12 (8 percent) of those 45-to-64-year-olds who said they were unsure.
—Overall, the research said under-35s who intend to take a holiday (37 percent) are confident about travelling abroad, declining to almost one in three 35-to-54-year-olds 31 percent) and one in five over the age of 55 (20 percent).
—However, those under 45 also appear more uncertain about travel. That is, 23 percent of respondents in 35-44-year-old category and 17 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds were unsure of their intentions. In contrast, just 6 percent of would-be holidaymakers aged 65 or over were unsure.