Just four days after the enforcement of lockdown 2.0, Pfizer and BioNTech announced a coronavirus vaccine with a 90% efficacy rate in preventing transmission. The announcement saw an immediate surge in European travel stocks. Ironically, at a time when a blanket travel ban restricting outbound and domestic travel is in place across England – seeing all but essential travel restricted – there has been a surge of hope for the industry.
In a year where travel has been among the hardest hit industries, news of a vaccine is exceedingly welcome. British Airways has claimed that coronavirus is the worst crisis in the company’s history – far outstretching 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis – reporting a 98% drop in passengers between the April and June period and subsequently reporting 10,000 jobs at risk. Following Pfizer’s announcement, however, shares in EasyJet rose 40% in 24 hours, whilst TravelSupermarket saw a 54% rise in searches over the previous week. And they are not alone, British Airways, SkyScanner, Opodo and a plethora of cruise companies have reported similar drastic surges. Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean, has called a vaccine the ‘ultimate weapon’ for the post-COVID industry’s revival.
Moreover, whilst interest is surging prices remain low due to a prevailing uncertainty over current and future restrictions. This means you can get a one-way ticket to Paris on the Eurostar for £39 during the Easter break, or a £72 flight from London Stansted to Madrid with Ryanair in the same period. According to the Guardian, managing director of Olympic Holidays Michael Vinales stated that smaller Mediterranean islands were among the first good deals likely to be snapped up, whilst international travel seems to remain hanging in the balance for now.
However, it remains a question whether the vaccine will be the ‘ultimate weapon’ for the travel industry. We have been consistently told that a vaccine will not be a fast-paced antidote to the crisis, and it likely won’t be for the travel industry, at least in the short term. The European Union will buy up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, although it is currently unclear how these doses will be rolled out. Many have rushed to book trips, claiming that a post-lockdown holiday provides hope amid the long winter ahead. Others, however, have tired of a summer of travel corridors and restrictions across the UK and the EU and are understandably unwilling to part with money without certainty over the future of the industry. It’s pretty safe to say that we can’t expect a pandemic-free European summer, but there are hopes for a European system of coordinated testing and safety measures that would open up vital travel corridors, according to a spokeswoman for TravelSupermarket.
But, if like many, you’ve had a summer of cancelled flights and refund chasing, then you might approach the prospect of booking a holiday with caution, and perhaps rightly so. Prices are currently low in virtue of the uncertainty that remains tangible within the travel industry, meaning that the few that are brave enough are snapping up deals. These low prices will begin to dissipate as new details of the vaccine and its rollout emerge. If you do decide to go holiday hunting make sure that any trip you book is fully refundable – either through your provider or insurer – in the case of continuing restrictions and changing travel corridors. Moreover, it is important to note that European travel will be significantly more restrictive than the pre-pandemic ease we have become accustomed to. The choice of available destinations will be significantly diminished and prices may hike as airlines and booking companies scramble to financial recovery. Although, in their signature style, Ryanair has promised lower prices than those in the summer of 2019, though it is unclear how long this recovery will take. But that might well provide enough hope for many of us currently struggling through a winter lockdown.