But it is not just in the UK where the problem ends. This directly impacts our partners in Africa who are struggling even more, without the support mechanisms we enjoy here. All their efforts are focused on providing for their staff, maintaining a presence in vital wilderness areas and supporting communities on their peripheries, who are critical to wildlife survival at this time.
It’s estimated that each tourist job in Africa supports a further eight people and whilst we’re right to be sensibly cautious in our approach to safe travel, it’s equally important that we move away from the UK’s current insular outlook and take account of the crucial impact our travelling decisions have amongst the poorer corners of the globe. We have no expectation for the immediate lifting of travel bans but with a lead time for long haul bookings of 6-12 months it’s important that an element of confidence in future prospects is injected into the market now. The industry needs certainty, and it needs it now.
‘We have enough cash to survive another month, but not another six’
Serena von der Heyde, owner of Georgian House Hotel in Pimlico and Victorian House Hotel in Grasmere:
My mother inherited the Georgian House Hotel when I was 19, and I’ve spent the last 30 years running the business and building a team dedicated to the constant improvement of the guest experience. The year before last was our best year ever, so I expanded with a second hotel: the Victorian House Hotel in Grasmere, with a plan to launch in March 2020.
We had to close both hotels in March 2020 for the first lockdown – the Victorian House Hotel had been open a matter of weeks. The Georgian House Hotel didn’t qualify for grant support. The business was losing cash fast. We quickly realised that we couldn’t continue with all of our team, and within a month we made 25 of our 50 colleagues redundant. It is still the hardest thing I have faced. Breaking up the team we had been developing for so long left me with a profound sense of failure. On top of that the rate at which our bank balance was dropping meant that I was really frightened about whether the business would survive. I didn’t sleep properly for weeks.
We re-opened both hotels in August at the end of lockdown. We prepared for social distancing, did the risk assessments and training and bought the PPE. In Grasmere, the Victorian House Hotel took lots of bookings and the business took off with safe, happy guests and staff.
In London it was a different story. Throughout the summer we had a handful of bookings and only a few of our staff were un-furloughed. In January we started to get bookings for this summer and autumn, but again this optimism was halted by the recent government statements telling people not to book holidays… so more cancellations. I do wonder whether ministers realise the direct fallout from their announcements. We have had a negative cash flow since last March. I know the business can’t start to recover until we can open and trade again. We have enough cash to survive another month or so, but not another six months.
We did a really good job operating at both hotels with social distancing measures during the summer and we had no Covid cases. I know that when we are allowed to open we can care for our guests safely and I desperately want the chance to keep my business afloat.
‘Government departments are simply not listening’
Ed Paine, managing director, Last Frontiers:
All UK tour operators are waiting expectantly for ministers to finally give us a sensible roadmap out of the bleak landscape that we have been consigned to. Previous pleas around testing and opaque Foreign Office advice have been ignored, with the overall impression of government departments that are simply not listening, and instead we have been subjected to inconsistent and poorly thought out measures such as the recent hotel quarantine for a highly selective group of countries.
If the foreign travel ban is to remain then we, like the performing arts sector, need proper financial compensation during the period that our business has been outlawed. We should also, as a nation, consider helping poorer countries than our own via the provision of vaccine supplies. If we are not allowed to help their tourist industry, at least we can help protect their people.
‘Travel could soon become the preserve of the privileged’
Stephen Ellison, head of marketing at Vintage Travel:
Over the past 30 years, we have forged relationships with our individual villa owners, many of whom have been greatly affected by the lockdowns of last year. With the prospect of early season bookings facing massive delays yet again, the future does not look promising. We are all working in the hope that we may salvage something of the year from July onwards to be able to support our overseas partners – if we cannot send them clients again this year, despite our longstanding relationships, it will become a matter of survival for them and they will understandably look for other markets.
Just as many people in this country will be taking ‘staycations’, it is exactly the same in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, where the people there will be staying at home in greater numbers and will be looking for villa holidays. If we can at least have some kind of strategy that enables people to have the confidence to book now, with a real prospect of travelling this year, we may still be able to offer some availability and protect our traditional holiday markets.
Similarly, if flights are not booked now with a real prospect of them going ahead, aircraft will continue to be mothballed, crew stood down and our fear is that, with diminished availability, higher and exorbitant prices will follow. Without hope, we will be doomed to yet another year of loss making that for many in the wider travel industry will be disastrous, causing irreparable damage. For those that survive it will be a different landscape, with travel perhaps in the non-too distant future again becoming the preserve of the privileged?
We are all realistic, completely sympathetic and fully understanding of the necessity of the current restrictions, as do our customers; but without a sensible solution we all remain in limbo, awaiting guidance. This guidance needs to form a part of a comprehensive government plan, with clear tactical implementation – avoiding any more damaging ignorant throwaway personal remarks from government ministers.
‘Where before there was optimism now increasingly we see despair’
Michael Caines MBE, chef/patron of Lympstone Manor, Devon:
I don’t think it’s extreme nor is it scaremongering when we say that the industry is teetering on the edge right now; the reality is there will be many businesses that will not survive an extended lockdown. We are all hoping that we are able to open in a timely manner, ready for the Easter holidays and trade into the summer and beyond.
Regardless, I fear that this is not going to save every business because currently the tourism industry is being hit by so many different directions whether that’s a lack of overseas flights into the UK producing tourists and business clients alike that fuel our city-centre hotels and restaurants, or the non-existent event business, reduced capacity through social distancing or enforced curfews that our sector has had to endure.