Turn Travel Agencies into Track and Trace facilities?

The government’s 14-day self-isolation policy for returning holidaymakers has effectively put a ban on flight-based overseas holidays for summer 2020.

It has also left many travel companies with excess staff they would obviously like the government to continue supporting through furlough, as well as unused retail facilities.

The policy effectively puts travel staff in the same bracket as pubs and clubs as the last sectors to be able to return to work. There is, therefore, a strong argument for government assistance.

However, a continuation of furlough by sector is fraught with difficulties, and you can easily see some taxpayers objecting to the government continuing to pay substantial subsidies for some sectors while their staff take risks returning to work as they struggle with the economic downturn.

So how about an extension to the furlough scheme for travel in exchange for becoming a “track and trace” resource?

One radical solution, to mitigate any backlash, would be for the travel sector to take a leaf out of the wartime “Land Girls” and ask: ’What can we do for our country in the war against Covid-19?’

The travel community currently has multiple empty shops on most UK high streets. These are equipped with modern computer equipment and staff used to dealing with members of the public.

Why not re-purpose these shops and the large call centres travel business operate, into coronavirus track and trace facilities in the short-term.

In order for the government to effectively operate appointment-based testing, along with complex track and trace contact strategies, it will need to dramatically ramp up the volume of staff it has.

These staff will need to operate a brand new technology platform and to follow up automated alert-based contact with phone calls to reassure people and to make next-step arrangements. In some cases, this will just involve self-isolation. But in many, it will require testing for Covid-19.

To be 100% clear, I am not suggesting travel agency staff take frontline testing roles; this clearly carries a risk of infection and is likely to continue to be operated by medical professionals or the Army.

However, I do think the travel community does have some excess resource the Government could rent on a short-term basis, allowing travel business to retain staff while mitigating costs when travel remains on effective lockdown.

Besides asking what the government is going to do for travel, maybe we should be asking ourselves what can we do for our country?

The quicker we win the war against Covid-19, the quicker we can return to sending people on holiday and rebuilding our prosperous industry; like those who remained at home during World War Two, we may have to re-invent ourselves for a period of time.

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