A lack of outside understanding means the travel industry is in limbo, says Aito Agents chair Gemma Antrobus

Limbo, according to the dictionary, is ‘an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution’. And that, my travel friends, is exactly where we have been for the past 14 weeks – and continue to be – because of an acute lack of outside understanding of how the travel sector works in the UK.

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But how is this possible? Our industry is estimated to contribute £200 billion annually to the economy and employs more than four million people – approximately 11% of the UK’s workforce. How is it possible that we are still in this middle ground, not really knowing how to push forward with any firm strategy?

So what does limbo mean in practice for the different aspects of the industry?

Life in limbo

Limbo for travel business owners means when can we fully open our premises/offices again? When can we start to bring our teams back from furlough? Do we have to make any significant changes to our organisational structure? What destinations can we sell? When can we start taking new bookings? When can these passengers travel? And that’s before we even start to think about risk assessments and how to keep our staff and clients safe.

Limbo for our employees means when will my colleagues come back to work? When will I be brought back from furlough? Will the company structure change and will I still have a job? What does the future of travel look like? Will my clients still be planning to travel?

Limbo for our hotel partners, both in the UK and overseas, means when can we start taking bookings that we know we won’t have to refund? Do we need to change our payment terms? What destinations will open up first and allow UK travellers to visit? Have we been able to keep our teams trained and ready for the resurgence of guests? Will we open this season?

And limbo for our membership associations means how can we best protect our members? What evolving advice do we give them? What more can we do to lobby government on their behalf? Who else can we talk to in hope they will listen?

Limbo is real for all of us. It’s one of those words that I rarely used before March, but now it trips off my tongue in every conversation.

Lack of support

I find it mind-blowing that we still have no formal plan of action specific to our industry, and not a single person in government fighting our corner. And that despite the huge pressure applied by various independent groups and our trade associations, the thousands of letters written by individuals to their MPs, and the legal action being pursued by British Airways and other airlines. How did it get to this when we are worth so much?

I firmly believe that there was an ulterior motive for the introduction of UK quarantine, so late in the day and once the rest of the world was starting to open again. Is this possibly the last negotiation tool that the government has to satisfy a different agenda? Will we ever know?

What we do know is that we are strong, we are resilient and when there is a lack of clear guidance, we must pull together to create one ourselves.

If, like me, you are a business owner, you must do what is right for your business, for your employees, and for your clients or your members. No one can criticise you for that. As we navigate this very new landscape, without a map, I wish you all the very best of luck.

The next time I talk about limbo, I can guarantee you that I will be lying on a beautiful Caribbean beach, sipping a rum cocktail and looking back on the most crazy time we will all ever experience…I hope.

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