What the travel industry did next

As the travel industry comes under scrutiny for Covid-19 business practices, many companies are launching initiatives to help ease the crisis. From supporting the NHS to sheltering the homeless, we look at positive outreach — and how you can get involved.

Thursday, April 30, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
Grounded airplanes.

While planes may be grounded, hotels closed and numerous companies brought to their knees, many of those who work in tourism are far from idle.

Photograph by Getty Images

Travel isn’t an industry that’s comfortable standing still. It’s a sector populated with people whose very motivation in life is to move: to go; to do; to see; to learn. So, while planes may be grounded, hotels closed, and parts of the industry are either under scrutiny for business practices or brought to their knees by the crisis, the fidgety-minded, can-do individuals who work in tourism are far from idle. Around the UK, travel workers from pilots to bus drivers, hotel chefs to hostel-owners are finding ways to make themselves useful — volunteering, retraining and transferring skills to projects that help protect people and businesses made vulnerable by the coronavirus crisis.

One novel idea brings airline crew from across the industry together under the banner of Project Wingman, which provides airline lounge-style spaces for weary NHS workers. It launched at London’s Whittington Hospital in April, and there are plans to open at up to 60 hospitals across the country. Project Wingman sees crews from airlines including Norwegian, EasyJet, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, TUI, Flybe, Jet2.com and Loganair — all trained to manage stressful, pressurised situations — on hand to assist NHS staff during and after their shifts by providing refreshments, a place to decompress and a friendly ear.

Further efforts from the transport industry to keep things moving include Indie Campers, a campervan rental company, which has offered up its 850 vehicles as ‘makeshift ambulances’ and food delivery trucks to aid front-line services across Europe. Meanwhile, 20 drivers from South West coach travel business Bakers Dolphin are retraining as ambulance drivers.

One novel idea brings airline crew from across the industry together under the banner of Project Wingman, which provides airline lounge-style spaces for weary NHS workers.

Photograph by Project Wingman

Ever the creative, indie-spirited city, Bristol has found inventive ways to keep its travel industry gainfully occupied, including the Cheers Drive initiative, which delivers free, restaurant-quality food to homeless people. Led by chef Josh Eggleton (of Michelin-starred Pony and Trap), it’s one of several food-focused aid projects that have sprung up to aid those affected by the crisis. Another is Bristol Food Union, a collective of the city’s sizeable independent restaurant sector whose kitchens are being used to provide food for homeless people, vulnerable adults and frontline workers. Want to help out yourself? Check out this comprehensive list of pay-it-forward, voucher and donation schemes that promotes city restaurants and attractions, encouraging people to ‘buy now, visit later’.

‘Pay now, enjoy later’ campaigns are blossoming across the industry in attempts to keep things afloat. Adopt a Hostel allows travellers to purchase virtual gift cards for future stays at hostels worldwide, or simply donate to a venue of their choice. It’s the brainchild of such hostel advocates as Budget Traveller blogger Kash Bhattacharya, travel marketing brand Stay the Night and marketing outfit hostel.consulting, and has garnered support from online booking platform Hostelworld. More than 200 hostels have joined the scheme, with many more expected to follow in a move that could help save low-margin hostels from collapse. 

Many hotels, meanwhile, are offering up rooms to support frontline workers. Pay-it-forward schemes adopted by the hotel sector include OYO Rooms for Carers, which gives you the opportunity to book a hotel stay for an NHS worker in need of a good night’s sleep while also supporting the hotel industry. A number of venues have simply opened their doors for NHS staff. Footballer Gary Neville was among the first to initiate, offering up 176 beds for NHS and medical staff at his two Manchester hotels. London’s The Zetter Hotel is offering free rooms for NHS staff in need of overnight stays, while The Megaro in Kings Cross is offering free beds to emergency workers and has set aside some rooms for travellers trying to get home.

Hotel group Qbic is offering rooms at non-profit rates for key workers at its East London outpost, for £20 per day or £50 per night on a B&B basis. Meanwhile, Intercontinental Hotels Group is part of a nationwide drive to use empty hotel rooms to house homeless people, offering rooms for rough sleepers to self-isolate in at its Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza brands.

Food donations and deliveries are flooding in from restaurants and hotels across the country. Select properties from Hand Picked Hotels and Bespoke Hotels are among countless venues showing support for the local community by donating food and offering safe spaces for the vulnerable and elderly. Other major hotel chains are in talks with the government about transforming their rooms into temporary NHS hospitals for low-risk patients and NHS workers. Best Western, for instance, has offered the use of 15,000 bedrooms and 1,000 meeting rooms, with some of its hotels already operational.

Is there a frontline worker you’d like to nominate for some much-deserved R&R once the crisis allows? Give a shout out to Simpson Travel, which is offering 10 free trips to NHS staff and care workers (to be taken in 2021). The operator is just one of several tourism firms, including the likes of CoolStays and Sawday’s, offering post-lockdown travel treats for health workers and taking part in online campaigns as #treatourNHS and #MyTravelPledge.

There’s never been a better time to share the love — or a good news story — so if you’ve heard of a crisis-supporting project spearheaded by travel and tourism workers, let us know.

Share your stories and #stayinspired.

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