The psychological toll of not being able to travel
By Aileen C. O’Reilly
Suitcases packed with gaily coloured summer clothes lie useless, gathering dust at the foot of wardrobes and in attics while our once eagerly clutched passports moulder in drawers and safes, forgotten as we direct our energies towards the business in hand, one which doesn’t require their use, the business of outliving a pandemic.
While the loss of our annual 2 weeks in the sun can hardly be deemed a life shattering sacrifice, as the daily infection numbers remain worryingly high, the fact is the psychological impact of not having the escape to look forward to is taking a very real toll on our ability to cope. It comes as no surprise that studies have confirmed people are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned, because they expect to have a positive experience. The same research has also found that having a vacation planned can lead to a more positive outlook on your health, economic situation, and general quality of life.
“We need escape” explains psychotherapist and director of Leeson Analytic, Marie Walshe. “From the moment we book a holiday and know that it is there it is having a positive effect on our day to day lives and our ability to cope with the hum-drum of routine.
We’re working towards it, we’re clearing our desks before we leave. It makes us more productive, it helps reduce our stress and blood pressure levels. If you take that away from people then it can only have a negative effect on their outlook. This is partially because our imaginations are one of the most powerful coping mechanisms we have. As we think about those 10 days or 2 weeks in the sun they are perfect in every way. We spend all the time leading up to our holiday employing positive visualisation which has a hugely positive effect on our daily lives. In essence the holiday is working already”.
The ITAA notes that many customers are still hesitant to book holidays for Summer 2021 and has stated that increases in these bookings have been minimal so far, due in part to the slow rollout of vaccinations and consumers lingering fears surrounding COVID-19. The Association believes that higher levels of vaccinations are needed before a safe return to international travel will be viable.
The reality is that the majority of bookings being made at the moment are from consumers rescheduling trips which were due to take place in 2020, and were disrupted by the outbreak of the pandemic. Most bookings are being made for the latter part of 2021, with many travel agents apprehensive to proceed with bookings without certainty to protect customers and avoid last minute cancellations and disruptions as seen in 2020.
According to Pat Dawson, ITAA CEO, “So far there has been a trickle of bookings from September onwards, but no great numbers to any particular destination. We expect that bookings won’t really kick off until greater numbers of the population have received the vaccine, and a quicker vaccine rollout would enable a safe return to travel in time for summer 2021.”
It was Caroline O’Toole, manager of Fahy Worldchoice Travel and director of Weddings At Sea Ireland, one of the most positive and motivated people I know, who summed up in two words what every person who works in the travel industry is experiencing now… negative administration.. Once purveyors of dreams made of sandy beaches, stunning sunsets and cruises, travel agents have been forced into the unenviable role of damage limitation experts. “Being in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t stop people from needing the escape that travel gives” she explains, “if anything it intensifies it so, yes, the psychological impact of being told you cannot travel and you’ll be fined if you do is huge and we are dealing with that disappointment every day”. “Travel is without doubt the most wonderful industry to be a part of but right now we are like the dentist who normally gives you the bright white smile – except now we’re having to pull teeth”. Every morning Caroline is posting inspirational shots on Facebook as she makes her way to work in Galway and she freely admits she’s using this time to prepare herself mentally for the difficult day she knows lies ahead of her. When we speak she is on the final afternoon of a particularly gruelling week.
“Some of the calls would reduce you to tears. I take it personally, I always have when it comes to helping clients have the holiday they want and hearing back from them afterwards. “This situation we now find ourselves in is the opposite of all that. People are under the illusion that we are hanging on to their deposits and just refusing to return them. We’re not. “There really needs to be something put in place whereby the airlines have to pay money back”.
Surprisingly in the midst of all this uproar she says that she has in actual fact taken 2 cruise bookings for this year (and four for 2022). “Travel is positive and right now booking a holiday, even if you’re booking it for next year, means you are actively giving yourself something to look forward to and we all need that. My advice would be to look at September/October onwards if you want to book something – not June”.
Geraldine McFadden, General Manager of Aqua Suites Lanzarote, Commercial Director of Costa Sal Villas and Suites and owner of Emma’s Cantina and Sassi’s Bar and Bistro is instantly recognisable as one of Ireland’s glittering travel industry exponents. Twelve months in she is candid about the impact the worldwide COVID pandemic has had on her livelihood. “At the very beginning, last March, it was very difficult for us as a family.
“Spain had a lockdown that meant the kids could not go outside the gates of our home for 9 weeks. We were only allowed out to shop and this was subject to police checkpoints almost every time we went out. Going from being so busy with work – 15 hour days most of the time – to suddenly being at home all the time was hard to adjust to. As a family we are spending lots of time together, sitting down every evening for dinner together. It’s a bonus we could never have enjoyed pre COVID.
” But the reality is we get no help as a business from the Spanish government. And this has been very hard on us. The constant worry for the future can be suffocating. And we have had to learn to put this out of our minds as it was starting to have an effect on our mental health. We are now focusing on the days when we can open again. And how we can make the experience an amazing one for our guests. This is what keeps us going”.
So just how positive does she honestly feel about the prospect of holidays at this point – a year into the pandemic? “We have seen some glimmer of light with the potential lifting of restrictions in the UK from May/ June onwards, however, it is not looking very positive for Irish tourism this summer. And I fear it will be the winter season before we see the Irish return to the island.
“This is a huge deal for us. Irish customers make up more than 50% of our guests in both the Costa Sal and Aqua Suites. And the same in both our restaurants – Sassis and Emma’s Cantina”.
Hospitality in the sun is her business and she freely admits that remaining positive at this point can prove to be difficult some days. “I have my moments. And as the time goes on, it gets more difficult. But I do believe that once people start to travel again, that Lanzarote will be one of the Number 1 destinations for both Irish and British Tourists. And I believe we will make a very quick recovery. I have to keep thinking that! Otherwise I could not keep going!
I do believe we will have a very strong winter 21/22 season but people will be reluctant to travel too far afield. So Lanzarote, as a strong favourite for the Irish, will be a very desirable destination.
Aqua Suites has been the Number 2 Hotel in the Canary Islands on Tripadvisor for the last 3 years. A huge achievement ahead of the major chains and some of the huge 5 star deluxe Hotels. So I do believe we have an amazing product and people will flock to us when we open. I keep that in mind all the time.”
“My own take is that the industry will move quickly to streamline the testing and checking process so that COVID tests become part of the routine of international travel. At the moment, tests seem to be around the €150 per person mark which adds €1,200 to the cost of a family of 4 going on holidays. We really need to see the cost of tests falling below €50 to get more people travelling”.
As the sun starts to shine again and we focus on the lifting of this latest lockdown one cannot help but turn to Lenny Kravitz who said it perfectly…
I want to get away ,I want to fly away
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I want to get away, I want to fly away……soon hopefully!