The travel industry is predicted to be in for a “massive shake-up” with the era of mass market cheap holidays coming to an end.

Industry experts talking on a Travel Weekly Webcast said certain style of travel like city breaks could be hit hardest.

And it was predicted that prices will have to rise to pay for the current crisis and as airlines work to restore capacity levels over coming years to pre-pandemic levels.

Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency, said destinations he represents are looking to switch focus on lower volume higher value sectors.

Turning point

“I really think we are at a turning point. Bearing in mind that 62% of the world’s aircraft are grounded.

“It will take three or four years for airlines to put anything like the schedules they used to have at the end of 2019 back in place.

“If the airlines are not fit for purpose and ready until 2023, let’s say, then I reckon there’s three years of hardship and difficulty in changing what we’re selling, who we’re selling to.

“I honestly think the whole market is going to change substantially in terms of target markets, who’s got money, and where people are happy to go to.

“And fundamentally, we won’t have a choice, or the value to be able to take the decisions we used to take.

Fewer destinations

“There won’t be so many destinations to fly to and it’ll be unsafe to go to certain places. I think we’re in for a massive shake up in this industry.”

Alan Bowen, legal adviser to the Association of Atol Companies, said he expected airfares to fall in the short term as demand is stimulated but to rise over the longer term.

“Somebody will have to pay for all this. We’re going to have to move a good way down the line before we see a lot of people wanting to do short breaks to Poland for weekends as they do now.

City breaks hit

“They’re not going to suddenly return. City breaks are going to be a real issue because that’s where you’re on public transport, you’re confined in a space with a lot of people.”

UK chief executive of Cosmos, Giles Hawke, said he expected demand to return more immediately for styles of holiday that offer more space and privacy.

But he added he expected demand for other types of travel to return towards the end of the year and into the early part of next year.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. We will learn. Airports will learn how to run these health and safety protocols so they work for airlines, because airlines will pressure them.

“We’ll learn how to make things work on river cruise ships, there’ll become standards for coach travel, there’ll be standards for going on a tube or a train.

Airports filter point

Charles said airports should become the filter point at which point travellers are tested before getting on aircraft.

But Bowen said this would be easier said than done. “Testing at airports sounds relatively simple. It isn’t, and it’s time consuming,” he said.

“There was talk by the boss of Heathrow of people in a kilometre long queue, of arriving four hours before departure. That doesn’t sound like a holiday to a lot of people. It sounds like torture.”

However, Charles said giving people the confidence to travel again is going to be key.

“The industry is going to have to be very much focused on explaining to people why it’s okay and safe to travel,” he said.

“You’re going to see airlines and operators offering some pretty good deals to help to kick start things when we can get people traveling and booking or 2021.

Collaborative approach

“And then it’s about making sure that there are best standards practice in place. That’s where we’re going to have to focus.

“We will only travel as consumers when we’re confident that we’re going to be safely looked after, we’ve got less risk, and we can travel with confidence. The onus is on all of us to do that.

Hawke conceded that making all of its products safe was a “big challenge” but it was working with bodies like Clia in cruise and other lines to agree best practice on its river cruise ships.

And he said how firms address this should not be a competitive matter. “Protocols are going to be in place globally, not just locally, because we’re all dealing with the same issue.

“Longer term, one hopes a vaccine will be found and ultimately some sort of way of treating the symptoms so it’s less likely to kill.

“But it’s working with the rules that are in place at the moment and coming out with our own best practice as well as sharing that, because this shouldn’t be a competitive environment.

“I don’t think any holiday company airline should be going out saying we run a safer operation with regards to COVID-19 or any other virus than somebody else. We should work together.”