Travel & Tourism: Put people first and the rest will follow

By Rebecca Macintyre, Senior Account Executive 

Travel and tourism was the first industry to be hit by Covid-19 and it will be the last to be freed.

We already knew the industry was fragile in parts, with the collapse of some of the industry’s biggest and longest standing players.

But Covid-19 has brought immense and unprecedented challenges. In the UK, Visit Britain has estimated that the pandemic could cost the tourism industry around £15bn in 2020, with 22 million fewer visitors to the UK.

Crippled by quarantine

Following the outbreak, countries moved at pace to impose social distancing measures – travel bans, quarantines, even ‘bracelets’ tracking people’s every step. Many of these measures are now beginning ease but, despite warnings from industry leaders that it would spell the end for UK travel and tourism, just this week the UK Government announced that anyone arriving in England from abroad must enter quarantine for 14 days or face a fine.

The announcement is mired in political controversy and generally considered too late to truly reduce Covid-19 transmissions. What’s more, it’s come at a time when travel and tourism is already on its knees, largely dependent on a clear direction of travel from Government in order to unfurlough staff, reschedule flights, and for customer demand to return.

The quarantine policy is due to be reviewed in a few weeks. Perhaps it will be scrapped entirely. But what then?

Time to rebuild

Covid-19 has exposed the Achilles heels of several organisations. Over the last couple of months, politicians have publicly and belligerently attacked businesses for forcing through widespread redundancies or for failing to provide travel refunds. This criticism, regardless of its political colouring, has found a hearing with a Conservative Government that has pitched itself as the “true party of the working class” and employed a ‘people first’ approach to guide its response.

As the Government begins to tighten its purse strings, organisations must adopt and demonstrate this same ‘people first’ approach if they want to build their reputation and fast-track the queue for further support. This need for this chimes with recent research by FHF’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice, which found that just 22% of UK participants considered major corporations to be doing an “excellent” or “great” job in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, and only 28% thinking the same for employers. But for travel and tourism, an industry defined by human interaction, embracing and leveraging a ‘people first’ approach should be both natural and feasible.

Putting people first

Whether it be an airline, heritage organisation, or tour operator, companies must go further to communicate the human face of their economic contribution to the UK because, as this pandemic and the Government’s approach in the last few years has shown, economic contribution alone is not enough. What’s more, with the paring back of the travel and tourism industry, this crisis has stifled the public’s ability to hope. Rather than dream of the summer break that awaits them after a stressful season, they look to a summer empty of plans. With a Government wary of losing public trust and support, it’s time for the travel and tourism industry to position itself as a partner, shining a light on its role, not only in uniting communities and in the nation’s post-Covid recovery, but in allowing people to dream again of a brighter future.