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Published on Thursday, October 29, 2020

Jet2 boss likens holidays to 'prison' in withering attack on Covid approach

The hard line measures adopted to tackle Covid-19 have seen holidays resemble prison life, the boss of Jet2holidays has said, as he warned of an impending economic catastrophe if the current approach to the pandemic drags on.

Steve Heapy said consumers want a holiday, not to be confronted with tight restrictions that make them feel as though they're starring in The Shawshank Redemption.

The current measures of lockdowns and restrictions are just not sustainable, he said. 

Speaking by video link at a tourism seminar in Majorca, Heapy delivered a withering assessment of current policies and urged governments to work together to draw up common Covid-19 protocols 'to get Europe moving again'.

He mocked the progress of Europe-wide efforts to combat the virus, saying he's seen 'glaciers move faster'.

Heapy also condemned travel firms which have failed to refund customers, and warned that environmental pressures being placed on travel firms was putting their future at risk.

Asked what consumers want in an era of Covid, the Jet2 Chief Executive said: "They want things to be like they used to be."

'People don't want a new normal - they want the old normal back'

"People continually talk about the new normal. Well, they don't want a new normal they want the old normal back," he said.

"They don't want, for the rest of their life, to walk round with a face mask on, or to stand two metres apart from people and sanitise their hands every 15 seconds.

"Unfortunately. with the pandemic the way it is it's very difficult to provide a holiday like the ones they experienced previously.

"People want certainty. They don't want to travel abroad with a chance they might be tested positive and have to go into quarantine.

"We can't, as an industry, give them that.

"When they go on holiday they want to feel like they are on holiday, they want to relax, they want to do what they want, when they want.

"They don't want to be told where to go, told to put their mask on, and have all these other restrictions.

"They want to go on holiday and not feel as though they're starring in The Shawshank Redemption. Things might end up like that if we have to mandate lots of restrictions."

While protocols are needed, he said they must be unobtrusive and not destroy the enjoyment for holidaymakers.

"They want to be treated with respect and not like cattle and not have people shouting at them about what they should or shouldn't do," Heapy told delegates.

Some businesses are 'slavishly following rules and regulations and implementing them badly'.

While stressing safety was of paramount importance, that could be achieved without being overbearing, he said.

"We have to make people feel safe so we have to put in place the protocols, but they must be as light touch as possible," Heapy went on.

"We have to make sure we don't become too obsessed with rules and regulations and become too officious and make people's holiday a misery."

Heapy said it was imperative in the current situation to have staff on the ground to handle customer concerns.

"Customers have lots of questions, they are frightened, they are insecure…we need to have staff around," he said.

He stressed Jet2 was increasing its staff, insisting it had 'no intention of replacing them with apps'.

"We'll have real people with real heads and real voices on the ground to help our customers," he added.

Beach measures 'insane'

Heapy branded an Italian destination's decision to install perspex screens on beaches as 'insane'.

He also ridiculed the system at a mainland Spain resort where holidaymakers must reserve places on a beach.

"You have to book your slot on the beach for half a day, you can't have food, there are no bins. That's not a holiday, that is like being in prison," he said.

"We have to be very careful that we don't overreact to these measures….I must stress people want a holiday to be as normal as possible.

"When tourist boards, politicians and hoteliers come up with rules, please, please test them with real people, that go on real holidays that live real lives.

"They will say whether the rules and regulations are sensible, reasonable measures or just insane ideas that will turn people off."

Heapy told the conference that the industry, and society generally, should not rely on a vaccine.

That could take years, he said.

"Therefore, governments have to work together. It needs a European framework for the opening and closing of air corridors, for categorising and measuring infection levels and for testing."

'I've seen glaciers move quicker'

"But things seem to be happening very slowly. I've seen glaciers move quicker than we are at the moment.

"We have to get travel moving again. Economies are getting worse and worse and we are heading for a severe European recession. If things are not put in place quickly we may get a depression.

"We have to put this into perspective and very quickly come up with a set of protocols that can get Europe moving again otherwise we'll go back to the dark ages and I don't think any of us want that.

"We need a little bit of perspective here and need solutions that will allow the world to continue while protecting the vulnerable

"If we don't find a cure for five years what are we going to do, quarantine for five years? There certainly won't be any airlines or tour operators around. There' will be no businesses open.

"We have to make sure that governments take a measured approach. There is only so long we can carry on like we are before economies collapse, people will starve, and they will be homeless.

"The consequences of a continued severe reaction will be catastrophic."

Environmental pressure 

Earlier during the seminar, organised by the Majorca Tourism Foundation, Heapy reiterated that many firms are under 'massive strain' and that 'some won't make it'.

He revealed that in return for bail outs for airlines and tour operators, governments have requested companies 'embrace more environmentalism and put in place measures to reduce their green footprint'.

"This could not have come at a worse time," he said. "The European airline community is spending more and more time on environmental issues and this is companies whose finances are under strain, our balance sheets have been shot to pieces, we've got reduced cash balances and we are asked to spend an enormous amount of money on environmental projects.

"Now I am not against those projects…..I am very much for them, but there is a trend where the environmental agenda is being pushed very, very hard at a time when airlines, tour operators and hotels have very challenging financial situations. Governments need to be aware of that.

"I would suggest we repair our finances, repair our balance sheets and then get on to environmental issues."

Refund issue giving travel a 'bad image'

Turning to corporate responsibility, Heapy said some UK companies have been holding on to customers' money and not refunding cancelled holidays.

Such practice is giving the industry a 'very bad image which is affecting the future of the industry'.

"That is not a sustainable way to continue," he told the conference. "I won't mention names, but some multinational, vertically integrated tour operators are not paying their hotel payments until next year.

"That is not sustainable."

He added: "We need to work as a global community to get travel back on its feet and the actions of some companies are not helping that."

'Don't alienate the mass market'

Heapy also warned the industry not to 'alienate and abandon' mass marlet consumers in the pursuit of more sustainable destinations.

Referring to the regeneration of areas around Magaluf, the Jet2 boss said he was supportive of such projects but added: "If we change the nature of tourism that's fine, but we have to be careful that we don't alienate the hundreds of thousands of customers that go to those resorts.

"It has to be a case of evolution not revolution otherwise we will all have big holes in our budget, big drops in occupancy and load factors."

By Steve Jones, Contributing Editor (UK)

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  • why refund ?

    Offer a credit & the business might have a chance of surviving another few months, if these idiotic politicians get their acts together. Soon it will be open season on politicians & rule 303 will apply.

    By Michael Anderson, Saturday, October 31, 2020

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