OPINION: Travel industry braced for a bleak year thanks to new variant

Rachel Moore says the travel industry will be braced for a bad year in 2022 due to the Omicron variant

Rachel Moore says the travel industry will be braced for a bad year in 2022 due to the Omicron variant - Credit: PA

A gaggle of anxious elderly Brits hovered outside a Tenerife beach-side medical centre at 8am on its national holiday on Monday hoping to nab an appointment for a fit to fly antigen test to get home the following day.

The doctor opened the doors, announced he had 200 already booked that day, and everyone needed to make an appointment.

Appointments had to be made via the QR code on a notice stuck on the door. No walk-ins. It wasn’t his problem many of his potential clientele were clutching old Nokia models useless for his instructions.

The one nostril test took seconds. His appointment book of 200 was likely to swell to 400 that day, at 35 Euros a go. While the rest of the island relaxed in the winter sun for bank holiday Monday, he was looking at a 14,000 Euro bonanza for one day’s swabbing.

Multiply that for the rest of the week from Brits needing to fly home, and Boris Johnson was that doctor’s meal ticket.

He rubbed his hands in glee as the broken travel industry that had flown, fed and watered these holidaymakers reeled once more.

Increased winter sun bookings boded well for a better 2022 to fill the desperate pandemic black hole.

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TUI, who we flew with, lost £4.7m a day in the year up to the end of September. Every day in a year, a loss of £4.7m. Wow. A total of £2.01bn.

And Omicron looks like more than a threat to any upturn. This time there’s no furlough for its staff.

Employment across the travel industry has halved since the start of the pandemic. On our flight, cabin crew chatted about what former colleagues were doing now they had no job.

Some were “jabbers”, finding opportunity in the crisis, or in retail or gone back to college to retrain, pessimistic about how long it will be for the industry to get on its feet again.

Would it ever be the same again, they asked?

People want to travel within rules, but not if those rules change on a sixpence.

People believe in testing and are happy to pay a reasonable sum to travel safely and come back healthy, but they want fairness when they do it. After all, we’re in this global problem together so we all need to work together.

That means reasonable capped testing prices, with evidence of clear, considered and safe planning, not last-minute or knee jerk reactions.

If the government demands private test, results of those tests should be returned as swiftly as NHS tests, so people don’t have to isolate for 48 hours waiting for the results of an expensive test, which take half the time on the NHS. And it should be a standard price.

Taking 48 hours to come back – that’s two days more off work – is unacceptable.

I can work from home, but if I had to be at work the day after landing, behind the wheel of a bus, or serving in a shop, or for an NHS shift, it impacts far more.

Then there’s the cost of quarantine hotels, highlighted by the actor Richard E Grant from his Holiday Inn, Gatwick room on the way back from visiting his 90-year-old mother in South Africa, swiftly switched to a red region.

He was paying £228 a day for three poor meals when a non-quarantine Holiday Inn costs £89 with breakfast.

Public heath always comes first but making money out of a pandemic is grubby and immoral.

If the announcement a couple of weeks ago of the reinstatement of a private PCR test – NHS tests are not accepted - within two days of landing in the UK, with the requirement to self-isolate until a negative result didn’t make people postpone their winter sun holidays, last Saturday’s rule change that, from 4am on Tuesday, everyone arriving in the UK needed a negative test within 48 hours of departing probably did.

When we arrived in Tenerife, the 200-plus Brits expected to arrive in our resort that day had dwindled to just 20. When we landed at Norwich Airport on Tuesday, the flight back to Tenerife would carry just 32 passengers.

Testing is vital to control what appears to be a raging new variant.

And, as devastating an economic blow to the travel industry here, how the pandemic is affecting those resorts that rely on European tourists is tangible.

Bars and shops are shut for good, empty in deathly quiet resorts. The few that are open, desperately touting for business with dirt cheap deals to struggle on.

Omicron is no doubt threatening our Christmas, but the real devastation will be to industries, employment and the national – and international – economic profile.

Now, the travel industry on its knees is begging the government to help them out warning operators will go out of business as Omicron takes hold and restrictions stiffen.

Travel turnover is just 22% of normal levels, according to ABTA travel association, and likely to plummet once again.

I feel fortunate we grasped the chance when we could, fully support testing, but wonder what travel industry will be left in 2023 with this level of losses.

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