Bookings are stalling, but let’s not forget that travel still works
Last week, I flew to Spain to spend a few days exploring the Basque Country. I came home exhilarated, but also exhausted.
Before leaving, I was on high alert for sore throats and snotty noses. Any symptom could derail the whole trip.
Thinner timetables from Dublin Bus and Aircoach meant a more expensive Dart-and-taxi trip to the airport. I had to show my Covid Cert, submit health and personal locator forms, remain masked throughout the journey and pass a temperature screening in Bilbao.
After getting home, I was on symptom alert again (hello, antigen test).
And that was just getting from A to B. Travel thrives on certainty, but uncertainty reigns. Spain does not currently require proof of vaccination for indoor dining – which may make some travellers apprehensive. Preparing for another trip to Germany, I've learned that masks must be medical-grade, as opposed to cloth.
A colleague recently had to cancel a trip to Riga because Latvia has entered a strict national lockdown. As it becomes clear that the efficacy of vaccinations wanes over time, countries like Austria, Croatia and Switzerland have now set a one-year validity limit on the proof of vaccination they will accept for travel.
Phew. And that's not even starting on organising holidays with kids.
Was my trip to Spain worth it?
Absolutely. Being in a foreign environment, with the Spanish and Basque languages mixing in the air, eating those pintxos and drinking that Rioja, was a burst of escape and adrenaline that for me was worth the worry.
We should also remember that Covid Certs and testing regimes have unlocked travel, turning a planet on pause into a world where we can see loved ones and take overseas breaks once again.
Irish travel agents had seen a pick-up in business since summer, and have bent over backwards to create a 'book with confidence' culture with enhanced flexibility, as well as rescheduling thousands of trips.
But Covid-19 is on the attack in Ireland again, and confidence is in retreat.
"Previous to the numbers going up, bookings were very buoyant,” says Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association. "They were certainly starting to move again, but this has put a spanner in the works.”
"There has been a slowdown, there’s no doubt about it. When the news is depressing and cases are high, it puts people in bad form, and when you’re in bad form you don’t spend money.”
You can see why the sheer hassle of it all is acting as a drag on recovery.
Even before the latest restrictions, Tourism Ireland's November research noted ‘the hassle factor’ becoming a real barrier in committing to trips.
Although most people do intend to travel, it says, they are pushing trips later into 2022 due to worries about everything, from health to cancellations, and restrictions hampering their enjoyment of a destination.
Similar sentiments are showing in other studies. In the US, a survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) shows 61pc of Americans are not planning to travel for Thanksgiving, blaming Covid concerns and rising gas prices. Meanwhile, Booking.com's 2022 trends report found a strong desire to travel, but 69pc of over 24,000 people it surveyed wished there was "an innovative service that could predict which countries will be safe to travel to".
“The lack of harmonised rules will hold back the recovery in international tourism in 2022," says a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which forecasts that global arrivals in 2022 will remain 30pc down on 2019 levels.
There is reason to hope. No matter the hassle, travel can still be fundamentally restorative and fun – I felt energised after my trip to Spain. New flights continue to be announced, pent-up demand remains, Cork Airport reopens next week and recovery is still predicted to pick up steam next year.
But for the next few weeks, "it’s tighten your seatbelts time,” as Pat Dawson says.