Is it really the job of Travel-Writers to encourage COVID-foot-soldiers for normality; is it not the government's job to create confidence?
Hello there and welcome to my latest Podcast.
At the weekend I was struck by the comment from the well-known Travel Journalist, Simon Calder, who declared that he has ‘no further plans’ to visit Wales after receiving online abuse.
It comes to something when a National name in Travel feels that he cannot visit or offer or contribute his words or opinions for fear of being abused.
During this crisis, I too have received online abuse from a very small section of people who work in the travel industry and even from Consumers. My crime? Well that was simply my either offering a correction to information being given out or quite simply people not liking the advices I had published. My way of dealing with online abuse is simple: I briefly thank the person for their comments (I rarely engage): I then block them and report them to the social medium platform in question for the abuse I have received: in rare cases in the past, I have indicated that a report will be made to the police where a threat has been made unless a retraction is provided.
In Simon’s case, it is clear that some very strong opinions were expressed and to his credit, he tried to engage and rationalise the debate, all it seems to no avail.
Therefore Simon has made a decision at least for the present, not to visit Wales. His decision must be respected because it matters not whether you are a high profile journalist or someone like me who offers a different type of Consumer guidance, abuse is not and should never be tolerated.
But the decision by Simon reveals a number of issues buried deep in the heart of this crisis. The primary issue comes from people within the areas concerned about the sudden influx of tourists, from the more infected parts of the country, a point acknowledged by Simon.
Back in March this year, people in Cornwall were concerned about the influx of ‘out of towners’ and the pressure that they could potentially place on the local NHS services, presumably because of the fear of the the detriment to themselves. In July, Cornwallians again expressed that they were ‘terrified’ as a result of the great unlockdown, of the influx of tourists, desperate to get away, some feeling that they would be confined to their homes out of fear of what was being potentially brought into their area.
The conflict continued even after Simon’s experience, with people in the towns on the Welsh Borders feeling that they are caught between a rock and a hard place; nervous would be the understatement.
The affect of fear is palpable not just in the UK but elsewhere. I know for example that in south-west France, local mayors are working very hard to protect their communities. When I enquired with them whether they would accept me into their community, they first checked where I live (currently low risk) and suggested that I arrive and present myself with a set of clear negative tests.
In Ireland I discovered that people who decided to stay on Achill Island, in County Mayo, found that in order to protect themselves from their fellow holidaymakers, they had to head for the beach by 9am and be off by 11am because after that time, holidaymakers in their hundreds flooded the beaches, without any care for social distancing let alone masks, with the local Gardai trying to control and enforce rules on the influx.
Like Simon, I too have taken Staycations this year. The first was a trip taken down memory lane to the Cotswolds, staying in Moreton-in-Marsh at the Redesdale Arms (well worth a visit - 4+ stars for COVID measures) and visiting Broadway (afternoon tea at the Lygon Arms - great tea & 5 stars for COVID Measures) and Bourton-on-the-water (the town had thought hard about COVID measures 4+stars to them).
I’ve also taken a tour of Castles in South Wales (Chepstow, Caldicot, Skenfirth & Magram - all offering a good set of COVID-safe measures), and then I travelled along the coastline from Porthcawl, taking in Ogmore-by-sea, Dunraven Bay, St Donats & LLanwit Major Beach again all providing clear COVID measures.
Into this mix I’ve taken trips up into Brecon and the Brecon Beacons, enjoying the wide open expanses on offer with plenty of distance between people.
All of this has been good for the soul, but there is a downside to all of this and no matter how many travel writers speak about the benefits of staycations, or tourist bodies work hard to try and promote their areas, there is one factor that makes it really difficult.
Now as you know, I primarily speak in support of holidaymakers, but my experience through this post-lockdown period, has demonstrated the fears of those who live in these tourist towns.
On staycations, I have witnessed a ‘herd mentality’ which is hard to comprehend. We discovered very quickly indeed that if we wanted to limit our contact with people, we had to get out early, visit the key attractions before noon and be on our way, usually to have a picnic in some big open space, enjoying the great outdoors.
On the very few occasions that we were in towns or villages after noon, we experienced large crowds of people, many not wearing masks either in coffee shops, tourist shops or on the street. I witnessed people coughing openly and offering no protection to those around them. Many offered no respect to shops by crowding their way into them without regard to notices on doors. And it was absolutely the case that many of these holidaymakers would barely offer 2cm of space between you and them let alone 2 metres!
This lack of social awareness and responsibility cuts to the heart of this debate. As a fellow travel writer and commentator I cannot condone the behaviour from what seems to be the many, in favour of some economic imperative.
Oh sure, I wished that we could return to normality, oh how I miss that in-flight meal or jetting off to some spot in Europe or that long-haul holiday, but since February of this year, I have been warning about the massive impact Coronavirus would have on not just travel but our lives.
In March this year, I predicted that ‘summer may not happen’ and that I expected a return to some normality by the end of July; how wrong I was. So whilst International Travel is virtually at a standstill, we are looking for that replacement for the getaway, even if it's only for a day. But, we do not live in a bubble, this is not a crisis that is external to our borders, it is a crisis within and it seems that we have not yet come to respect that nor indeed those around us.
The simple fact of the matter is this: Travel, whether it’s domestic or international is in deep crisis and will remain so in my view until mid-2021, when perhaps the advance of therapeutic medicines or indeed a fully tested and viable vaccine is available. Even if a vaccine is available, it will take some considerable time to to spread that benefit out to the citizens of any country. The journey to 2019-levels of normality will take time.
If we feel the absolute need to travel, then perhaps we should assume the position of responsibility and stay even closer to home, because that’s where I suspect local undiscovered treasures exist.
I have every sympathy and indeed solidarity with Simon, but it is my view that whilst we can offer a glimpse into travel possibilities, it is not our job to create COVID foot-soldiers to return us to normality. That is the job of government to create sound policies that builds confidence in communities.
We should remember that at the core of this debate lies the very structure of political discourse which includes the recent trend of shying away from multilateralism, in other words cooperation and indeed brotherhood amongst the citizenry, even across borders.
People expressing their disgust for a travel writer are actually expressing their own fears, in the wrong direction; they are telling us that they are not convinced that there is a coherent strategy to protect them, let alone the businesses in their areas. As a result, they strike out at those who simply offer a small glimpse of some form of normality.
The guilt for their views of failure, lies at the door of Number 10 and in particular with the Ministers for Health, Tourism and Consumers.
Now is the time perhaps for us to rediscover that multilateral effect; in my opinion it will free us from the dogma of late, and develop the solutions to reopen our borders without fear for all to enjoy!
(This is the script for Frank's CreatingRipples™ Podcast - Travel & COVID: The trolling of Simon Calder. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here. Please note that the content, unless otherwise stated, is the copyright of Frank Brehany © 2020)