On Monday the UK government’s much-anticipated big lockdown announcement will take place, indicating how restrictions will or might be eased in the coming months, even weeks. If you read the news avidly I’m sure you’ll have fund yourself a bit swamped by the flurry of differing opinions and predictions about what our ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ will look like.
Much as I’ve been tempted to switch off from most of it, some of that news and opinion relates to opening up (or not opening up) the travel industry. Conservative PM Boris has previously intimated that holidays wouldn’t be on the agenda tomorrow, though reports suggest that former Labour PM Tony Blair has been working behind the scenes to get the issue of vaccine passports onto the government’s list of talking points.
In this week’s post I wanted to look at some of the recent travel and world news-related headlines and dissect them a little — from the worry over Covid variants and the possibility of vaccine passports to views on staycations versus summer holidays abroad.
A road trip over some of the key issues facing us, ahead of this long-trailed roadmap announcement.
If you make it to the end (well done, because I nearly didn’t), I’ve rounded off with three extra positive news stories. Because life isn’t all doom and gloom.
Covid variants keep varying – Since the shit really started hitting the fan in Christmas week, we’ve seen the spread of the ‘Kent’ variant, the two ‘South Africa’ variants, the Brazilian variant, even the ‘Bristol’ variant – and recently researchers at Edinburgh University have found a new variant with ‘worrying’ mutations, found in Britain, the US, Denmark, Australia, Nigeria too – though there are no signs as yet that it causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility. Even so, getting the whole world vaccinated is the only real way to counter the threats posed by variants – more on that late.
Quarantine hotels make their rocky debut in England – one traveller compared his stay at a Holiday Inn hotel to being in prison and another claimed they were served food by a staff member not wearing a mask. All that and it costs £1,750 to cover the stay plus testing if you arrive in England from a red list country. Can you name any or all of the 33 countries currently on the list? I couldn’t so I looked them up:
Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Eswatini, French Guiana, Guyana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe (Spain and the US aren’t currently on the list but they are also being considered.)
Just how sustainable will we really be when we can travel again? I’m in two minds. It’s not just going to happen at the flick of a switch, particularly as Covid safety will likely be higher on many travellers’ agendas. But if we can keep the conversation flowing in the mainstream then there’s hope.
I feel quite strongly that a large part of the responsibility lies with travel operators to not just treat sustainability as a trend but a necessary path to a better future for the travel industry. We as travellers and consumers must also face up to our responsibility. Yes, I want to travel the world ten times over, but I’d rather take my time than hop about without a care. It’s also up to travel publications to keep the topic in the forefront of readers’ minds. And national and local governments and city officials have to lead by example and keep up the momentum of green campaigns such as the C40 initiative which creates a platform for mayors from 40 of the world’s megacities to better implement green policies.
Set within the sustainability debate is an aviation industry desperate to fly again. While The Daily Mail reports on business class flight bargains (‘why not treat yourself?’), The Times takes an in-depth snapshot of an aviation industry gearing up to get more passengers back on flights worldwide.
There are also practical, consumer-based features out there for those considering how to travel more sustainably in the future.
The Independent just published this piece featuring a fantastic array of 11 of the best travel companies for booking a sustainable holiday And within the same news family, the inews website (part of i paper the The Independent) features a great sustainable travel hub which includes this thoughtful piece from 12 industry experts who share their hopes and predictions for post-pandemic travel. Most of it positive that we will travel more mindfully and responsibly in the future.
A nation prepares to staycation – In recent weeks, the inevitable staycation stories have bubbled back to the surface and we’re left wondering (again) whether we ought to book asap ‘in case everything sells out’. Perhaps some of the most feverish headlines can be found in The Sun, detailing the SUMMER SCRAMBLE, with demand ‘ten times higher than 2019’ (to some destinations, not all. And what about compared to 2020?!). Perhaps not unexpectedly, the demand appears to be from those over 55 years old who are more likely to have had their first jab.
The Sun isn’t alone in rounding up summer staycations, everyone’s at it, including:
- The Guardian’s look at 30 UK campsites with availability for summer 2021
- A recent Sunday Times piece about scenic staycations inspired by Netflix’s Bridgerton and The Dig
- This Condé Nast Traveller article on beautiful cities in the UK and Ireland.
- And let’s not forget the mega rich, dubbed the ‘grounded rich’, who may have to make do with Abercrombie & Kent £600,000 tailored UK trips.
Top staycation destination? Surely poll-topping Cornwall. Even the summer’s G7 summit is going to be there, and it’s on TV every five minutes too. I’ll give it a miss this year I think!
The Telegraph has teamed up with holiday companies to launch a #SaveOurSummer (SOS) campaign, demanding international travel opens from 1st May. This campaign had actually largely escaped my notice even though I’m currently a digital Telegraph subscriber (got to keep up to date on the travel features front), but this article, Restart travel or proceed with caution? Two experts debate the holiday roadmap, piqued my interest greatly.
If you can’t see beyond the paywall, here’s a summary of the arguments from each side.
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy firm The PC Agency and #SaveOurSummer campaigner:
- SOS want a better roadmap on the easing of travel restrictions, suggesting international travel restart by 1st May.
- Travel firms surveyed by SOS say they expect to have to lay off between 20-40% of their staff if there’s no clarity in tomorrow’s announcements about when Brits could expect to be able to travel again.
- Telegraph Travel asked followers on Twitter ‘if we should be opening up our borders by May’, to which 441 voted ‘yes – about time’ and 281 voted ‘no – it’s too soon’. [I supposed that’s a done deal then?!]
- ‘The health of the British people is vital, but with declining cases and soaring vaccination numbers, more than 600 firms, employing tens of thousands of people in the sector, believe that Boris Johnson can target a responsible and safe re-opening date for travel.’
Which? Travel Editor Rory Boland
- On the other side of the argument, Rory points out that pandemics don’t tend to ‘work to deadlines’ – it didn’t work very well for the government last year.
- Do SOS have the public on their side? Rory questions a lack of data in the SOS campaign. The data he provides from a YouGov public survey says that 78% of respondents believe all inbound passengers should be made to quarantine and 58% of people surveys feel that all flights should be stopped. There’s a debate to be had about practicalities, but the public mood doesn’t seem to be all in for 1st May.
- ‘Demanding travel opens up on May 1 leaves the industry liable to being seen as irresponsible by their own customers. Public sentiment on restrictions will soften as more of us get the jab and infections and deaths decrease. Arguments to unlock holidays abroad will be better received when hospitals aren’t full and kids are able to return to school.’
- He suggests that campaigning to reduce the cost of private tests would be a better way to campaign right now, helping to ensure that ordinary holidaymakers aren’t priced out of travel.
- Rather damningly, he also alludes to the presence of some holiday companies in the SOS campaign who have flouted holiday refund rules and laws since the start of the pandemic.
The pandemic isn’t about taking sides – no-one in the travel industry wins by hedging themselves against each other – but I am inclined to think that Rory’s arguments are the stronger here. They do however agree on one thing – that the furlough schemes for the travel industry haven’t worked for every area of the sector and can’t plaster over the cracks ever-widening in the industry.
On the subject of vaccine passports, early stage talks between Greek & UK officials made the news last week. Greece and Cyprus have already made a deal with Israel to allow travel between their countries once flights resume, with Israel setting records in terms of the percentage of the population so far vaccinated.
As this Guardian article reports, Israel is about to issue its own vaccine passes (in the form of an app) to the 50% of the population who have had the jab, meaning they can access bars, gyms and other facilities – in effect giving privileges to those who have had their vaccine. It is untested and there are bound to be hiccups at best and controversies at worse, in my view. This is set against the news that so few vaccine doses are making their way into Palestinian territory. There were delays in the delivery of 2,000 doses for 1,000 people (bearing in mind there are around 2m Palestinians) — held up because the Israeli national security council ‘had not yet decided whether to allow vaccines into Gaza’.
I have my doubts, as does a recently-released Royal Society report challenging the notion of each country following its own rules, stating that, while vaccine passports are a ‘feasible’ option, they shouldn’t be made available until international standards have been set. The report goes on to make suggestions for 12 key points that would need to be unilaterally addressed.
Germany’s ethics council have also come out and criticised the idea of vaccine privileges because it promote ‘elbow mentality’, in other words, pushing people out of the way in order to do what’s best for you instead of what’s best for everyone.
In the UK, I suspect some form of certification will go ahead, but that it will take time. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi recently suggested on breakfast TV that those who have been vaccinated can expect a government-backed certificate: ‘if there is a requirement [during a passenger’s journey], any viewer can then ask for their vaccine certificate, in the way that we [the government] do pre-departure test certificates now.’ The thing is, as The Independent points out, the government doesn’t issue ‘pre-departure test certificates’ – they don’t exist.
If vaccine passports do go into use, internationally agreed or not, that doesn’t mean that international travel will suddenly open up as a result. And, in my opinion, nor should it open up until there is a more level-playing field between countries in terms of vaccine dose availability.
Which leads me to the last headline in this section…
I’ve already mentioned that Palestine has struggled to get hold of doses despite Israel’s wide-reaching vaccination rollout. The UN reports that 75% of available vaccines have been used by 10% of countries while 130 countries around the world have no vaccines at all – of all the recent global Covid news, this angers me most.
I am proud of how well the NHS has rolled out vaccines in the UK, and the government strategy to buy vaccines from pretty much all sources was clearly a winning strategy – for us.
The squabbles between the UK and the EU were so incredibly frustrating, not just because the EU often seemed so petulant and there were hints of ‘told you so’ from our side, but because the divisions of borders shouldn’t be our concern with regards to vaccine rollout; everyone in the world deserves fair access to vaccinations and no country should be expecting that they may not receive any doses until 2022 or 2023.
COVAX, an organisation that’s part of the WHO, is a global initiative aimed at expanding global access to Covid vaccines. The UK and many other countries no doubt part of the lucky 10% have thus far donated money to COVAX, but not vaccines. It’s not surprising, but it is vastly disappointing.
One thing you can do to add your voice is sign this Vaccine Equity Declaration, calling on countries to ‘work together in solidarity’ to ensure that within the first 100 days of 2021, vaccinations of older people and healthcare workers is underway in every country around the world.
In more optimistic news…
Just so as not to finish on such a frustrating note, here are three optimistic stories from around the world for you:
The European cities going green in 2021 – from the Finnish 2021 European Green Capital of Europe to cities pledging big carbon cuts and installing the world’s largest urban rooftop farm, National Geographic glides over six gloriously green cities.
Saving lives in Timbuktu – Most leaflets that fall out of any newspaper I put in recycling straight away – but not the the monthly update from Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders. The work the charity carries out is absolutely vital to recently war torn regions like Mali and this latest leaflet looks back at the success of a Measles vaccination campaign in the country’s capital Timbuktu that reached around 50,000 children aged between six months and 14 years.
And I couldn’t not mention that those Welsh goats are back…
Next week (International Polar Bear Day no less), don’t miss a reflection on the latest book by David Attenborough I’ve been reading, and a deeper dive into issues around sustainability, rewilding, biodiversity and ways we can all tackle climate change.