The reversal of near-blanket FCO advice and mandatory testing to replace quarantine should be the sole demands of a united industry, argues Lata chief executive Danny Callaghan

In 1997, on the eve of the UK general election, Tony Blair famously told voters they had “24 hours to save the NHS” by voting Labour into government. I have borrowed that rallying call because, while Blair was electioneering and looking for an enduring soundbite, we really are running out of time to save our industry and every single day is now critical.

STA has become the latest travel industry casualty of the Covid crisis, and is sadly just one in a growing number of closures and resulting job losses for our friends and colleagues, which extends across inbound and outbound tourism.

Looking back over the last six months, I would say that the tourism industry has handled the crisis pretty badly – we failed to take control of the narrative in the press, different sectors turned on each other over refunds, and we were always, and remain, on the back foot.

I believe that this is because there is no single voice that carries the consensus of us all. All the different campaigns, petitions, etc., that have taken place over the last six months have just created a lot of white noise, with no clear, focused message about what we need. And I include what I’ve done at Lata in that – I’ve urged members to write to their MP, started petitions and done all the same things as everyone else, doing what I thought was best at the time.

One voice, two requests

However, if we are to save our industry from this existential threat, I believe we have to come together with one voice, with a clear roadmap out of the disaster we face.

If you drill down the challenges we have, I believe there are only two things the industry should be asking for:

Firstly, the FCO should cancel the near-worldwide ban on all but essential travel. It was an effective way to put the handbrake on in March, but is now redundant because, from a Covid-19 point of view, travel will self-regulate by virtue of consumers and the trade being able to see the freely-available information on infection rates and make informed, adult decisions about the risks of travel. Countries with problems will likely close their borders anyway, taking the decision for us.

Arguably, because the UK has a “firewall” in place – currently the quarantine – what does it matter where someone goes? If I want to go to a particular country and am happy to self-isolate, or test, or whatever the necessary process is when I get home, why shouldn’t I?

Secondly, we need the abolition of the quarantine and introduction of mandatory PCR test on arrival in the UK, with the requirement to self-quarantine for the 12 or 24 hours it takes to get the results, before getting back to work for returning residents, or getting on with their holiday for inbound tourists.

There is solid, proven science behind a single test on arrival and many countries are already taking this route, certainly the Latin American countries that I deal with on a daily basis. If we are ever to get tourism going, whether inbound or outbound, we need to make test-on-arrival as mundane and normal as showing our passport.

That’s it. That’s all we need for people to go travelling, book trips in the knowledge that they can go away and return with no real impediment. If that happens, jobs will be saved, the Treasury won’t need to look at special measures, there won’t be tens of thousands out of work unnecessarily. If that sounds like an oversimplification, it isn’t – it’s just simple.

Different problems drive different solutions

My concern is that different sectors of the industry are asking for different things because we have different problems. However, if we can come together around the things that we have in common, dispense with the ‘shopping list of demands’ approach and act as a single industry with a clear roadmap and strategy, we may get some traction. Ultimately, what we want is to be allowed to manage tourism during this crisis ourselves, because we are the experts.

As an industry we can make informed decisions, implement testing and safely conduct tourism if we are just left to get on with it. Heathrow airport, in conjunction with Collinson and Swissport, has demonstrated that the industry can take the lead and install testing facilities with no government support required. Let’s face it, we take millions of people on holiday every year and look after them, ensuring their safety – why is this any different?

This is a no-cost proposal to the government, indeed it will save money because it will reduce the number of redundancies in the sector. As I said, I think these are the only things we should be requesting at this time, because bundling in other demands for financial support, which the government can’t really afford, just gives them an excuse to dismiss the whole argument.

We can’t keep asking for financial support without a roadmap for the restart of tourism. Would your business spend money on a plan with no clear strategy or outcome? Of course not. We can’t expect the government to do so either. Remember, Covid-19 could be with us forever, so we need to work within that mindset and establish a ‘new normal’ for tourism right now, and get back to doing what we do best. If not, we look like we’re are asking for open-ended financial support, which is a non-starter.

Need for a unified voice

I genuinely believe that if all the membership associations, trade bodies, airlines, airports, ports, international rail terminals, UK hospitality and inbound tourism sectors can come together, design a strategy and roadmap that is realistic, deliverable and backed by the science around Covid-19, the argument becomes highly compelling.

If you are involved in a trade body, membership association or any other of the mentioned groups or groups I’ve forgotten but are relevant, and you agree that we need to come together for one concerted, laser-focused effort to save our industry, please do contact me by email on danny@lata.travel and just maybe we can all work together to actually dig ourselves out of this hole.

I wish you all the best for the rocky road ahead.