Travel has always been a remarkable gift: the opportunity to venture out and explore the world, discovering new cultures, customs and people in places, celebrating the freedom movement. Nevermore have we felt the value of this gift than now. After almost two years of restrictions to our mobility, people are starting to venture out once more. The desire for connection to people and places through the wonder of travel has never been stronger.
And now, once again, we are currently experiencing approximately 25% of guests cancelling their 2021 travel dreams at the last minute. Their heartache is palpable. Their frustration understandable. As is that of those who are now also delaying their 2022 dreams.
The reason for the change? After months and months since our world was gripped by the global pandemic, and millions of losses of lives and livelihoods later, we are once again reading about hospitals reaching breaking point. Curves are spiking, virus strains are strengthening, cases are spreading. This time the people at greatest risk of spread and suffering are the under 50s and breakthrough infections.
With every passing day, we appear to be heading towards a fourth wave. But, this time, it was avoidable. Why the resurgence of risk? Of restrictions? Not enough people have been vaccinated, and not enough people are wearing masks.
I fundamentally struggle to comprehend how we have reached this point as a global community. We literally have had a choice between safety and spread. Between freedom and fear. Between responsibility and selfishness. Millions sadly continue to choose to spread fear and selfishness.
There will be no COVID-free world. Like the common flu, we will live with COVID as part of our lives. It need not, however be the deadly pandemic we have experienced these past almost two years.
‘Taming the virus into post-pandemic manageable status’
And we can do it safely if we act responsively and collectively, taming the virus into post-pandemic, manageable status. I have seen firsthand that we can live with the virus. Across numerous TTC brands we have been successfully operating trips, domestically and internationally for the larger part of the Northern hemisphere summer.
Our innovations in guest wellbeing have made it possible for us to safely showcase the beauty of people and places that travellers have longed to see once more. Our vaccinated guests, our Travel Directors, our Wellbeing Directors and people and places we visit have become trusted travel partners, sharing the joy of exploring the world once more.
We firmly believe that a world of safe travel is possible now. With immense thoughtfulness and investment, we cautiously reopened, knowing how important safe travel was to not only the lives of travellers but the livelihoods of those in the industry, including the locals and their communities we visit. Our efforts were not naïve, nor were they in vain. What we immediately discovered was, with vaccines and protocols, the first semblance to a return to a life with confidence in wellness and the pleasures we seek, can be achieved.
We know that the concept of a post-pandemic world is one still far off. We must not, however, stop living until such time as the pandemic is a thing of the past.
This completely unnecessary latest wave of COVID that is spreading across the globe has me angry and frustrated as I know it could have been avoided. The dangerous minority voice of anti-vaxxers, the indecision of the vaccine procrastinators and actions of anti-maskers, are putting others at serious risk and crippling the recovery of businesses and communities.
Likewise, the inconsistent lack of government leadership with their often-impulsive rules and regulations. Through their dithering, and playing with arbitrary, unpredictable and constantly changing policies, they are creating confusion, choking tourism and leaving businesses struggling to work out who can do what and go where. This untrustworthy leadership is severely restricting the economic, social and mental health of nations.
I have seen the impact, the enormity of the stress on individuals emotionally and financially. The longer this continues, the result will be unsalvageable damage to both lives and livelihoods, ultimately a crippling of human tenacity and spirit.
Please do not think that I do not respect the virus. Quite the opposite. I have seen first-hand that COVID kills and kills young. Yet a minority of too many are not taking it seriously, feeling bold in their false sense of security in being young, being strong, being able to get through it if they get it. I am astonished that the estimate of the current 4 500 000 souls lost isn’t enough of a red flag.
The crisis of the past two years, with its global grounding to travel, brought to an abrupt halt the remarkable rates of movement and momentum of our industry. Pre-pandemic, we saw year after year of growth in not only traveller numbers, but growth in travel-related jobs. Then came 2020. It was due to be a year in which we all celebrated our industry seeing over two billion travellers crossing international borders. We at TTC were looking forward to celebrating our centenary. Instead, at the peak of the global pandemic we saw the closure of 100% of international borders, and the loss of over 100 million travel and tourism jobs. The devastation to the industry has been beyond imagination, and in some cases, even calculation.
‘It is all about choice’
It is all about choice – taking personal responsibility for doing what is needed for the greater good of the global community so we can all resume safe, secure, socially enriched living. When anyone rejects their vaccine or refuses to wear a mask, they’re increasing the risk of others catching a potentially deadly or disabling disease, and as well as prolonging the social and economic costs of the pandemic. If they have cultural or ideological reasons, they should simply be excluded from participating in the greater society.
The remaining irresponsible minority who choose to selfishly reject vaccines and protocols are depriving the rest of us of living life, freedom and our pursuit of happiness.
It is clear that only when the world is adequately vaccinated will we find our new normal. Vaccines have the proven ability save lives, restart economies and meaningfully rebuild the travel industry. I am currently in France and I have seen how electronic vaccine passports and masks where necessary can work. I can see now that with them, we will be able to ease travel restrictions. Vaccines are the cure to getting all of us safely out again, travelling freely, living fully. Living in a sustained state of a pandemic is nonsensical. Right here, right now, we have a choice. This time it’s in humanity’s hands. So, let’s do the right thing, for ourselves, for each other.