Can we and should we save our High Streets?

Tui CEO Fritz Joussen commented in Tui’s recent results, that the tour operator would be putting more emphasis on digitalising sales and moving them online, at the expense of its high street network, because he felt that the Covid-19 outbreak has forced shopping habits further online.

In the short term, it’s difficult to argue against this theory, as most high street shops will remain shut until 1st June 2020 at the earliest. A full lockdown of 3 months, which has forced customers to move online.

This trend is set to continue as Social distancing and restrictions, preventing customers from trying on clothes, will further damage this distribution channel. Customers may be willing to queue outside supermarkets for food, but will they be willing to enter 10-15 separate queues on a “browsing” Saturday shopping trip.

We are likely to see a growth in “Cross Channel” shopping, where customers review samples in the flesh, but ease the shopping process, by capturing a QR code and ordering their size for home delivery via their phones or even gain “Fast Pass” appointments to return later to beat queues.

However, I do feel these “natural” changes are being accelerated by imbalanced taxation structures, where “business rates” are strangling the high street. Although high street rents are reducing to reflect the balance between supply and demand, business rates continue to increase as local council’s become desperate for revenues to balance their books.

On the other hand, we hear regular reports about how internet retail giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon via clever legal structures, are paying minimal taxation in the UK as a whole and zero to local councils.

If we want to save our high streets, I propose an increase of online VAT payments to 25%, with the extra 5% being allocated to the postcodes that goods are delivered too. It would take no more than 2-3 days to create the computer programs required to “tag” sales with the postcode they are delivered to, along with the 5% Vat attributable, so that it could be paid to central government and then passed on to fund local councils.

This new VAT income, which is similar to “state sales taxes” in the USA, would allow local councils to reduce business rates and rebalance cost structures in favour of the high street.

However, do customers want to save the high street?

I believe that the high street is a key plank in the UK’s Social community, providing an opportunity for all ages to meet and spend time with friends, shopping and enjoying a coffee or in my case a quick beer.

Do we really want grate swaths of derelict town centres to spring up, because of our consumerist desire for cheaper online goods?

The answer may well be yes, but lets at least allow shops to fight on a level playing field, by counterbalancing business rates with a higher online VAT bill.

It’s a simple and deliverable idea.

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.

Could an early holiday restart cause more customer complaints?

Airlines could consolidate flights and not everyone will be raring to go, says Steve Endacott

Greece’s announcement that it is suspending its travel ban and allowing hotels to open from June 1 is obviously welcome news for the UK travel industry.

I personally expect its example to be followed by other destinations, such as Spain’s Balearics and Canaries, which will struggle to access surges in self-drive domestic markets, as they require inbound flights to deliver the volume of tourism required to support their hotel infrastructure.

We all know that social distancing simply does not work for beach holidays, as it is virtually impossible to deliver this at airports, on flights or at large buffet-style hotels.

However, the government’s need to get the UK back to work should provide the solutions we need in travel shortly as testing and tracking replaces lockdown and self-isolating as the key methods of stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Unfortunately, travellers will probably have to get used to the wearing of face masks and gloves while flying, as well as airport testing, before international ‘immunity passports’ are agreed.

In the meantime, not all destinations will open up for UK visitors and we still wait with bated breath to see if the UK government will introduce 14-day quarantine measures for returning Brits on Sunday, when the program for relaxing lockdown and back to work measures are expected to be announced.

Another key consideration is whether UK customers are ready to return to holiday travel yet.

I know I am, and if allowed I would travel on all the trips I have booked as I have paid for them and getting a refund, as we know, is problematic, to say the least. I hope customers will be equally gung-ho, but fear many will not.

EasyJet has already announced that a return to flying by lowcost carriers will be gradual and this may require flight consolidation.

Airlines currently define it as a ‘minor’ change, requiring no compensation, if a flight is changed within six hours of the original departure time. It is therefore likely that airlines will try to consolidate all passengers booked to depart on a day to a single destination, eg Majorca, onto one flight. Airlines will no longer have to refund customers once they can get one flight per day to a destination from a departure airport.

If they adopt a more brutal approach, they may try to consolidate customers from a departure region, says the North West, into one airport and cancel the other airport’s flights (for example, switch customers from Manchester to Liverpool or vice versa. This is less likely as it would represent a “significant” flight change and force the offering of a refund if the customer does not want to accept it.

The one thing that is guaranteed is that not all customers will be happy to travel because of the threat of Covid-19. Some may wish to cancel but find themselves unable to get their money back if they do so.

Logically, they can only blame the airline. But logic does not always come into it. Unfortunately, travel agents could be soon caught in the middle again, as they will be unable to cancel a holiday because the airline is offering a flight to a destination and the customer cannot claim on their travel insurance because the holiday is operating.

So, as well as some happy customers glad to be able to get away, the industry could soon be facing a second wave of Covid-19 unrest amongst its loyal customers.

How Covid-19 will change travel forever

Everything has changed says Rebounds Seamus Conlon and Steve Endacott

In between those moments when we are giving thanks to the NHS, or watching yet another webinar or in yet another family zoom quiz, most of us are trying to figure out what this change will mean for our industry, our ambitions, our incomes.

The key question ‘will it go back to how it was?’, for once, has a simple answer. No, it won’t.

It is unlikely that there will be any significant international leisure travel this year, with holiday travel within the UK probably a more realistic goal.

International borders are likely to remain closed to leisure travel until there is a vaccine, which is not a given, or until there are rapid testing kits that are certified by all countries.

Similarly, a lot of customers will be put off travelling because of worries about finding themselves in foreign hospitals or quarantined on cruise ships or in hotels.

Remember, these scenes are still fresh in customers’ minds.

The timing of when people can travel and feel safe doing so has a huge impact on how deep the changes to the country and our industry will be.

Governments, companies and individuals are likely to have significantly more debt and less reserves.

Governments can simply borrow more or print more money but, unfortunately, financing is much less flexible for companies and individuals.

I am optimistic that all governments will try to help their economies with stimulus and growth strategies rather than the austerity of old, but we are still going into a very bad recession no matter what.

As an industry, we should be lobbying hard to get our fair share of that stimulus and thinking how it would be best targeted.

Should the government invest in domestic tourism over outbound tourism? Should future government stimulus be targeted at carbon reducing tourism rather than reinventing old models?

As an industry, we also need to look at how coronavirus will impact how we deliver travel, sell travel and staff our travel business.

Delivering travel and social distancing

Social distancing is likely to be with us for a while, so how will that work in the practical delivery of travel?

This raises a number of questions and the prospect of many implications for all forms of travel and retailing:

  • Will the middle seat on aeroplanes really be left empty? This alone could put flight costs up by 30%;
  • Will airlines and hotels have to test clients for coronavirus at check-in, requiring much earlier arrivals. Will in-flight face masks be compulsory;
  • Will trust accounts become the norm, given the refund civil wars;
  • Will customers want private taxi transfers in resort instead of traditional coaches;
  • Will all-inclusive become more popular, because it requires less mixing and availability of local restaurants;
  • Will the demographics of travellers change next year with young people grabbing bargains, families hesitant and older people unable to travel;
  • Will travel agencies install the Perspex glass that now encloses supermarket checkouts around consultants’ desks;
  • Will this, or other measures, mean they lose out to homeworkers using Zoom to connect to clients;
  • Will sunbeds in hotels and on cruise ships be separated by six feet (one can but hope!);
  • Will customers use contactless cards kill the forex bureau business;
  • Will you be able to get insurance for coronavirus disruption and medical cover;
  • Where will the liability rest in the future if you sell a holiday and the customer contracts COVID-19 at the hotel or on a cruise ship.

I don’t think any of us really know how to deliver social distancing when travelling yet.

But I do think that travel will have to do a lot more than just telling customers to wash their hands and cough into their elbows.

And customers will want their travel provider to make the necessary changes.

The impact on selling travel

Social media and streaming services have grown exponentially, online shopping is booming, video chats and webinars are the norm and the longer we have in lockdown or extreme social distancing, the more this behaviour will be the norm, if it is not already.

Conversely, no one is visiting travel agencies, few people are buying newspapers, people are getting less direct mail, less brochures are being read.

Are consumers really going to resume these behaviours?

I personally am a huge advocate of the human consultant selling model in travel and I believe the increased use of email, video chat, Facebook and Instagram will make great consultants even more precious, but I am not sure why anyone needs to walk to a shop.

I would much prefer a Zoom appointment with a consultant.

The growth of video chat and social media, when weighed against current empty high streets, leads Rebound Consulting to predict that the likely post-coronavirus winner will be homeworking networks.

Running a travel business

Yes, it has been a long lockdown. Yes, it has been difficult at times with all of us getting re-used to living together 24/7.

Yes, I have missed the office, the routine, knowing what day of the week it is, but I do not want to go back to a daily commute and working in an office five days a week.

Working from home is possible for huge numbers of jobs and it has just been proven on an indisputable scale. The genie is out of the bottle.

Allowing your staff to work two or three days a week from home is likely to become the norm.

This will see smaller offices, new management styles and cheaper coffee/tea bills as employees drink their own.

After government-funded furloughs, travel companies will be forced to cut costs.

Will marketing and IT roles remain in house, or will companies want more flexibility and wider talent by using freelance sites like and

Video conferencing breaks geographical restrictions and widens the talent catchment area. Will more travel jobs become more freelance?

Adapt now to the new future, there will be no going back once the rebound comes.