Health V National Wealth: Why Lockdown to protect people who won’t protect themselves?

During the first lockdown, I accepted all restrictions on my rights to work, mix and travel as I recognised the need to protect the vulnerable in the absence of a vaccine.

 11 months on from the first vaccines and with over half the country “Triple Vaccinated”, I think it’s time to ask, “Who are we locking down to protect and is the economic cost worth it?”

 I accept the right of the individual, even when faced with sound medical research showing the benefits of vaccines, not to take them. For a few, there are medical reasons why they cannot be Vaccinated, but for many, it’s a choice. However, we live in a democracy and when 85% of the population have been vaccinated, government policy should be based on the needs of the vast majority, which means no further lockdowns and a policy of living with Covid-19.

 More controversially what happens if Hospital wards do become overrun? Should the vaccinated take priority over the unvaccinated? My humanity says “no”, but cold logic says “should there not be some consequences?”

 Living with Covid-19 will need some changes to the “Norms”, for example carrying around Covid-19 passes for entry to certain locations.

 Having returned last week from a Ski Trip in France, where all entry to pubs and restaurants requires the presentation of a “Passe Sanitaire” proving your fully vaccinated status, I must question why the UK Media finds this a breach of our rights. Sorry, but I think it’s my right to demand that people I’m mixing within enclosed spaces are as safe as possible for my personal health.

 Similarly, I think it is reasonable to ask people who are going to sporting events or travelling on holiday to take a low-priced lateral flow test. This provides reassurance and an increased likelihood of a Covid-19 free environment.

 However, I do object to being differentiated against and made to feel guilty by our government just because I want to travel.

 Why should travellers not be able to use “Free” NHS lateral flow or PCR tests whilst travelling overseas, when it’s free to use these services if you want to go to a music or sporting event? As stated, many times, even if these tests are not free, the Government is best positioned to provide low-cost testing at around £12.50 per lateral flow and £22.50 for PRCs which cover costs and generate a small profit for the NHS.

 Given the Omicron infection rate in the UK, I am more likely to catch Covid-19 from visiting a local pub, restaurant, or supermarket than whilst travelling. So, what is the logic of insisting travellers returning to the UK must quarantine for 2 days and take a further PCR test? Where is the scientific evidence that people returning to the UK have a higher infection rate than the domestic population? The simple answer is that there is none, but hitting travellers is an easily visible action when politicians want to be seen to be doing something.

 The Government has announced a £1 Billion package to help hospitality and leisure businesses to survive the coming lockdown which is likely to take effect from Dec 27th, 2021. However, although the assistance to hospitality locations of £6k is clear, it’s very unclear how or what leisure business can claim.

 Although any assistance is welcome, it’s a drop in the ocean and not enough to stop the wholescale shutting of high street travel agents and the failure of many tour operators, particularly those in the Ski sector.

 The only thing that can save the UK travel sector is the rapid spread of Omicron in a triple vaccinated population where the latest research shows it has a mild impact, with the unvaccinated being locked down to protect them. Not locking down the whole population is the right choice for our Economic Wealth as a country and gives the travel industry a chance of a summer holiday season, assuming other holiday destinations take the same approach.

Sorry if this blog offends, sounds selfish and is treats travel as a priority when it’s clearly not for all. However, travel has provided my living for virtually all my working life and if we don’t fight hard the UK outbound travel sector could easily be destroyed by another lengthy Covid-19 lockdown.

What’s worse for travel Omicron or Macron in the short term?

When news of the new Omicron variant emerged, it was obvious it was going to be bad news for the country as a whole and travel in particular.

 The exponential growth rate of Omicron means further restrictions on our liberty will be needed and a lockdown circuit breaker in January, involving the shutdown of the hospitality sector and restrictions on indoor meetings seemingly inevitable.

 However, the rapid spread of Omicron and its relatively mild nature compared to other variants, hopefully, means it’s likely to be a short, sharp crisis, with an emergence the other side by March/April 2022 allowing Summer overseas holidays to proceed as they did for the second half of Summer 21.

 The travel industry has already proved itself to be extremely resilient, however, the wholesale cancelling of winter Ski and winter sun holidays could cause a cash-flow hit that sends many companies to the wall.

 President Macrons, politically motivated move to ban UK citizens from Holidaying in France, will be a killer blow to many UK Travel businesses if it proves anything more than a temporary measure.

 France already has an Omicron wave sweeping across it and statistics indicate it is only a few days behind the UK’s own wave of infections. Therefore, locking its borders to UK Citizens who have been double/tripled jab and passed lateral flow/PCR Covid-19 testing before arriving makes no logical sense. The rate of internal infections caused by French citizens mixing over Christmas in houses, pubs, restaurants, and supermarkets is likely to have 1,000s of times more impactful than the entry of foreign holidaymakers.

 Hitting tourists is therefore simply a high-profile gimmick from a set of politicians desperate to be seen doing something.

 I personally think insisting that all travellers should be double jabbed and have passed a simple lateral flow test before boarding any flight is a logical and reasonable requirement. It also provides those flying with extra reassurance that flying on crowded aircraft is Covid safe, boosting bookings.

 I can even understand why countries with low infection rates demand the more expensive and higher quality laboratory-based PCR tests, as they do not want a high level of infections to enter the country via tourism. However, the moment a variant like Omicron has taken a grip in a country, this is completely pointless, as the domestic-based spreading of people visiting venues without the need for Covid testing will cause a much higher rate of transmission.

 The UK Government’s own requirement for 2-day isolation and a PCR test for release is also completely ineffective and a politically motivated “token gesture”. Is it surprising other countries pose the same illogical conditions on UK tourists, as their citizens face when entering the UK?

 The most illogical and unforgivable piece of UK politics is the continued refusal to allow UK outbound travellers to use NHS facilities to take the PCR or lateral flow tests that the Government is demanding for travel. As stated, many times, travellers should pay a fee for these tests of around £12.50 per lateral flow and £22.50 for PRCs to cover costs and generate a small profit for the NHS. Leaving private companies to rip off travellers with unregulated pricing is simply inexcusable and shows either a complete lack of understanding or care at the dire state the UK outbound travel sector is in.

 The Macron V Boris Brexit fight is clearly the motivation for the UK being the only European country that France has banned tourism from and is, unfortunately, an indication of the unwanted Brexit dividend the UK travel industry is likely to reap.

 The reaction of other key holiday destinations such as Spain, Greece, and Turkey in the coming weeks is crucial, as European Union leaders seek to harmonise Covid-19 entry policies across the bloc. A short term hit to ski holidays is a high price for ski specialists, but uncertainty about the ability to enter key holiday destinations in Summer 2022 will be disastrous, as it would generate a massive wave of cancellations as well as killing new bookings dead.

 I regret to say its politicians like Macon who threaten the future of our industry even more than Omicron itself.

Living with the new travel “Normal”​

Like many people in the Travel sector, I had hoped that the worst of Covid-19 disruption was behind us and that we could look forward to a strong Summer 2022. But then Omicron came along!

 Only time will tell whether European Governments are overreacting by trying to bolt the entry door shut after Omicron has already entered the country. However, as an industry, we need to understand that the new normal for travel is “uncertainty” and work around this unpleasant reality.

 January booking peaks are likely to be thing of the past with customers only willing to book 2-3 months in advance, once they have a better view of how easy travel will be. For example, how many families with children between 12-15 will book a holiday in January to Spain, now it is only accepting double vaccinated UK citizens when it’s unclear when access to a second jab will be available to children in this age group?

 The Spanish tourist authorities will be tearing their hair out, with their own Government, over these double vaccination demands.

 Spain is leading the way in terms of vaccinating children, having double vaccinated 84.5% of its 12–18-year-olds, but it seems to have completely ignored the status of its biggest holidaymakers source markets.

 Germany only approved vaccinations for under 16’s in August 21 and has vaccinated 47.3%. The UK is even further behind, having only started the process in Sept 21 and currently only have 44.4% vaccinated with a single dose and virtually no children having received both the vaccinations Spain is now demanding for entry.

 Spain, therefore, has in effect banned families with children between 12-15 from holidaying in the country this winter and booking a summer holiday in January because of the uncertainty about access to jabs for kids before the summer.

 The fear of testing positive doing the pre-return testing process and being forced to quarantine overseas will also put off a huge number of potential holidaymakers, even before the costs of pre and post-arrival testing are considered. It would appear that the biggest impact of omicron is not making more people seriously ill, but increasing the rate of spread of Covid-19, making catching it abroad more likely, so it is likely to depress holiday demand significantly.

 Again, it’s frustrating to have these testing restrictions imposed with virtually no notice, even though the Governments own advisers admit that it’s virtually impossible in the modern world to keep new variants out of the country and imported omicron cases are insignificant compared to the rate of domestic spread.

 However, this is now the new normal, so how do we adjust?

 Here are my top 5 tips are:

·      Self-service amendments. Bit the bullet and follow Easyjet’s lead in making booking amendment a self-service function complete online. As much effort now needs to be put in slickening up the amendment process that has been put into optimising booking funnels in the past. For example, my own business Rock Insurance has developed a new amendment API that can be integrated into partners customer account areas so that any flight or holiday amendment is automatically captured and used to update the customer’s insurance policy without any need for inconvenient or expensive to handle phone calls.

·      Low deposit and flexible amendment. Customers will only book if deposits and bookings are moveable based on Covid-19 circumstance, at home or in their chosen destination. People will commit but only if bookings are moveable.

·      Scrap fixed above the line advertising. Commitments to above the line advertising mediums such as TV are difficult to scale back or even move once booked. Major companies will have to increase the focus on database marketing to previous bookers and unfortunately expensive but flexible mediums like Google search.

·      Focus on immediate departures. Easier said than done but focus on bookings that bring in cash the fastest, which will be late availability deals to the Canaries etc in winter and early summer season departures for May- July 2022. As ever in a crisis, cash is king!

·      Flexible staffing.  Unpopular, but job sharing and flexible contracts are now a must assuming it’s unlikely that the UK Government will introduce sector-specific assistance now furlough has finished.

 Undoubtedly, Omicron will be the last straw for many travel companies, whose balance sheets have been devasted over the last 18 months, but the survivors will emerge stronger and more flexible.