Editorial There will likely never be another year like 2020 – we hope. Though as…
Summer is here – but not as we may know it
The summer holiday for many people is a “rite” as opposed to being an option. There are times of course through life when each of us has to forgo this annual event but that makes us only more determined to enjoy the following years holidays even more. Now that society in the past few months appears to have been educated to think in a totally different manner, just how much the human mind and human desire has been changed irrevocably may be measured in how many people demand their two weeks in the sun or whatever form of annual relaxation they prefer. Another question that comes into the remit is whether summer tourism (or indeed any tourism) is now top of the pile as an economic tool of necessity for governments reliant on tourism to provide a chunk of the annual GDP.
Cutting out the ifs and buts which, by the time this is read anyway may have changed, much of Europe seems to be following the same manicured script in what they do, when they do it and how they do it. Of course, there is the odd variation but this is akin to whether you like salt on your food or not; it doesn’t alter the core of the meal you are getting. The 1st and the 15th of each month seem to be the yardstick from which the ’next’ phase begins. Thus applying this in general terms to an here and now situation, the 1stJune will see an easing of many of the restrictions the population across Europe face then on the 15th we will see an even bigger relaxation of restrictions as the ability of more and more – though not all – people to travel as more and more border crossings are opened will take effect. Then, come the 1st July, you will see a noticeable increase in flights between countries, these having been slowly started from around mid June. Come the 1stJuly we will be as near to “as was” as is possible. This will mean the annual summer holiday is once again on the radar for most people. We add ‘most” people, as most will still be able to grab a summer holiday but maybe not all. The elephant in the corner for popular holiday destinations like Greece and Spain is the source markets that bring in big numbers of visitors but which are still in the middle of the pandemic i.e. the UK and Russia.
So where do economics fit into all this? Simply, many countries realised that the contribution to the GDP that tourism makes cannot be replicated nor compensated for, this is in both economic and human terms. Generous handouts to business etc are a popular vote winner from a government perspective, but then the reality kicks in that these have to be paid for, somehow. When the Coronavirus first appeared, we made the comment that if the government could keep the local population within its own borders for summer then that would keep up to 1 billion Euro in the Bulgarian economy that would otherwise be lost to destinations like Greece, Spain and Italy. Whilst the government bean counters would appreciate this income, if tourists from Bulgaria are prevented from leaving the country then likewise tourists from other countries would be prevented from entering! The loss from this based on 2019 figures would be 3.7 billion Euro’s in lost tourism income. The same thinking would no doubt apply to those making tourism decisions in other popular summer destinations, hence the 1stJuly date for the “re-opening” of the summer tourism industry as governments across Europe engage damage limitation mode and try to kick start their own economies.
Jamadvice Travel | BCD Bulgaria
Fare’s a Fair Grab for Airlines
In the midst of the farce surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, one question posed by the travel industry is when those who travel frequently will feel safe and confident to travel again? By ‘safe and confident’ we do not necessarily just mean feeling safe by donning a face mask or sitting 2m away from the next person on a plane (which is impossible) or even safe whilst checking in. Other factors need to be considered that are associated with the expression and the airlines, or at least some of them, won’t like what they hear.
The word trust is also an appropriate word to bring into the fray because as it stands at the moment aside of ‘safe and confident’, many of the travelling public have totally lost trust in the actual airline industry. The reason for this loss of trust lays in the fact that airlines have, in many cases, appropriated the monies that were due to travellers in the form of refunds for cancelled flights et al. Some airlines have been absolutely blatant in their action, disregarding the spirit and laws set by the EU to the point where they seem to be re-writing their own interpretation of the same laws. Some airlines have been bigger culprits than others, whilst at the same time, some airlines seem to value the long-term goodwill of their travellers and do all they can to act morally and ethically.
One thing that most airlines have been keen to tout is to offer passengers who have had their flights cancelled, a voucher for travel at a future date with the added incentive of say 50 Euro or a percentage bonus added to the amount of the original ticket. This can work for many people but not for everyone and also, if you own a business or are an employee that travels for business, then travelling in the near future may not be on your or on your employer’s radar anytime soon. That cash may well be needed in the owner’s pocket at this point in time and not used by an airline as temporary operating capital.
An example of just what travellers are faced with comes from Air France-KLM who have stopped their normal practice of refunds which are normally conducted through the IATA airline clearing system and instead forced the process into a manual mode directly with the airline. Whilst it is true that they offer vouchers for travel that are valid until the end of 2021, anyone insisting on a refund is advised that this will be provided 12 months after the receipt of the application. If you need the cash now for emergency purposes then tough luck, Air France – KLM needs it. By comparison British Airways will let you use the credit vouchers until 2022 but also state that if a refund is required, then they will provide it.
EU rules are quite clear on refunds by airlines and despite airlines initially refusing to give back money and only offer vouchers, the airlines were reminded of the laws surrounding refunds by the EU law makers. The airlines though use the loophole in EU law that does not clarify how or when this refund takes place. The guilty airlines could have said in ten years without necessarily breaking the law despite blatantly breaking the spirit of the law. Whether the EU is or will be powerful enough to act to put a time frame on such refunds remains to be seen, remember airlines in some ways are an extension of government interests and government lobbying. The airlines (and their owners) will also find appropriating the money due for refunds a much cheaper way of funding future operations than asking the banks for a loan.
Thus, the question remains as to how future travellers will view certain airlines when the world does re-start and whether acts such as refusing or delaying refunds will prove to be a damaging black mark against any particular airline, either by individuals or by corporate clients who are left out of pocket. Or will, at the end of the day, the saying that time is the biggest healer apply and the only thing the travellers will ultimately look at is the price. In which case the old adage of ‘”caveat emptor’” is most certainly applicable or put into English, “’buyer beware””.
The Tortoise and the Hare
There always seems to be a race to be seen as the first” to implement something new when it comes to each facet of the travel experience. The deep pockets of the gulf based airlines and the airports they operate out of, have often facilitated new investment in the ‘travel experience”. With the current Coronavirus episode, the same race seemed to evolve to ‘’find the new way’’ yet despite the fanfare and the firing of the starting gun, it looks like some guns were firing blanks.
After being the first airline to perform rapid Coronavirus testing on its departing passengers, Emirates has decided to cease such tests after discovering the tests had a mere 30% accuracy.
The fable that comes to mind here is the tortoise and the hare. Or perhaps there simply isn’t any substitute for the real thing (test).
Good Night Maybe?
Berlin’s Tegel Airport has announced it will close on 15thJune for at least two months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In doing so they join many airports across the region who have seen recent periods of inactivity. However, what seems strange with this announcement is that the news is released just as airlines across Europe seem to be making plans for a partial resumption of flights from June onwards.
The airport is usually Berlin’s busiest airport but had been slated to be closed for a decade with the arrival of the shining new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which though, is yet to open due to a decade or so of technical and safety issues. Issues that we are being told have now been resolved and would enable the new facility to open at the end of this year. So you needn’t be a rocket scientist to realise that this may be the ‘’good night’” for Tegel.
Also, the air traffic that Tegel would normally handle is being moved “’temporarily’” to Berlin Schonefeld Airport which just so happens to share the same footprint as the new Brandenberg Airport.
Hertz in Trouble
Well known car hire giant Hertz has gone into bankruptcy protection in the USA. Car Hire brands Dollar and Thrifty are also part of the Hertz empire. The Hertz operations in Europe are unaffected.
One aspect about hiring a car from some companies was that you never knew what the condition would be of the car you were hiring. Cars were often dirty and looked like they hadn’t been cleaned inside for weeks. This, we hasten to add, tends less to apply to the larger international brands but to the Low Cost or cheaper car hire options. Looking ahead, this might change.
Car Hire companies will now be forced to ensure their cars are given a thoroughly good clean after each use with cars disinfected and sanitised with particular attention given to high touch areas. This of course may transfer into higher car hire rates though equally competition will likely be keen once the world re-sets and the battle for even a smaller part of the cake may mean that the same rates might be cheaper than has been seen for a long time.
Cruising for a Bruising
The future of the cruise industry is an interesting one and indeed frightening if you are a cruise line. Well publicised virus outbreaks on numerous cruise ships and the forced quarantining of the passengers on them whilst the ships themselves were forced away from ports, saw the cruise sector in a less than happy light. It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than discovering some of your fellow passengers amongst the thousands on board have gone down with Coronavirus and you are now forced to take refuge in your box like cabin for an indefinite time, whilst the ship is refused docking at port after port.
The shape of the battle looming for the cruise lines is perhaps echoed by the idyllic island nation of Seychelles who has banned cruise ships for two years. Locations like the Seychelles are needed by the cruise operators to spark interest in cruise goers. One thus wonders if other locations that feature heavily on the cruise lists such as Venice or numerous Caribbean islands, will emulate the Seychelles.
At the end of the day however, economic interests will likely prevail no matter the current fears. No cruise destination will want to block off this source of income if rivals have welcomed cruise lines back with open arms.
The World’s Busiest Airport – For 1 Day
This is certainly one for a Trivia Quiz – which airport was the busiest in the world on April 25th2020? The answer is, wait for it, Anchorage in Alaska.
Whilst most of the rest of the world stopped around that time, including many of the world’ s major airports, Anchorage Airport handled more flights that day than any other airport in the world.
Three’s a Crowd
The arrival of competition amongst European railways has been historically short of enthusiasm, perhaps led by nationalistic tendencies from certain key players. Whilst booking a multi country flight ticket has been the norm for decades, the same would be a totally different challenge when it comes to rail travel. The seeds of change, threatened for a long time may now be arriving, finally.
The first battleground is Spain where Spanish rail incumbent Renfe is about to be challenged on three new fronts on its high-speed rail networks.
From December both AVLO and Rielsfera will appear on the Spanish rail scene; the former is the budget arm of Renfe and the latter is owned by Spanish rival SNCF. Slight later, Ilsa will also join in the competition, they are a joint venture between Italian operator Trenitalia and Air Nostrum. All will probably operate a similar business model to that that we now see on Low Cost Airlines.
All three will compete on the High-Speed rail networks between Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.
A380’s Disappearing Fast
We have commented in previous articles about the rapid demise of the “’SuperJumbo”’ A 380 Double Deck aircraft that, when first introduced, was to be the plane that would revolutionise air travel. Like many hopeful claims in life, that has proved not to be the case. Its demise is accelerating even faster than initially planned thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. Air France is the latest to announce it will no longer operate the aircraft it launched as Europe’s launch carrier in 2009. The airline had nine in its fleet before the recent groundings.
Air France, an airline always seemingly on the edge of financial chaos, made the classic mistake of listening to bean counters and not re-furbishing its A380’s sooner, the result being that the lucrative business and first product it offered is now significantly “’old school’, with the cost of refurbishing the plane considered to be too risky in today’s environment.
Rival Lufthansa is also removing around seven A 380’s from operations at Frankfurt and leave its entire fleet of A380’s to be based at Munich. This is 50% of the A380 fleet it operated as the year started.
BA is the other significant player with A380’s still in operation and the verdict is out as to what they will do with their quota.
It was only in January 2019 that Ryanair seized control of Lauda Air after BA had originally claimed the assets of bankrupt airline Air Berlin, who themselves had acquired the Lauda brand. The move by Ryanair was seen as a smart one as it gave Ryanair (by another name) access to the German speaking markets it had struggled to penetrate. However, into the equation comes the Austrian trade unions and the happy marriage starts to go wrong. A labour agreement between Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair and the Austrians cannot be agreed and so Ryanair have decided to close its operations at Vienna from May 29th.
Vienna was always the spiritual home of Lauda where around 15 of the fleets 30 aircraft were based. Other bases exist at Dusseldorf, Stuttgart and Palma and these will remain. As for the 300 Lauda workers at Vienna, they are now out of a job at a time when having any sort of job is surely the better option.
If one could only turn back time, perhaps!
Easy Jet Suffer Data Breach
Easyjet are the latest travel business that has admitted a data breach with some 9 million of its customers having their personal details exposed. As is usual in such instances the vultures quickly gather and sure enough, a class action legal claim for 18 billion GBP has been made by a law firm.
Of course, 18 billion would put the airline out of business, so if ever any business suspected such an award would go against it, it would no doubt then enter administration voluntarily and wave goodbye as it drifted off into the sunset.
Equally, 18 billion GBP is only 2000 GBP for each person theoretically affected and the actual cost to a person for their personal data being accessed can easily accrue such a figure in both the time spent in replacing accessed cards, re-structuring debits and also controlling fraudulent use of their personal data.
Like many things in life, the Coronavirus Pandemic will likely change many things in our daily lives that we have come accustomed to. With regards to the hotels we stay in on our travels, it would appear the virus is the catalyst for change and this maybe for the benefit of all. Most of the international hotel chains have been in PR overdrive in the past weeks trying to portray the safety of their respective hotels. Most are on the same page with the same message that the disinfectants they will use are of hospital grade quality and that their own internal procedures will enhance safety for guests. Some of the popular focus has been in the following areas guests mostly frequent.
At reception, guests will see reduced contact at the “reception desk”. Many transactions, where possible will be touchless with sanitised key cards and paperless checkouts (one can hear the company expense accountant screaming already). Into the guest’s rooms we go and the likely “’authentication” that items frequently touched have been sanitised e.g. Glasses and TV remotes etc. if you want to think what “authentication’” means; think toilet seats when you enter a room for the first time. Indeed, many high touch items may be removed from rooms and procedures for leaving laundry etc will be totally different. In the hotel’s public spaces and facilities, social distancing will become entrenched even in spa’s etc and disinfection notices will be the order of the day (when last cleaned etc). The difference perhaps now will be that hard pressed hotel managers will be forced to keep with such schedules with no “last cleaned notice hanging on a door showing it was last cleaned two days ago. Finally, the hotels food and beverage set ups will be forced to undergo a radical overall with a new approach to buffets (protected by glass/perspex screens), as well as a totally different approach to banquets and rooms service.
In order to win the trust of travellers, it’s also more than likely that hotels will have to re-train their staff extensively with some sort of certification likely to ensue. Hotels that have invested in the new ways of the world will use this as a unique selling point and indeed be a part of their own sales pitch. It may also be that the discerning and ever demanding traveller looks for such requirements in the future just as much as he or she would look at a star rating or the hotels location.