As vaccine programmes roll out, the public are already eager to travel internationally again, with many people taking advantage of the British government’s green travel list to enjoy their first holiday abroad in over a year.
However, as we saw with Portugal, the sudden introduction and rise of different COVID-19 variants may keep delaying the recovery of the travel industry, making it increasingly difficult to accurately forecast how and when travel will become viable once again.
The differences in the availability of vaccines between countries around the world means that international travel could continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future. Vaccine passports were considered the next steps in opening up for travel, but the government has announced the plans are to be scrapped, considered “discriminatory” against those who are medically unable to be vaccinated and those who choose not to.
COVID-19 may have done permanent damage to the travel industry. In 2017, UK business travel contributed almost forty billion pounds to the travel industry. There are growing concerns that, thanks to the development in technology to assist in remote working and digital collaboration, the need for domestic and international travel may be significantly reduced. This could slash the number of people travelling internationally for business or even heavily reduce the numbers that commute on the UK’s railways. With more affordable options for conducting international business, the industry may need to rely more on leisure travel for its recovery.
One sector that may be permanently impacted is the cruise industry. As liners sat dormant around the world, many older ships were sold off as scrap in order to save the companies some money. The vaccine brings hope that the cruise industry will slowly recover but with 130 countries not having the access or infrastructure to start rolling out vaccine plans, cruise ships may find it hard to resume their normal activities. As the preferred holiday for families and elderly travellers, it will be interesting to see if the cruise ship can recover its image of luxury and fun after the pandemic highlighted how quickly infection can spread amongst guests.
It is very clear that normal travel and holidays abroad will not be able to make a fast recovery as countries differ on vaccination schemes and questions remain about the effectiveness of the vaccines on new variants. The industry as a whole may have to brace for complete changes in how people choose to travel, especially with the new interest in van conversions and motorhomes. The unstable state of travel suggests that UK businesses are going to continue to feel the impact of the pandemic, especially as the government’s furlough schemes are only guaranteed until September 2021. With international tourists spending £22.5 billion in the UK in 2016 and the industry accounting for 10% of UK jobs, tourism and hospitality are going to continue to struggle if the travel industries are not able to recover quickly.