Transcript: Episode 40
Can we have a summer holiday this year?
travel, people, pandemic, vaccine, ucl, passports, vaccinated, countries, jonathan, industry, passengers, terms, risk, andreas, vaccination, question, programme, impact, magic wand, absolutely
Kirsty Dias-Watson, Andreas Schafer, Vivienne Parry
Vivienne Parry 00:04
Hello, and welcome to Episode 40 of Coronavirus. The whole story. My name is Vivienne Parry. I'm a writer, broadcaster and UCL and I'm the host of this award winning podcast, all about the Coronavirus and the vital research taking place here at UCL. Now, unlike March 2020, when you may remember the weather was spectacular. The last few weeks of lockdown 2021 style of seeing rain, snow, ice, rain, and then a lot more rain. It's been dark, freezing, it's been miserable, and unbelievably muddy. Like me, your thoughts may well have been drifting to as your seas and a bucket of sangria. But many countries are tightening their borders to protect them from new virus strains such as the UK variant, and foreign parts in more and more like an impossible dream. So in this week's episode, I'm going to be talking to the UCL experts about international travel during the pandemic, and what we can expect in the future. Today I'm joined by Professor Andreas Schafer, Professor of Energy and Transport at the UCL Energy Institute, Director of Research at the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources, and Director of the Air Transportation Systems Laboratory address his team provides consultancy to leading transport industry through UCL consultants limited part of UCL innovation and enterprise. He recently concluded a piece of consultancy into the hybrid electric market and is an expert on the need for electric planes in the future. I'm also joined by Kirsty Dias Watson, a UCL alumna and French graduate, who is now Managing Director at PriestmanGoode, a design consultancy that work with clients in the travel industry, from trains to planes to spacecraft, and everything in between. And last but not least, my third guest this week is my old friend and colleague, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, who is Professor of Healthcare Law in the Faculty of Laws, alongside research which has been fundamental to the field of healthcare law, and his teaching. Jonathan has held many public advisory roles, and is currently chairing an expert deliberation into vaccine passport for the Ada Lovelace Institute. So today, I want to start by establishing what kind of impacts the pandemic has had on global travel other than a very big one. Andreas, first of all, what kinds of changes have we seen within the travel industry over the last year?
Andreas Schafer 02:35
Well, you know, I think it's fair to say that the pandemic had the largest sustained disruption on transportation since World War Two. And particularly hit was the aviation sector, perhaps not surprisingly, because most of it or much of it is international, by definition. And if there are no customers, there are no revenue streams. And as a result of that, the airline industry had to cut back in terms of the workforce in terms of the aircraft fleet that operates and these reductions had, of course, propagating effects upstream and downstream downstream of the value chain. So upstream towards the manufacturers, of aircraft engines and suppliers, airports, and downstream to the entire travel industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, car hires, and so forth.
Vivienne Parry 03:29
And it's not a question of simply opening it all up. Is it because it's it will take time to open it up, presumably?
Andreas Schafer 03:38
Yeah, well, you know, demand for air transportation, very strongly depends on income. And many folks have been disadvantaged by the pandemic and as a result simply couldn't afford to travel by air anymore before they recover. In addition, as you lined out at the beginning, orders have been closed and and immigration rules change, and also be people become increasingly nervous about getting infected while they travel. So all of these factors would have to be addressed in order for air transportation to recover.
Vivienne Parry 04:13
How long do you think these impacts will last from an economic perspective?
Andreas Schafer 04:18
Well, it will critically depend on you know, the availability and effectiveness of vaccination programmes. And And related to that country policies when they would open the borders again for travel. And for passengers when they can afford to travel and again, how risk averse they are in terms of potentially getting infected when they travel.
Vivienne Parry 04:43
We shouldn't just think of the travel industry itself I'm you've already mentioned the effects on for instance, manufacturer of planes, but also there's a big impact in countries where tourism is the only industry we've heard about Safari holiday phase where that's having an impact not only on the local population, but also on wildlife.
Andreas Schafer 05:05
Absolutely. And and many of these countries, they have the unfortunate situation that they are located rather low in the income scale. And they are penalised perhaps most severely from the pandemic. You're absolutely right.
Vivienne Parry 05:19
Another area, which is very relevant to academics is that the Congress trade has shut up shop and everything is online. That's a big sort of slug of of travel, that kind of business travel, do you expect that to return?
Andreas Schafer 05:38
It will return the only question is, is when it'll be by far too interconnected in order to suddenly change our our way of life and our way of work forever. So it's just a question about when not not whether
Vivienne Parry 05:55
now we're saying when should we, but it's, should we do it at all, because with many of us shut inside and not travelling commuting? For the moment, we're thinking, well, we're seeing how the air is so much cleaner, the streets are quieter. And we're all beginning to reflect on our lifestyles before the pandemic and how they had such a big impact on the environment. This is a conversation you see, continue to address as we return to normal, and how might that change the airline and travel industries,
Andreas Schafer 06:28
I suspect that there will be a short term impact on demand. Also, because people may become more conscious. But I can't imagine that our transportation demand would not rebound. So the current situation of the pandemic certainly makes us aware, or perhaps more aware about the challenges that exist for greening the industry if you wish, but the pandemic itself cannot sufficiently incentivize the industry to become greener, because in order to do that, we need disruptive technology. And that technology is extremely expensive. We're talking about 10s of billions of dollars of development costs. And without any revenue streams. There's no way the industry can fund such a transition. So what we need is government intervention. In order to enable such a transition. In France, President macro has funded the survival of the French aviation industry with 15 billion euros and 10% of that amount, so 1.5 billion euros is dedicated to developing green aircraft. Also, the UK has a similar programme also significantly more modest. And we see these initiatives also in other parts of the world.
Vivienne Parry 07:47
Thank you. I want to continue this conversation about the future but come to you Kirsty, because the travel industry is presumably adapting to this new normal, as in the new normal, after he starts to travel again, how has it changed already? And what kind of change do you see happening for the future?
Kirsty Dias-Watson 08:07
I think that we are seeing kind of immediate changes in terms of passenger sensitivity to hygiene and cleanliness, for example. And we're working immediately to look at, for example, retrofitting hand sanitizers, onboard trains, I think the base of all of this, how do we get people back to travelling as they did previously, I think, probably that their habits will have changed forever. And we will travel differently perhaps in the future. But it's about airline operators or train operators offering reassurance that passengers are coming into an environment, which to a certain degree is is controlled, so that we are using new technologies with UV cleaning, or different design methods to design perhaps new seats that have less dirt traps to offer reassurance that passengers are entering an environment where they will be essentially safe. So we have developed some concepts in the last year, we developed a concept called pure skies, which looks specifically at this. So using anti microbial materials and finishes looking at really offering personal space, which is kind of more controlled, more hygiene and through digital offering kind of more touch free features. But do you think, Cassie, that it
Vivienne Parry 09:41
has also affected the kind of destinations that we want to travel to? I mean, I know that all of us, frankly, we'd go five miles away. Never mind 500 miles away simply because we want a change of scene. But I wonder whether people are thinking more about places That they don't feel that there will be so many people. Or maybe it will be that the wheel seeking people
Kirsty Dias-Watson 10:08
in terms of destination. I think that, you know, just to pick up on a point that you made previously about people being more aware of the sustainable impact the last year has had on on travel, I think we're definitely seeing particularly in mainland Europe, a desire to travel more by train, you know, we're seeing the networks or, for example, night trains expanding in Europe. So different European rail operators are signing agreements to expand the network of how we travel across Europe. So I think there's an increased appetite, to travel differently. And in terms of, I suppose, caution about travelling to countries where we perceive there might be greater risk, I think that in the short term might determine People's Choice of destination. But ultimately, and I think this was borne out last summer, people have a natural, great desire to travel. And that will continue. But I do think without question, environmental awareness is on the increase, and we absolutely embrace that.
Vivienne Parry 11:19
And presumably also, another thing that travellers will want is guaranteed consumer protection, because one of the things that we've seen is this dreadful problem of trying to get refunds on tickets and having to cancel at the very last minute, because the country has shut its doors or a new variant has appeared. And we're going to be with this problem of new variants for some time to come and they'll pop up all over the place. And it's likely that travel is going to be impacted at short notice, how is that aspect of travel going to be handled?
Kirsty Dias-Watson 11:53
I think we are going to see an increase in vaccine passports, for example, where you have the reassurance that you know, you've had the vaccine, and that you are confident that you will be able to travel, when you get to the airport, you're not going to be refused passage, because you're going to fail a COVID test,
Vivienne Parry 12:15
I'm thinking actually more the consumer thing of at the very last minute, people have to cancel their holidays, because say a new variant disappeared, or whatever vaccines people have had are not suitable for that country any longer. And people have to cancel their holidays. And cancellation has been a huge problem for the travel industry, because they've been sitting on money for a long time. But on the other hand, they need that money, or else they're going to go bust completely. So it's a fact of the business model of the travel industry very substantially.
Kirsty Dias-Watson 12:50
Yes, I would agree with that. I think there will be perhaps new models and new and you know, opportunities in insurance for greater trust will a that we will be more adaptable to our plans changing and sorting at short notice. So maybe we will have to become more accustomed to disappointment, and that you will pay more to ensure that you will get a refund.
Vivienne Parry 13:16
Let me now turn to the vexed question of vaccine passports. And, Jonathan, I know that you've been doing some work with the Ada Lovelace Institute on that. What are we talking about here? Let's talk first about international travel rather than some kind of vaccine passport within the UK. Let's first talk about the international travel dimension. What's going to happen there do you think?
So I think this is primarily about confidence on the public health case, vaccine passports is actually pretty weak. The key question is what will get people travelling again, I think that first of all, you need to feel safe. Now vaccination is absolutely crucial to you feeling safe. A passport isn't what's crucial is that you know that you've been vaccinated because that's going to protect you against getting ill or the seriously yelled at when you travel, you're going to be worried not so much about your passport as whether or not the vaccination that you have had, is going to be appropriate for the place that you're visiting. So if you think of something like malaria tablets, you need to take the right tablets for the place that you're going. So you're going to need some way of finding out whether the vaccination that you've received is going to be useful. So we will be a bit concerned at the moment about travelling to South Africa, because we don't know very much yet whether the vaccines that work in the UK, are also sufficiently effective in South Africa. So understanding about vaccination is crucial to get us travelling again. The second thing is whether or not we will be at greater risk if we travel than we would be if we were at home. And the worry about that in passports here is that they may lull us into a false sense of security. Most of the people who are pushing that in passports are doing so Thinking that it will be less likely that I get infected by somebody else if all the other passengers on the plane have had a vaccine, said it's not about protecting myself so much as the other people being less likely to infect others. And we don't know whether that's true yet, it may turn out to be true. But I would be worried it wouldn't give me confidence at the moment that the other people had a vaccine passport. And then the final bit is about the countries who are wanting to receive visitors. So what we're seeing at the moment in terms of enthusiasm for passports and international travel is principally driven by the need of travel industry to get people travelling, and the needs of countries reliant on tourism, to encourage people to come in. Now, if I'm Greece, and I'm encouraging people to come in on know, if they're vaccinated, they're not likely to be ill while they're in Greece, and therefore not putting a big strain on the local health services. But we don't necessarily know whether they'll reduce the risk of the virus coming into the country. So if I was Greece, I'd be quite keen on a vaccine passport to encourage people if I was a UK, I'd be pretty worried because if we encourage people to go somewhere else and bring back a virus, then there's a public health problem coming in. And if we look at the the best known example of vaccine passports, it's the yellow fever system, the yellow fever system is actually a way of stopping countries barring entry to people. So even if we wanted to stop someone coming in to the UK, because we're worried they might bring yellow fever, we couldn't do that under international law, because the passporting system that they defeated vaccination bars us from refusing entry. So again, on a public health point of view, it would be very strange if countries adopted a vaccine passport system on that model, because they'd lose control of their borders, exactly at the point where they're trying to make sure that we don't import the virus, inadvertently, from a public health point of view, these are deeply problematic from an economic point of view. The question is, will there will there not give us more competence to travel?
Vivienne Parry 16:51
And the truth is, I guess that, at the moment, we simply don't know enough about vaccine effect. You know, how much it reduces transmission, all those kinds of things. Now, the its response to different variants. So that we're, we're thinking about this, actually, without all the knowledge that we need. And also, the other thing, of course, that we forget, is that a 95% efficacious vaccine means that one in 20 of those vaccinated will will not have any protective effects, because that's how vaccines work, it doesn't work for everyone. And that's difficult in itself, isn't it?
It's even more complex than that the event. So the impact will be different on individuals. So when we talk to immunologists, they can't see the sense of this at all, because they say every individual has a different immune response. So we think about it in terms of averages, you know, and everyone will be slightly different. But at a population level, of course, that doesn't matter. Because we all get protection, if we can suppress the spread of the virus at an individual level, it probably matters quite a lot. But we use to assessing risks. You know, we're used to deciding whether to go somewhere where we might be at malaria risk and vast numbers of people travel without taking the medication that the doctors think that they should do, because they've decided that the risk if they stay in their resort, is sufficiently small that it that it's worth running. So if we go back to the questions you were asking earlier about, how will our travel change? I guess the first thing really is about how we think about risks. And the worry about vaccine passports is it might create a sort of fetish that we distort our understanding of risk by thinking that the only thing that really matters is have I have I not got the right app, or the right stamp in my passport. And that may be a pretty minor part of the risks that we're running business travel. For me, it's all about efficiency. So I'm now thinking very differently, do I need to get on the train and travelling to London, it needs to be worth the loss of time, the degree of risk I'm taking the pandemic, the degree of risk and the pandemic of drop. But the time I lose by sitting in a station waiting for a train or an airport, waiting for the plane to arrive. That's not going to change. I have learned I can co author with people I've never met. And I can engage in deliberation events for people in different time zones using internet platforms that I'd never experienced pre pandemic. So I'm absolutely sure it'll alter our judgments. We make an individual cases, but it's hard to see that we won't want to travel once we believe it's safe to do so. And the key to that is not so much passports but it is vaccination.
Vivienne Parry 19:36
And the other bit, of course, is the discriminatory aspect. There will be people particularly in the early stages of vaccination, particularly young people who just simply won't have got far enough down the schedules to have had their vaccines who will effectively be barred from going to some places and the typical places that younger people will are the places that have cheap and cheerful holidays where you go with 20 of your mates. But that kind of thing won't happen.
So let's some do a thought experiment for the coming summer, it's unlikely that we'll have significant numbers of the 18 to 38 group who have had two vaccines and waited long enough after their second vaccine to build up immunity. So if a country is looking to attract tourists for the summer 2021, a vaccine passport is not really a plausible route. To do that, it's got to think much more about whether it's prepared to take the risk of those people coming in. I was joking with a friend over emails yesterday imagined that France as the only people they're going to let in people have had the Pfizer vaccine. So we will have a significant number who get vaccinated in the UK programme, who will be able to go all over the world but not France, because the president of France is not convinced that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is a valid vaccine, South Africa, you might imagine, you know, his thinking will only take people who've had the vaccines that work for here. So it's going to become very complicated. And it's not going to unlock travel for this summer, next summer, summer 22. Hopefully, by then, all over the world, lots of people have been vaccinated. And why would you want to differentiate because the change in risk will not be enough for you to want to segment the world's population by who is vaccinated and who isn't. So it sort of feels like a temporary fix that isn't going to fix the time window that is most important to us. And what we should probably be doing is focusing much more on what would make travel safer, what would give people competence to travel. And that's much more like the changes that Kersey described to the vehicles and the waiting areas, and much more about testing than it is about vaccination, because that will give us an opportunity to understand, am I actually sitting next to someone who I know has got the virus at the moment. So I wonder whether the vaccine passports are a bit of a red herring for the problem we're trying to crack.
Vivienne Parry 21:59
Let me put that back to Andreas and to Kirsty Andreas. First. What are your thoughts on what Jonathan has just said?
Andreas Schafer 22:07
I couldn't agree more. I mean, he's the expert after all, but it can't be one. One approach only it's a combination of measures and testing seems to be a fundamental one, in addition to vaccination programmes, and and ensuring that fundamentals of hygiene and so forth, maintained casti
Kirsty Dias-Watson 22:27
Yes, I mean, I absolutely agree. I think it is about, as I said previously offering reassurance I think it's about demonstrating to passengers that the you know, the environment into which they are stepping up controlled. I think it's a kind of a combination between encouraging new behaviours be that using hand sanitizers wearing masks, etc. But I think it's also combined with kind of strong public information. So I think you know, London Underground is actually quite a good example of a later last summer. So when they've been kind of operating, forcing passengers wearing masks, for example, they started to individual stations started to show statistics of numbers of passengers being penalised for not wearing masks. And these statistics were just kind of put up on posters almost like handwritten posters in specific stations. And although some people might find that draconian, I actually think that that communication, demonstrate demonstrated to passengers, these measures are being enforced, we are taking this seriously. And you will be looked after in this environment. So I think it is a combination of, you know, making actual changes that you can make through design, but I think it's also about communication. Jonathan,
says there's a lot of behavioural sciences and error in dealing with this. But I think the most important thing about this and the sort of examples that Kirsty just raised is the idea that the solution here is about our collective actions, not about seeing ourselves as a set of individuals, and the only thing that matters is our own risk. And so one of the worries about vaccine passports is it somehow divides us into people who don't need to worry and people who should be worrying. Whereas actually the solution here is that as a society, we make changes to the way in which we behave, including how we travel that are relatively low cost, they're inconveniences to us, but their big benefits in terms of the support we give to each other in society. So it's maintaining our social distance, good hand hygiene mask wearing, spreading the time in which we travelled so the density of travellers is spread as much as we can. And that's why it's no one quick fix to this at the moment. If I were to Seek to go to a entertainment venue, which was asking for people to show they'd been vaccinated for they went in, I would run a mile. What I would take from that is that these are people who have a false sense of security, that they think that if they just asked that question, the pub or the cinema or the football ground will be a safer place. I want to go somewhere where everybody's thinking, What am I doing to reduce the risk that I present to others in the expectation that if I do that, they're going to be taking steps to reduce the risk to me. So I think the competence building factors are around people taking care and taking calculated risks as opposed to unnecessary or unthinking risks. So that's why I think that's sort of reassuring, reinforcing to people that there are expectations about how we look after each other. And those expectations will be policed in a small p way, there's much more significant that police by us frowning upon each other than they are by their policed by agents of the state or the transport system. But it's that that will make our travelling safer and give us competence, rather than any particular badge that we're getting
Vivienne Parry 26:12
eminently sensible, as always, Jonathan, and I wish that politicians had kind of small Jonathan sides, cupboards that they could have open and listen to, for us to gain made their decisions. Okay, so we come to the end of this episode of Coronavirus, the whole story. And in general, I give my guests a magic wand. Now, they're not allowed to use the magic wand to simply banish Coronavirus because that would be too easy. But in terms of using your wand, what one thing and this comes with unlimited money, by the way, and unlimited resource, what one thing would you do to not just make the travel industry of tomorrow safe, but to make it resilient? casti? What about you?
Kirsty Dias-Watson 27:03
I'll focus on the future, I think that we should be ensuring that the future of travelling, so from home to destination, wherever that may be, uses the kind of opportunity we've had in the last 12 months to reflect on the sustainable benefits and invest in the opportunities that electric vehicles give us that the opportunities that kind of new and sustainable materials offer us. And yeah, that we create a travelling future, which has more of a conscience perhaps. So that, of course that we travel for pleasure, but that we're more reflective about the need to travel for business. For example, I think we've seen a positives come out of the expansion of virtual conferencing, I think that's made that people that participate in conferences, in many ways more inclusive, because well, if you have responsibilities with childcare that might have prohibited your access to those kinds of global platforms previously or made it difficult. I think they have become wider and more representative forums because they are virtual. So I realised that I've made my answer not about one thing, but yes, I'm gonna I'm gonna go for a more sustainable future. Okay,
Vivienne Parry 28:28
Andreas, how about how about you? Is this a moment for sustainability to have a real toehold in the future of our travel?
Andreas Schafer 28:38
Oh, absolutely certain Yeah. But not not only in travel, I think we need to look at the entire ecosystem. And and, you know, step back and try to better understand the challenges we are facing, it can be another pandemic, after this one, in order to be better prepared, the steps we are taking now should be lasting and sufficiently grounded. But also if we look at climate change and our obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically by mid century, in order to avoid a terrible, irreversible change, we should take this pandemic as a impetus to on a personal and on a collective level to become more thoughtful in terms of the decisions that we take.
Vivienne Parry 29:25
How about you, Jonathan, what would you do with your magic wand?
So in my utopia, people are only going to travel because it's really worth it, they're going to a fantastic holiday destination or it's a work trip that's really going to add value. And my magic wand would be waived in order to make sure that everybody has access to the vaccinations and testing so that they have competence to travel when they want or need to without worrying about the health questions which are preoccupying us during the COVID pandemic.
Vivienne Parry 29:53
And I must admit, if I had a magic wand, it would give me the crystal ball that I could Say, is this trip going to be worthwhile? And it would instantly Tell me Yes. One that'd be a good thing. Anyway, thank you all. It's been a fantastic talking to you. You've been listening to Coronavirus the whole story This episode was presented by myself Vivienne Parry produced by UCL with support from the UCL Health of the Public and UCL Grand Challenges and edited by the splendid Cerys Bradley. I was joined today by Professor Andreas Schafer, Kirsty Dias-Watson and Professor Jonathan Montgomery. If you'd like to hear more of these podcasts on UCL Minds. Of course, you would subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, or visit ucl.ac.uk forward slash Coronavirus. This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content, and activities open to everyone. Hope to see you again soon. Bye for now.