Testing Times – a view on ABTA Virtual

October 15, 2020

Right now I should be in Marrakech in a huge auditorium listening to the great and good of the travel industry inspire us all (and of course do a bit of patting themselves on the back). 

But that’s not to be. Instead of evenings of awkward dance shows, canapes, copious amounts of yellowy local wine – plus an obligatory trip to an Irish bar - and very little sleep, followed by long days of networking, furrowed brows and lightbulb thinking; I was at my desk, where I have been for what feels like a billion years, tuning in with my peers to hear what the travel industry powerhouses have to say.

Most hotly anticipated was Grant Shapps MP – but he was as disappointing as ever and proved himself to have a total lack of understanding about the travel sector. Worryingly I think he might be under the impression that travel is just aeroplanes as he mainly quoted figures about how much had been given to aviation.  At best he was vague and self-congratulatory about what the government had done so far. He doesn’t like testing at borders which seems nonsensical to me, but I am no epidemiologist (interestingly the epidemiologists on the afternoon sessions all pointed to testing as the answer, but you know, Shapps seems to know better than an actual doctor of viruses).  He appeared very proud of the Global Travel Taskforce but the proof will be in the pudding and when moderator Chris Ship took him to task about how long it has taken to get this baby step sorted, in typical politician style Shapps didn’t really answer the question.  By the time it got to talking about Brexit I could feel everyone’s eyes glazing over through our interconnected fibre optic cables – he said he was hopeful for agreements, there were contingency measures, there would always be a strong bind with the EU – so in short, he said absolutely nothing. Good on Mark Tanzer for calling him out on it all.  It does make me wonder whether anyone at government level is listening or they are just waiting for the industry to fail with the hope it will rebuild.  Someone recently said to me that the worst thing that could happen for the travel industry was for Thomas Cook to come back as it made it look like it was that easy. Many a true word spoken in jest.

There were depressing predictions from KPMG’s Yael Selfin that next summer is basically a write off.  Even the unflappable Ian Taylor looked shocked by that revelation. In a stat-filled presentation WTTC’s Gloria Guevara predicted 197.5m job losses due to the pandemic – it’s hard to even comprehend the figure let alone the devastation that is already causing. Surprisingly, it was slightly more upbeat on the Preparing For Future Pandemics workshop with Dr Charlie Easmon (a FINN Partners client for full disclosure) echoing what Shai Weiss of Virgin Atlantic said during his morning interview about how testing is the best way for the travel industry to get back on its feet.  But it feels like it’ll be a slog until then.

The Brexit session had twitter a flurry as Simon Calder did not hold back on his thoughts and was brilliantly punchy which set twitter alight and I will be catching up on a few that I missed as I heard that the Dr Paul Redmond’s session on The workforce of the future – new ways of working was excellent. It has long been a complaint of mine that there are always a couple of workshops that you miss because of time clashes, but not anymore. One one of the added bonuses of the virtual Travel Convention is that I can catch up on the sessions I missed as it’s available on the platform for 30 days. 

Light relief came in the form of Richard Ayoade, the Travel Man, who was his brilliant idiosyncratic self with some hard hitting questions about how happy quokkas really were and what about all these camels in Australia?  Intrepid’s Zina Bencheikh shared how they have empowered women across the globe which of course is something to be proud of and shout from the rooftops as it totally bangs my drum (yes, they are a client, but that doesn’t mean I cannot genuinely love them).

There was a really positive message with the release of the Tourism For Good Report which is really interesting with good takeaways.  As ever, I need more time to digest but it’s one to actually look forward to and think about as when we rebuild, we need to rebuild better and it is our responsibility to do so.

Overall, I thought this year’s Travel Convention was actually marvellous.  I loved being part of it, love the twitter interaction and I really love that I can catch up on sessions that I missed – I would like to point out that none of my judgements are clouded by the fact that I won the selfie competition. Promise.


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