One of the greatest challenges for the entire tourism industry post Coronavirus, in my humble opinion, will be the subject of credibility in the eyes of the consumer or traveller. Almost every day, often conflicting announcements, regarding the status of when ‘we’ are able to fly and from where, seem to hit the headlines.
Virgin Atlantic has stated that Barbados bound flights from London will only operate from Heathrow airport and this was highlighted in an advertised summer 2021seat sale launched on 16th May. A cursory glance at their website show fare levels substantially higher than available in previous years for similar periods.
In a recent Forbes article, British Airways (BA) told staff that ‘flights at London Gatwick may not resume in an extreme scenario’ while at the same time also reporting massive redundancies involving 12,000 staff including 1,130 captains and first officers or 26 per cent of all pilots.
However, highly competitive fares for the beginning of 2021 from Gatwick to Barbados are presently bookable on the BA site, so mixed messages creating confusion. British Airways currently hold 51 per cent of the take-off and landing slots at Heathrow and Virgin Atlantic only 4 per cent. So if Virgin are planning to transfer many routes from Gatwick to Heathrow, taking that capacity with them, where are the ‘slots’ or take-off and landing positions going to come from?
Recently, Air New Zealand sold a slot pair at Heathrow for a quoted US$27 million and while there will be inevitable airline failure during this crisis any additional slots that become available will still fetch premium prices.
Prior to Covid-19, Heathrow averaged one flight landing or take-off every 90 seconds on each of its two runways or around 470,000 flights per year. Bearing in mind a night jet ban operates from 11.30 pm until 04.30 am. For travellers living north of London and using public transport to reach the airport, Heathrow will become a much more attractive alternative, once the new Elizabeth Line is fully open with its faster air-conditioned trains linking to major rail stations in the capital.
The importance of raising these and other questions now, during this continued period of speculation and doubt, is to allow our visitors, both returnees and potential first time arrivals, the maximum possible time to plan a holiday to our shores.
We are now just a week away from when two of our largest hotels, jointly with over 550 rooms, announced that they are going to re-open. Many are left to wonder exactly which flights are going to fill these properties, with no apparent national policy on the restoration of airlift and questions over quarantine requirements.
I am pretty sure this is all under discussion at the highest level, but everyone involved needs to know exactly what is going on, if we stand any chance of a speedy tourism recovery. The other area that needs urgent attention are the thousands of holidaymaker’s still awaiting refunds, either from the airlines, travel agents or tour operators.
Until their monies are returned without further delay, they are certainly not going to have the confidence to book another future flight or travel package with the prospect of putting additional funds at risk.