The boss of Jet2holidays says the introduction of quarantine measures in June was “more of a political decision than a scientific one”, but believes the government is finally “coming to realise the importance of the outbound travel sector”.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, chief executive Steve Heapy said he was “confused” by the timing of the 14-day quarantine rules.
“Like most of the industry and probably a good proportion of the country, I was a bit confused when it was brought in because it was done 10 weeks later than many other European countries,” he said.
“You can understand why other European countries did it so early, because they wanted to stop people coming in potentially spreading the disease. But in the 10-week period between other countries putting it in place and the UK government putting it in place, we were letting 10,000 people-a-day into the country, completely unchecked. So the words stable door and bolting horse spring to mind.”
Heapy added: “It was probably more of a political decision than a one based on scientific evidence, but it just felt like it was too late. I had no trouble with the concept of it, but not 10 weeks after everyone else.”
He said the introduction of quarantine had forced Jet2 to push back its planned restart date and said a decision had been taken to avoid continual short-term postponements.
“We had one date and we felt pretty confident we’d start flying. And then obviously things dragged on and we thought we had no chance. So I know the approach of some companies was perhaps to push the day back by one week, every week, but we didn’t think that was very helpful for customers and travel agents,” he said.
“If you’re a travel agent and the day gets put back a week at a time for 10 weeks, then potentially, you’re going to get 10 phone calls off a customer asking for information. So we try to make life a bit easier and said, ‘Okay, well, it’s going to take us a bit of time to get going; there’s no sign of things changing at the moment; so let’s put a line in the sand then go for this date, and that’s what we did.”
Heapy said parts of government recognised the true value of the outbound travel sector and said he believed the government generally would “take more notice in the future”.
“Certainly, the Department of Transport understands the importance of the outbound travel industry. But during this crisis, it’s been fighting battles with the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Department of Health. There have been lots of other departments that are involved with their own priorities, so it’s been very difficult to get things done specifically for the travel industry,” he said.
“But I think that in in the future, the government may take more notice because this is a huge sector. I think they’ve come to realise over the last few weeks that the outbound travel industry is a massive sector responsible for employing hundreds of thousands of people and it generates a lot of income.”
He added: “They announced the VAT cut a couple of weeks ago, but of course that will benefit mainly the incoming travel industry. Inbound is probably prioritised over the outbound travel industry but it would be good to see some more measures taking place for the outbound travel industry.
“We’re a massive employer, a massive contributor to GDP. And of course, in the case of airlines, we invest billions of pounds to buy these aircraft and operate them. And these things are long-term decisions. They’ve got lifespans of 20-25 years. We’ve got to make long-term decisions and to do those, you need certainty.”
Asked about Jet2holidays’ own lobbying efforts, Heapy said: “We speak regularly to authorities – Abta, the CAA, members of the government and the opposition. So we speak to a lot of MPs; have conversations with Grant Shapps; and Kelly Tolhurst holds calls every week.
“We do a lot of lobbying behind the scenes because sometimes people in positions of power don’t like lobbying where everything’s put in the press afterwards. They would prefer quiet, behind the scenes lobbying and that’s what we tend to do.
“We don’t publicise every conversation we have with an MP or a minister because there’s not always the need to. We’re not glory-hunting; we don’t want to show that how much we’re talking to people. We just get on with it and hopefully we can influence from behind.”
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