17 September 2021
Our CEO, Sonia Davies, shares her views following the UK Government’s update regarding travel.
Leadership is a blend of art and science. But one of the most important things is clear communication and explaining the ‘why’ of a decision.
Throughout the pandemic, Professor Chris Whitty has led by example – using data to explain the decisions, communicating clearly, and always the ‘why’ of the next phase of action.
The UK has taken the course since early in the pandemic to get to a place where Covid is endemic, and not try to get to a ‘zero covid’ position. We are seeing more and more countries take a similar path, but critically, vaccination is the route to this point – and the data proves this.
Vaccinations have been offered free of charge to everyone in the UK over the age of 16. For some there are clear medical reasons why a vaccination is not appropriate, and over 66% of the entire UK population is now fully vaccinated. However, others have chosen not to be vaccinated, and in this group, there is an increased risk of infection and of greater severity of illness if Covid is contracted. This is where the risk is greatest in terms of further pressure on hospitals. For those who have been vaccinated, like we have seen in many other countries, restrictions should be lessened.
The UK’s traffic light system has been one of the most restrictive and complex in existence. Its main purpose seems to have been to discourage international travel. For those still keen to get away, the testing regime has been costly and ill-regulated (and at times illogical), with the burden of checking being pushed to transport providers (airlines, train companies, ferry companies) and technology at the border slow to catch up.
At the last major review point, the UK took a step forward to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, advising separate testing requirements for vaccinated travellers returning from Amber countries. In the last month we have seen more countries change their entry requirements, with for example, Canada and Finland making clear distinctions with vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, regardless of where they are travelling from. There remains some vaccine nationalism at play where guidance changes on which vaccine or where you were vaccinated – surely as long as the vaccine has been WHO-approved and you have a valid vaccination certificate that should be sufficient? Introducing common technology to validate proof of vaccination &/or negative test status should continue to be a goal of all countries.
Today’s announcement has been backed by the data. With destinations such as Sri Lanka (whose case rate is well below that of the UK and 50% of population fully vaccinated) being removed from the Red List, alongside Kenya, Oman and the Maldives opens up some important destinations for the travel industry. It isn’t just a benefit to the UK travel industry and UK travellers, but tourism generates income for the Kenyan, Sri Lankan and Maldivian economies so this news will be a boost for those countries too. With destinations moving off the Red list, FCDO advice needs to follow suit quickly. This alignment is key, both for consumers to be able to get travel insurance and for the industry alike.
The further differentiation of testing requirements for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated travellers, and the shift away from PCR tests for day 2, is also good news. This will reduce the cost of travelling significantly, but the government can and should do more to regulate the testing industry.
Mr Shapps has not let us know how often the Red list will be reviewed – will we remain in a three-week cycle, with lots of rumours in the build-up and will consumers be given more notice before destinations move to the red list? In my opinion the artificial review point of every 3 weeks needs to be removed. All this does is put severe spikes into the system in terms of demand, queries and cancellations. Data is now readily available on vaccination rates, and daily cases and when changes are made it should be clearly communicated with rationale as to why and with 7 days, rather than the current three days’ notice. It is a balancing act for when countries move to a Red status and potentially an interim step before moving to hotel quarantine is for increased PCR testing for all on return for during that seven days’ notice period, using NHS tests.
As the CEO of a travel business with the majority of our operations in the UK, today’s news was good news. But as a leader, I am dismayed at how the communication was handled. Changes to policy such as this should be communicated clearly and formally, in the middle of the day. Making announcements on Twitter that tend to coincide with the typical end of the UK working day, or even the end of the typical working week, after rumours circulating for days beforehand from “experts”, adds insult to injury to a sector which has seen its demand fall precipitously but who have worked throughout the pandemic to refund and rearrange holidays. Announcements at 5 / 8 / 930pm mean we aren’t able to respond promptly to our guests who are looking for updates or wanting to make changes.
We will, as we have always done, continue to do our very best to react to the latest announcement, to support our guests with holidays already booked, answering their queries, and to those looking to make new bookings as favourite destinations no longer require a hotel quarantine.
I, for one, will be looking to head to Sri Lanka when the dust settles, and I can take some time off.