Coronavirus: Summer may not happen!

Are you really expecting to have your normal usual summer holiday?

Are Media Consumer Advices accurate?

What should be done to support the many workers in the Travel Industry?

Hello and welcome to my latest Podfilm.

Today I am going to talk about three things affected by the Coronavirus; the Media & Consumer Rights; Your potential holidays, and the Travel Industry and the people that work within it.

When news of COVID19 started to emerge from China, I deliberately didn’t make any public comments about travel to this area or adjacent countries because of the quite apparent uncertainty. It was clear that this was going to become a major event; the question of course was whether the virus was going to be contained or would it spread?

As indeed the virus started to spread, particularly into Europe, I witnessed travel-blogger after travel-blogger, encouraging people to ignore the event and to take that trip to Venice or the ski-slopes; I even saw one video from a blogger, demonstrating that life was carrying on in Venice as normal, without regard it seems to the ever increasingly bleak picture from the Far-East.

Then there has been the travel advices offered on the radio, press and television. All of them only concentrated on one thing; Travel Insurance. They made no distinction between a Package Holiday and independent trips, in fact they didn’t even appear to be aware of Package Holiday Rights.

By 16 February, I had started to comment about the situation, trying as best as I could to be proportional. As night follows day, the media picked up on the fact that I was here and had something to say about rights and it was not just about Travel Insurance. What about the Package Travel Regulations? What about Significant Changes to Holidays? What about Consumers being able to cancel holidays in ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’? What about Travel Advisories? I could tell from my broadcast experiences, the interviewers had clearly not been briefed by their producers as to the type of travel problems that existed. In fact even though I’ve been on the airwaves, I am still hearing and reading about the broadcasters comfort blanket; Travel Insurance and nothing else.

But the straw that has broken the camel’s back has been one article I read in a National Newspaper, offering a Q&A to its readers, about their travel problems. The question was ‘asked’, ‘can I get my money back for my package holiday if I can’t go’? Without blinking, the journalist advised the Consumer that their money was protected as they would have an ATOL certificate and therefore get their money back!

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

For those in the media world who don’t know, the ATOL certificate acts as your financial protection should the travel company or airline financially fail - it was not designed nor does it offer refunds for holidays that are simply cancelled. The only time it would kick in is if the company in question went into administration; that might eventually happen to some companies, but not just yet.

So I say to Media Companies, be careful of the facts you put out and at the very least, try to understand the world of travel and Consumer Rights. The simple rule is if you don’t know or understand something, research the point or just ask!

As for Consumers, I have something important to say.

It’s not going to be uttered by anyone else, so I may as well be the first!

I am trying to break this to you gently, and I am conscious that we are all being bombarded with bad news right now, but I want to talk to you about that holiday you may have booked for Summer 2020.

Given all that we know and how COVID19 is going to progress, you should prepare yourself for the fact that you may not be going on your summer holiday.

I take no pleasure in saying this, but as the crisis escalates in Europe and that includes the UK, we must take our lead from what happened in China as to what will happen here. 

It is now roughly 4 months since the first case was detected in China and whilst that country appears to be coming out of the extreme measures imposed, we should I think logically accept that we too will experience a period of this length before we return to some semblance of normality.

This means that at its earliest, we may start to see the return of normal travel commercial activity around the end of June; on a personal level, I am ear-marking the end of July as the period when I may be able to start travelling again.

The issue is not just what is happening here but elsewhere. I think it is fair to say that in global terms, there has been some condemnation of how the UK has so far dealt with the crisis, and this alone may place the UK further behind on the curve than other nations and indeed those nations may not have the confidence in accepting British holidaymakers, until they are reasonably certain that holiday making Brits pose a low risk.

Another factor relates to how the Travel Industry is essentially moth-balling its operations - it is fast-changing environment at the moment - so logically, to restart operations, it is not inconceivable that it would take several weeks to bring their logistics up to-speed. My end of July ‘prediction’ such as it is, may prove to be the safer bet.

If the holiday season ‘restarts’ at the end of July, it may mean that it will not be convenient for Consumers because of work commitments; there may be other pressures at play with regards to lost income or demands from the companies you work for that dictate whether you go on holiday or not.

For those of you have booked that trip away, it is quite possible that your chosen holiday may be cancelled well in advance simply because of the restrictions that countries are adding almost by the hour to last for many weeks - always keep in mind the Chinese experience!

If package holidays are cancelled, and most are classified as Package Holidays, then ‘significant change’ rights come into play and you will get your money back. If for some reason a travel company is not cancelling the holiday and you are getting closer to your departure date and it is clear that problems in your destination are not resolved and everything is closed, then, with evidence, you too can cancel the holiday and receive a refund. All these important rights are contained within the Package Travel Regulations.

A problem arises for those who have booked their travel arrangements separately. In those cases you would have to head to the terms and conditions for each supplier to see if you can get your money back or indeed to change the holiday arrangements. There may be an opportunity with Travel Insurance, hopefully purchased at the time of making the arrangements, but if they should refuse your application, then head for the terms and conditions and use the complaints process to appeal their decision.

I know it's not what Consumers want to hear right now, but I may as well be honest with you all.

Whilst all these issues are important, I want to finally turn my attention to the Travel Industry and the people that work within the Industry. I am not just talking about the big companies, I am talking about the local travel agent, the tour rep, the interpreter, cabin crew, pilots, baggage handlers, people who work in the pubs and restaurants at airports, those who prepare your in-flight meals; the employee supply chain is extensive.

I want to say to you all, that whilst my focus is naturally on Consumers and their problems, I am not insensitive to the issues that face the Travel Industry. I stand in solidarity with you, not just in words but also in thought.

The present government appears to believe that the economy of the nation must be protected at all costs as this is in the National Interest.

I say, you cannot have a healthy economy unless you place as your priority, the health of its citizens. It is logical, if you guard the health of the people, you will guard he health of its economy; in a crisis like this, you cannot play with theory and hope that market-forces will prevail.

Already, we can see the UK Aviation Industry pressing some very loud alarm bells and apparently calling for a £7.5bn bail-out package. Given the desire to have an independent future, whilst maintaining a global presence, it is not perhaps an unreasonable demand and actually makes the recent budget quite sickly.

But it is to the ordinary workers within this industry that I say the government must step up and deliver some blue-sky thinking.

Whilst the Industry clamours for financial help, the voice of those affected must also be heard.

I’ve read that the government suggested that those affected by the crisis could apply for the controversial Universal Credit, with apparently a 5 week wait to discover whether they were successful or not.

I say the government should stop dithering, help is needed now and that they should introduce a temporary unconditional Universal Basic Income of £200 pw along with additional qualifying benefits found within Universal Credit. This should be introduced without delay and certainly not waiting for 5 weeks.

The government should also take a leaf out of the book of the Western Australian government, whereby they have frozen all domestic costs for utilities and other services; why could we not do the same here, with obvious support to those industries?

With regards to banks and building societies and indeed landlords, they should all be encouraged to adopt the ‘freezing’ of obligations again with obvious support for those sectors from our government.

The workers of the Travel Industry and indeed the Industry itself needs this support; this is the time for government to demonstrate that it really has the best interests of its people at heart and not be lost in the nebula of theoretical models.

(This is the script for the CreatingRipples™ PodFilm: Coronavirus - Summer may not happen! You can watch Frank's PodFilm here)