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May 2021 Newsletter


Promises Promises

When Bulgaria started to look west rather than east and as it made its way towards EU membership, the nations’ journalists as well as those with nothing to say but keen to be heard, suddenly became e focused on the impending discussions, plans and options for the US military’s re-deployment of troops from Germany to Bulgaria. Indeed, it became a fascination at times, a fascination whose origins could not be laid at the door of anyone or at any particular entity, nor could the origins of the plans be pointed towards social media as at that time, social media had not appeared in our world. The fact of the matter was that there were no such plans, it had never been discussed and just where the notion came from was a total mystery, not that it prevented cut and paste stories from gaining further traction amongst those earning a crust from their writing prowess (or lack of), the substance of which was irrelevant. So, what’s this got to do with travel? Probably not a lot to be fair but the aforementioned fake news article was maybe a pre-cursor to modern day fake news articles that seem to permeate our lives on a regular basis. So, on the theme of fake news (or at best “”in -accurate news””) can someone point the finger at exactly who it was that said that once people were vaccinated, they could travel again?  Here we are in May 2021, the pandemic has been with us for about 1 ½ years and people are more confused than ever about whether they can travel or not and what are the requirements to be able to travel, despite the “get vaccinated and all will be resolved” message European citizens were given.

“The Health Passport” aka Vaccination Passport will “allow us all to travel once we are vaccinated” so the cut and paste media told us as contract journalists sold their stories to as many outlets as they could. Except there lays exactly the problem; like the military bases to Bulgaria farce, no-one is quite sure where the source of information originated that by having vaccinations European citizens would be able to travel again. A copied the story from B who took it from C who had seen it written by D who in turn heard about it from E who discussed it at the bar with F who who…. And so, the story goes. No-one will ever be able to pin point the exact origins of the claim that vaccines will categorically allow travel to re-commence. The truth is that having the ability to travel is not particularly linked to having the vaccination. It helps to be vaccinated but that is not the end game.

The powers that be at the European Union are very good at talking but less effective in doing. From the amount of noise that surrounds the Health Passport it implies that a huge amount of effort from EU staffers has gone into setting up a sophisticated system that will be used by all and sundry across the EU. Simple; except that the passport is little more than a Template with a QR code on it. Any private sector enterprise could create that in a few days let alone a few months (or year). At least by using the Latin script, people names will be readable as opposed to the issues faced locally where google translate was used on documents that were supposedly to facilitate overseas travel. Perhaps surprisingly, the government didn’t realise google translate doesn’t work overly well from Cyrillic to English resulting in them requiring re-issuing in Bulgaria. Clearly it would have been easier to do it properly in the first place.

Anyhow, we will soon have consistent documentation in the form of pan European Health Certificates that each EU country will issue and there will be uniformity across Europe with everyone pulling in the same direction – won’t they? Sadly, it appears not. Each country across Europe is ignoring the EU and deciding itself what it will allow and what it won’t allow in respect of which nationalities it will allow on its territory. Countries heavily dependent on summer tourism didn’t wait for the EU to try bankrupt them again and arbitrarily laid down their own rules that benefited them. Other countries looked at the menu of options available and decided what their own preferences were: with a health certificate only, with a health certificate but also a PCR test as compulsory, with certificate and quarantine, with PCR test and no quarantine, with certificate and PCR test on arrival etc etc., the permutations are mind blowing. 27 European countries and a menu of a dozen or so variables regarding entry requirements and you need a Master’s Degree to get close to guessing what the border officers will say when you try travel: their jobs too must be mind boggling with change taking place daily.

So, in all this leads to the conclusions that anyone who thought travel will be easier this summer thanks to the vaccination roll out and the promise that this will facilitate the return to a normal life is being led a merry dance. Countries will do what suits them best, not what others tell them is best for them, except for those who nod their head when given the signal and wait for their generous compensatory handouts.

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

Jamadvice Travel  |  BCD Bulgaria

Meetings change of focus

If we take our home domestic market in Bulgaria as a yardstick, then there is clearly pent-up demand for meetings and events. This comes from both directions: there is demand to put on or host such events by venues that were cemented into the calendar pre pandemic, plus there is pent up demand to get back out there and attend such events from regular participants. This latter aspect is more than likely driven by the need to meet people in person and in the flesh and not via “zoom or teams”, the heyday of which is hopefully in the past although it would be too naïve to think that they will be gone forever: they will form part of the new world of communication until they die a natural death.

Bulgaria, to a large extent reflects the mood of Europe when it comes to getting back to work and getting back to face-to-face engagement. Small meetings with a domestic participation are showing the first signs of recovery and slightly further down the line larger events are now being given the thumbs up. Again, these are likely to be played out to a larger domestic audience but overseas events which draw in multi-national participants will likely be back in vogue in 2022. With all these though, there will be a difference; events will become hybrid. That means, whilst some or many participants will want to be and indeed will be present in the flesh, many will participate remotely.

So called online events have gained traction in the past year despite initially seen as being “better than nothing”. Modest technology allowed such events to be set up quickly and cheaply; nowadays though a webcam on a tripod will no longer cut it. The new hybrid events will demand high spec technology which translates to expensive kit offering TV standard performance. This will not come cheap, far from it, but the extra reach that such events can facilitate in terms of numbers who can be present to some or all of an event or just to that part that is of interest them, can multiply exponentially the interest in such events: a definite plus to hosts who seek to maximise the return on their investment. Also, events that take place in other geographical locations can now draw audiences it couldn’t otherwise attract due to time and cost budgets.

As every experienced person with a business (as opposed to financial) acumen knows, nothing can replace personal relationships and face to face contact with people. New business is won by making that connection at meetings, during pre-meeting drinks, at the coffee break and at dinner after the event. It is not won on zoom or teams. Those who are forced by their management to work and sell remotely whilst their competitors deal face to face are the ones who will lose out.

Visas across Europe to be the norm

Obtaining a visa that often goes by any other name than “visa” has become the norm in many parts of the world. Several years ago, America was the first to advise Europeans who had not previously needed a visa to enter the USA that they would now require an “’authorisation”’ which wasn’t a visa (“honest’’) when they entered the USA (an ESTA). Not long after that, the word visa entered the paperwork and every day discussions: the world hardly noticed, objective achieved. The European Union is about to introduce something similar for entry into Europe and so too is the UK.

Now that the UK is no longer embroiled in EU goings on, it is going to adopt “”electronic travel authorisations”” (visas) for those entering the UK who are not British or Irish citizens. This will also apply to transit passengers. The model, as the UK readily admits, is modelled on the aforementioned USA ESTA system. The scheme will start to be tested in autumn and by the end of the year, the UK also plans to stop accepting EU ID cards at the point of entry and it would instead require travellers to travel with international passports.

More money to be earned

A lot of businesses have made a lot of money out of the pandemic farce, especially when it comes to offering “Covid testing”. Across Europe the price varies massively depending on which country you just happen to be situated in. There will certainly be no pushback from clinics at government encouragement that travellers should continue to get tested, often even after they have had their vaccinations. Everyone wants to have a piece of this now lucrative cake and airlines do not want to be at the back of the queue.

Indeed, British Airways have become the first to trial an antigen test that displays results within 25 seconds. The system is currently being trialled on staff and crew members. The tests have been approved for use in Europe and the UK. Thus, it would seem logical that if these are as simple and effective as they are made out to be, then they could be rolled out fully across Europe and the world can travel again. If, that is, the mandarins want us to travel again.

There is also the added question of what the price will be of these tests and will those involved down the chain try to gouge as much money as possible out of those wishing to travel. The airline and airports could of course, offer then for free: if they had any commercial sense.


Turkish buck the trend again

Turkish Airlines have always seemed to buck the trend when it comes to what airlines have been doing and indeed are doing in the skies currently. They have tended to maintain their operations as much as was possible and keep people connected when others shied away. They have now re-introduced their popular “Flying Chef’s’”service for Business Class passengers on flights over 8 hours. This follows on from the airline re-introduction of hot meals for economy and business class travellers over the past month.

Liquid relief

For some time now one of the biggest narks when travelling was the need to put liquids of any volume (over 100 ml) in your hold luggage – if you have such. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has, for some two years now, been using CT scans which now total 35, split between Terminals 1 and 2 which can theoretically allow passengers to carry on bottles over 100 ml. The airport though, in these days of “abundant caution” still requires the CT scan and a member of security to OK the carry-on of such items.

The problem though is that on any return flight, other airports do not have the same capability as Schiphol so that means small bottles of liquids only in hand luggage.

Double daily

Perhaps it is a sign of optimism, real or otherwise that the Eurostar train services between London and Paris have doubled from the end of May. Before you do a double take its perhaps wise to point out that this means the service is increasing from its pandemic era once per day to, yes, you’ve guessed it, twice per day. The service used to be at least twelve times per day pre pandemic.

Not seeing the wood for the trees

If those with an environmental agenda had the power then there would be little or no air travel. Indeed, there are sufficient idiots within the powers that influence Europe who are noisily saying everyone in Europe should travel around by train. One does wonder how they would get to Sofia from Brussels or Madrid but that’s probably never entered their minds. Is it however, more a case of people not thinking outside the box when it comes to air travel and carbon emissions?

As we are now seeing with cars, there is a gradual but increasing move to electricity (different conversation about the environmental impact of manufacturing these cars but we all feel good driving them), has it never crossed the greenies minds that planes can also harness new technology to reduce its carbon footprint? Even oldish technology is achieving this goal to a large degree.

A very simple example of this is Lufthansa buying new fuel efficient A350 and Boeing 787’s to replace fuel guzzling old A340’s. the new variants are 30% more fuel efficient. These improvements in efficiency are only going to increase as more and better technology finds its way into aviation.

There would thus appear to be a decreasing argument in trying to halt aviation. Anyone disputing this should write a paper explaining how large they think the carbon footprint is in the manufacture of trains, the production of thousands of kms of heavy-duty steel rail track and the extraction of natural resources to produce batteries for cars.

747 a day!

We all love statistics don’t we, they form the base by which countless professions ply their trade by turning these details into arguments to support their business plans or even their own personal agenda. Politicians have been doing this since time began. Sometimes though a simple statistic is a fact of reality and paints a perfectly adequate picture to all. One such statistic comes from Hong Kong based airline Cathay Pacific.

Cathay are a top-class airline with a high reputation for reliability, quality and service and are one of the preferred options for premium class passengers i.e. those travelling in business or first class. They have an expansive fleet and have a large long-haul network. For the month of April, they carried an average of 747 passengers per day!

If pictures can tell a thousand words, 747 passengers per day paints a thousand pictures, or in this case 747 of them.

eatstaylovebulgariaHoliday evolution

Past newsletter articles have made mention of the fact that the success of the forthcoming summer period will, to a certain extent, be dependent on how rapidly flights can be set up to operate to traditional holiday destinations. Historically, the plans made by Tour Operators for a summer are made some twelve months in advance; this includes the booking and scheduling of planes. This of course has been almost impossible to do for the forthcoming summer, so the task of getting holiday makers to a resort is likely to fall into the hands of Low-Cost Airlines as well as more traditional carriers. Low-Cost operators such as Wizz and Ryanair are more fluid and flexible in how their operations are set up so can react quickly to demand, but for possibly the first time we are seeing airlines like Lufthansa, Austrian and BA operating substantial numbers of leisure-based flights to destinations which typically go against their “’moral ethos”. The fact of the matter being that making some money is better than making no money and planes doing nothing cost more to the airlines bottom line than planes in active service.

Past articles have made mention of Bulgaria Air’s new operations to leisure markets in Greece and the Bulgarian market will now also have the chance to use rival airlines Wizz and Ryanair to fly to Crete, Corfu, Mykonos in Greece plus Malaga and Lisbon. Most of these operations start mid-June.

In an indirect manner, there is also the possibility that this is a step in the evolution of how people will travel on their holidays with the potential losers being those charter airlines who operated traditional holiday packages.


Getting out the crystal ball

The pan-European body that supports European aviation – Eurocontrol has been outlining some optimistic and pessimistic scenario’s when it comes to how air travel will recover (or not) from the current pandemic.

The first scenario forecasts that 2019 levels of traffic will recover by 2024; just whether that is viewed as optimistic or pessimistic is open for debate. This scenario does however say that it may be optimistic given the current less than adequate uptake and roll out of vaccinations.

The second and more likely scenario is that 95% of the levels seen in 2019 will be achieved by 2024. The caveat being that by the first quarter of next year, travel restrictions are eased between the various regions of the world which in turn facilitates more long-haul flights.

A third scenario sees a full recovery taking until 2029 if new virus strains appear and vaccination uptake fails to increase.

As for the current year, the “’guess’” is that by the end of 2021, flight traffic (note this is not passenger traffic) is hoped to reach 50% of 2019 levels whilst by the end of 2022, the figure will be around 72% of the base year of 2019.

Such figures on the face of it appear daunting for most travel business’s but most would be happy if reaching 72% of what was a bloated capacity anyway can be attained.

The queues get longer

The time spent queueing at airports is probably the single most frustrating aspect of travel. In normal times, IATA (International Air Transport Association) has calculated that the average traveller spent a total of 1hr 30 mins queueing at either end of the journey i.e. check in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim. During the current pandemic this has increased to 3 hours and this is despite staffing levels at most airports being the same as they were pre pandemic and flight numbers being only 30% of prior levels.

IATA fear that such queues will reach 5 ½ hours once 75% of flight capacity is restored and 8 hrs if 100% capacity returns. Such a scenario would probably kill the desire to travel before it even starts.

Part of the blame for this is laid at typical government in-action. just like airports and airlines have digitalised their work process’s, the new norm urgently requires the digitalisation and more importantly the standardisation of vaccine certificates and anything else that facilitates travel. Each country doing its own thing is fine in the short term – countries would cease to exist (sic) if they waited for the EU to act – but in the longer term a unified alignment of EU requirements is the fast-track answer.

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