British Hospitality Sector Builds Hope on the Government’s ‘Air Bridges’ Plan

One industry that is bearing the highest brunt of the pandemic seems to be the Hospitality Sector. Despite being one of the largest employers of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour as well as being the most vibrant and essential sector in the tourist destination like Europe, the hospitality sector has come to a standstill in the past two and half months due to the coronavirus fallout.

Since the time the pandemic broke out in Europe reportedly due to the tourists coming from China which is stated to be the epicenter of the coronavirus, almost all the European countries had placed travel bans and strict countrywide lockdowns in order to curb the spread of the infections. In such a stay-at-home scenario, the business activities in the hospitality sector have come to an abrupt halt, wiping out companies’ revenues despite a continued burden of huge fixed costs.

In the beginning of this month when the decision to open up the British economy was being made by the government, the transport secretary stated that the government had been planning to put anyone entering the United Kingdom on a compulsory quarantine. Responding to this, hospitality industry stated that this decision would almost destroy the industry as no one would be willing to come to the country for leisure if they were to be put into a virtual lockdown for fourteen days.

However, the current decision of the government seems to be in favour of the concern raised by the hospitality industry where large amounts of people are facing the risk of unemployment. The government had announced its three phased lockdown easing plan earlier this month in which it stated that it plans to open up the hospitality sector towards the last phase given the heightened risk associated with the spread of disease on public gathering. Although the government’s plan to lift restrictions on hospitality industry has given some hope of revival, no significant change in the sector is expected due to the continued global travel bans and fears of infection among people.

The British Government has also announced its plan to launch ‘Air Bridge’ under which it would create a bilateral agreements with other countries to allow Britons to travel to the pact signing countries and then return to Britain without entering quarantine. The measure is intended to save the 14-day quarantine period which almost all the countries are practicing on the arrival of any person from outside the nation, breaching of which attracts heavy fines or penalties.

When the Pandemic first set its foot out of Wuhan in China, it made the highly popular tourist destinations of Europe the new epicenter of the pandemic and in no time, Italy had a greater number of infections than China. The pandemic which engulfed through the other popular tourist destinations in the continent and impacted Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, and United Kingdom, has been still laying heavy on the healthcare administrations in each of these countries. There are more than one business sectors in the continent who have been struggling for survival and to continue with the same level of business activities that they had been practicing till now be it restaurants, resorts, or tourism companies.

Many of the European countries and the highly popular tourist spots in particular now seem to come-up with innovative new ways to bring the hospitality sector back to the green from the current slump and also attract international tourists on back of ‘Air Bridge’ initiative. But even if the hospitality sector starts to function with reduced staff strength, the company’s guests would be asked to maintain two metres distance from each other as per the government’s social distancing protocols. It could lead to a significant cash burn of the companies due to higher operating costs with no wider scope of recovery. There are several other tourism related activities that are expected not to take off because of the social distancing measures in place. It includes sightseeing, pubs, restaurants and theme parks that are some of the highest revenue grossing activities in the tourism industry and are critical by the volume of the business they generate. Should many of these attractions not be in open, there would likely be very few people who would be interested to visit these destinations for holidays.

It is highly likely that the social distancing measures being proposed everywhere would be the biggest disruption for the hospitality industry. It is also worth mentioning here that that the cruise ship industry was the first in the larger hospitality industry to be hit severely, with several ships reporting hundreds of infected cases on board. There are still several such ships that are stranded in high seas waiting for permissions from ports to drop their passengers. Due to series of these incidents, many of the cruise ship companies have declared that they will not be restarting their operations for a long time.

Now, when the world has experienced the pandemic for more than four months, everybody is trying to learn how to live with this virus because nobody knows when it would end and when would things get back to normal. Social distancing has now become the new normal in day-to-day lives with strict hygiene measures and least exposure to public places in practice.

While the lockdown conditions imposed by many countries post the arrival of the pandemic at their shores has helped to contain its ferocity to a large extent, there is still no clear sign of its eradication. There are several industries who are expected to undergo a fundamental change due to the pandemic and the subsequent operational guidelines released by the government. But in the global hospitality industry employing millions of people in the world, the Air Bridge effort seems to be a welcome move that could bring back skin into the game of international travel.