My thoughts on international travel, why we need a clear plan, and why a Red List may be a better option than a Green List.
Despite having written over 1000 articles in the last five years, I have never felt so compelled to write something before. I am not a qualified journalist, but I do know the travel industry – I’ve been working in it for 30 years. It saddens me to see it being so nonchalantly cast aside of late, without any clear plan on the resumption of international travel.
It seems there is little or no regard to how this will impact the 250,000 jobs in our tourism industry, or the thousands of people who are trying to do the right thing by staying at home, yet losing thousands of euro because refunds will not be entertained if flights are operating.
We are being told that getting kids back to school is a priority, and that we should not travel this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I want children to return to school too, I’ve got two of my own, but why is it that International travel is being touted as the one thing that might jeopardise this? Nobody is saying not to enter pubs or restaurants, hairdressers, or swimming pools. The government has put strict measures in place to ensure a safe return for other businesses, so why is the travel industry being ignored?
People are being shamed on social media for even suggesting that they may like to travel overseas at the moment, yet Americans are happily travelling around Killarney National Park enjoying the Irish summer. Most European countries have banned Americans from entry as the USA is clearly a ‘high risk’ country, yet they can come freely into Ireland once they sign a form telling us where they are staying.
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If the government wants us to stay at home, why is it allowing planes to fly from our airports? I understand many flights need to operate for cargo purposes, but there is no way that flights to holiday hotspots like the Canary Islands and the Algarve are doing so because of cargo. These flights may carry a large number of holiday makers in July and August, but this is only because people have booked these flights pre Covid.
These flights will not be sustainable going forward into the winter. If the government advice against non-essential travel remains in place, new bookings will be few and far between. It is only a matter of time before Michael O’Leary decides his planes will be better suited elsewhere, where quarantine does not exist and people are travelling.
We all know that we are living in a world where Covid-19 is likely to remain for some time. Spikes will happen and there are no absolutes. We need to resume travel at some stage, so why not do it sooner rather than later? I personally have no desire to wear a mask in 37 degree heat, but masks are mandatory in many European countries, including Spain, Portugal and Italy. There are strict protocols in place to ensure social distancing, and in some cases fines for non-compliance.
Travel will not be for everyone right now, but shouldn’t we be given the choice to travel to a country with a low or similar infection rate as our own? Is this not a lower risk to our country than allowing people in from high risk countries?
The announcement of a ‘Green List’ of countries where we will be able to travel to without quarantine measures in place, only adds to confusion and uncertainty for travellers, and for people in the travel industry. Knowing that this list of countries can change at any time makes it impossible to plan any inbound or outbound tourism.
I was never a fan of air bridges anyway – without proper quarantine measures in place, they would be impossible to police. We have already seen people travelling to and from Belfast to avoid quarantine, and with people able to travel freely within Europe, how can we possibly know where a person’s journey has originated from?
And let’s be honest, our quarantine is only a deterrent. While filling out the locator form is mandatory, quarantine is not. While many Irish people may do the right thing and quarantine on their return, tourists are highly unlikely to do the same. If we are to have quarantine in place, it should be enforced, what we have at the moment makes absolutely no sense.
The other main concern is that while advice against non-essential travel remains in place, there will be a stigma attached to overseas travel. If Spain is on the ‘Green List’, and people are free to travel there without quarantine, would you want a work colleague coming back into the office flaunting their new tan? Or worse still, will hairdressers and restaurant owners allow their staff to return to work without quarantine, when they know they cannot maintain social distancing with customers? If people are officially allowed to travel without having quarantine on their return, then they should be allowed to go straight back into work. However, if businesses want staff to stay at home for two weeks, will they be able to afford to pay them?
Instead of a Green List, why not have a Red List of countries where inbound and outbound travel is banned? This would allow free movement to many countries in Europe, while stopping people from high risk countries like the USA, Brazil and Sweden from entering Ireland. Instead of advice against non-essential travel to these areas, we should have DO NOT TRAVEL advice in place by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
This would ensure consumers are refunded for countries where travel is banned, but they are free to travel to other countries that are considered as safe as our own. This may also help to lift the stigma against overseas travel and hopefully enable people and the tourism industry plan for future travel.
While this may, or may not be the solution – we need action now. If we continue to have no clear plan on the resumption of international travel we risk the collapse of our tourism industry, and if we continue to allow people from all over the world to enter our country, a second wave is inevitable.
If you were living in California, Texas or Florida right now, wouldn’t the green pastures of Ireland seem inviting? One thing is for sure – they won’t get the Céad míle fáilte they were expecting…
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