These are certainly unprecedented times for the entire travel industry. Although businesses are incredibly good at dealing with all kinds of situations thrown at them, the world has absolutely changed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The last coronavirus to largely affect the travel industry was SARS in 2003. This mainly impacted the long haul Asian market, when a huge drop in passenger numbers was experienced. The clear difference today is that the spread of the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting many more countries. It is also altering how we think about travel right across the board. From cruising to aviation, and hotels to local attractions, nothing remains unaffected.
One of the many guest bloggers on A Luxury Travel Blog, is Corona Holidays. I recently spoke to their Director, Gail, to see if their brand had been caught up in the latest coronavirus outbreak, despite their name obviously having no direct connection with the virus.
Our conversation started with the history of the long-established travel company and a general background on the business. Gail explained that Corona Holidays was established about 40 years ago and they are specialists in holidays to the Spanish Canary Island and Balearic Islands and European city breaks. She started with them in 2001 and became the owner/Director in 2017. Although she had seen the business affected by the flight ban following 9/11 in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the 2010 ash cloud, she said : “Clearly the travel industry is in a crisis, and it’s about being honest with ourselves as a business. For the time being, we need to batten down the hatches, and take full advantage of this quiet time to prepare for the future return to travel. It is, and will be, a challenging time for everyone”.
I asked about the background to their company name and whether this had created any issues for them over the past few months. They said that the name Corona was selected based on it representing the part of the atmosphere that surrounds the sun. “We could never have envisaged that our company name would in the slightest way associated with a virus”.
Of course, coronaviruses have been in existence for a considerable period of time, and have generally been referred to by their names of MERS, or SARS. The current coronavirus is COVID-19, albeit it is more commonly known in the UK as coronavirus. However, in Spain, it is tended to be referred to as COVID-19.
Corona Holidays started preparing for potential cancellations and amendments at the end of February when it was announced that a few Italian guests had tested positive at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife. As a result, guests were placed into quarantine at the hotel. Gail said : “At that stage we couldn’t have forecasted the extent to which travel would be affected. It was the weekend of the 14/15 March that it really became apparent that we were going to have to deal with cancellations and getting clients back home from resort. For example, during that particular weekend the island of Madeira introduced an immediate and mandatory 14 night quarantine for all arrivals. We had clients due to travel out on the following day, so we had to cancel their travel plans.”
Spain announced a state of emergency on the 14 March and the country was placed into lockdown on the 17 March, including guests staying at hotels. People were only able to leave their homes or hotels for limited reasons. This meant that hotel guests were really limited to staying within the hotel grounds, or visiting the nearest supermarket. Beaches were closed and nobody was able to go outside for exercise.
Gail told me they were aware that hotels all over Spain were instructed to close the following week so they were left in a position whereby they had to change many clients’ plans to ensure they got home before the closures. For a solid 3 weeks, they were dealing with a huge number of cancellations and amendments whilst at the same time making sure customers in resort were kept updated throughout on the plans to come home.
It was during this time that they started to get enquiries coming in from members of public who were after general travel advice – mainly from people who had booked direct with hotels, or those who had booked a flight only direct with the airlines. Gail said : “In an unexpected turn of events, we found our company name was attracting enquiries from people who weren’t our customers. Some people just wanted directing to the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, but others obviously required more help. This we did by contacting hotels to arrange cancellations, and helping them with flight cancellation – all as a courtesy service. We have received some lovely letters and phone calls from these people, and hopefully we will see them return to us in the future”.
Our discussion then turned to what they believed the future holds for travel, and their business.
“We are currently working on our Winter 2020/21 product and will be extending our villa program for Summer 2021. We will also be entering into discussions with some small, boutique hotels on the popular island of Mallorca. Regarding our company name, we will be remaining as Corona Holidays. The majority of our customers have been with us for many years, and the new customers that have made contact with us has been particularly encouraging. “
As we all see from the news articles and photos, airline fleets are grounded at airports all around the world with travel bans being introduced by many countries. Understandably, customer confidence is at an all-time low to even engage in travel plans at the moment.
Will there be immunity passports, face masks being made mandatory on board, social distancing throughout passengers’ journeys? Even if social distancing were possible on aircraft by keeping the middle seat free, this would attract a 30-50% increase in prices. However, this still doesn’t truly solve the social distancing problem. To do this would mean aircraft flying at 25% capacity which simply wouldn’t be financially viable.
The travel industry originally hoped they would see an element of normality returning to the industry in the summer months, but now believe that it will be towards the end of 2020 and even into 2021 before people will feel more able to travel.
Alex Macheras – Aviation analyst – reported on the 14 May that airlines were in agreement that we will not be back at pre COVID-19 passenger demand levels for at least another 3 years.
Yes, this will certainly be a long, slow recovery, as there are too many barriers to a rapid return. Of course, borders need to be open at both ends of the journey to make holidays viable. With Spain having just introduced a 14 day quarantine period for anybody arriving into the country, and the UK imminently due to do the same, it is plain to see that travel just is not possible.
Additionally, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential travel, or all travel to some areas.
The travel industry is facing a hugely challenging time, and businesses are having to adapt their models in anticipation of a return in demand for holidays. We can all unfortunately expect to have to get used to what has been phrased as the ‘new normal’, and perhaps we will need to remain simply armchair travellers for the foreseeable future.