Two years ago, as the UK entered its second week of lockdown, no one could have predicted the far-reaching impacts the Covid-19 pandemic would have. Though it was to be another 10 months before the UK mandated closing its borders for leisure travel, few industries felt the impacts of the pandemic more acutely than transport, travel, and international tourism. According to data from Visit Britain, in 2020 the number of inbound tourists to the UK was 73% lower than the previous year. While many European holiday destinations experienced an uplift in traffic in 2021 compared to 2020, the UK fell behind. In the first three quarters of last year, passenger numbers in the UK were a staggering 93% lower than 2019 levels. Key to this decline was a lack of consumer confidence.
Over the past two years, British travellers and the travel industry have endured travel corridors, red lists, green lists, quarantine lists, pre-departure tests, and mandatory hotel quarantines. This list is by no means exhaustive. With a portfolio of travel and travel retail clients, including the UK Travel Retail Forum (UKTRF) – the organisation for Britain’s travel retail industry – Hume Brophy helped the industry navigate the revolving-door of restrictions and regulatory complexities. Since the UK first entered lockdown, Hume Brophy and UKTRF have hosted weekly Covid-19 industry calls, providing a forum for industry players to share information, align on their asks of government, and discuss the latest changes as they happened. We assisted UKTRF in working closely with other industry associations including airports and airline representatives, and have coordinated public affairs engagement to ensure the voice of the transport and travel retail sector is heard in Westminster. In tandem with this, we continue to gather intelligence to help our clients prepare for what’s on the horizon. With industry specialists in Hume Brophy’s London, Brussels and Singapore offices, we have also worked at a global level with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to propose universally accepted guidance on safe reopening for airports and airport retailers.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the removal of all remaining Covid-19 related travel restrictions narrowly preceded last week’s lockdown anniversary. On Friday 18 March, the deeply unpopular Passenger Locator Form and the testing requirements for unvaccinated travellers were lifted, in time for the upcoming Easter break. This was a welcome and eagerly anticipated move for our clients, and we were encouraged to see the government pledge only to reintroduce restrictions in ‘extreme circumstances’. Looking ahead, with many Britons not having travelled abroad since the outbreak of Covid-19, all indicators point to a summer of pent-up, unprecedented demand for international travel. Since the Transport Secretary first announced the government’s intention to remove the remaining travel restrictions earlier this month, many airports and operators have reported a significant surge in bookings. In fact, during our most recent Covid-19 update call, some of our clients reported that traffic during the Easter break looked to compare favourably with 2019 levels. The travel industry’s future is at last looking bright, even if consumer confidence takes a while longer to fully recover.
However, the reopening of travel poses a new set of challenges. The travel and tourism industries’ labour markets shrunk significantly during the pandemic, and lingering doubts about the sector has made recruiting new staff challenging. Staffing issues often lead to queues, security problems, baggage issues and frustrated passengers, all of which result in unfavourable coverage that the industry seldom deserves.
With more than 15 years’ experience of the industry, travel and travel retail have become well established specialisms of Hume Brophy’s. Our consultants will continue to support clients in navigating the new set of political, regulatory and reputational challenges posed by the post-Covid travel landscape, just as we did the pandemic and Brexit before that.