ABTA industry relations director Susan Deer examines the pathway ahead for the travel sector and gives her reaction to the budget announcements.
Restrictions to cruise travel caused by the pandemic do not appear to have dented enthusiasm among cruise-loving holidaymakers. ABTA’s 6 Trends for Travel report in 2021 reveals that of those who have taken a cruise before, 21 per cent would do so again, rising to 31 per cent of those over 65, up slightly on the previous year.
The popularity of ocean and river cruises is also in line with 2019 levels, with 58 per cent of people saying they would be interested in an ocean cruise and 31 per cent saying they would like to go on a river cruise.
This is confirmed in feedback from our members, who say people are still planning and booking future cruises for late 2021, 2022 and even into 2023, albeit not in the numbers we are used to seeing at this time of year.
So, demand is there and we were pleased to see the prime minister, as part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, set an ambition to get people travelling before the summer.
It’s now the job of the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, working with industry, to develop a plan to reopen international travel. ABTA is engaging with the taskforce, representing the views and insight of ABTA members.
One of the areas the government is looking at as a means of reopening travel is vaccine certificates. It is certainly sensible to have the option of proof of vaccination that is internationally recognised, because that evidence is likely to play a role in restarting travel, but it is important that any strategy also includes testing, and that risk assessments on travel are sufficiently agile to take into account new developments in those areas.
Another key component for getting people travelling again will be the approach to Foreign Office travel advice. Advice against non-essential travel, along with specific restrictions on ocean cruises, prevented many overseas trips last year.
We encourage targeted use of Foreign Office travel advice only where the risk to UK nationals in a destination is deemed to be “unacceptably high”, with publication of the principles behind those assessments as part of the roadmap. We are also calling for a review of the FCDO travel advice against ocean cruise travel, and for it to be removed at the earliest opportunity.
We need to recognise that other countries may have differing policies on how and when they accept travellers. ABTA is speaking to destinations overseas about how they will start to reopen travel, and their thinking on measures like vaccination and testing. We need a strategy that takes account of these issues, as well as keeping up with the developing medical understanding.
Tailored financial support
Cruise companies were among the first businesses to be affected by the emergence of Covid-19, and a year later, difficult months still lie ahead for the industry. As well as speaking to government about the restart of travel, we have continued to call for tailored financial support to help the sector.
In this month’s budget, the chancellor responded to many of our calls by extending furlough, business rates relief and VAT reductions. However, the government needs to fully recognise the impacts of international travel restrictions and make support available to all travel companies that have been effectively closed by public health policy.
We are urging the government to make grants available to all travel businesses, not just those with retail premises, recognising that the reopening of overseas travel will come later than the other sectors and is likely to be gradual.
ABTA has also been leading the Save Future Travel Coalition, which brings together 14 other travel organisations – including CLIA – to present a consistent and united voice about the challenges faced by the industry, the actions needed to support the sector and the steps to reopen.
We have also been liaising with the Chamber of Shipping, supporting their approach to develop Covid-19 framework documents for cruise ship operators. Working together in this way is critically important in ensuring the voice of the industry is heard.