Daniel Reilly always wanted to work in the tourism industry; it was always at the back of his mind during his five years with the Merseyside Police Force. In fact, he combined his time on the beat with running a flight-only operation with a business partner and the support of a leading UK tour operator. However, in 2010, Daniel reached the conclusion that he had gained enough experience to go it alone.
“I’d done all the ground work, set up the business with my business partner and it was operating extremely well. So, much to the surprise of my bosses in the police force, I decided to take a leap of faith and quit in order to go it alone in the travel business.
“We had always been operating low-cost flights down to Spain, in particular Majorca, so in 2011 I started planning my business strategy, and in 2013 our first flights to Palma and Alicante took off from Humberside. Initially, I was still working with the support of a leading tour operator, but in 2015 I decided to make the next move and go it alone and launched JetsGo Holidays. In 2016, my very own first flight to Palma took off from Manchester and we were operating from June until the end of October with great success.
“But the trouble was that the competition in the low-cost airline industry out of Manchester was immense. I was up against easyJet, Ryanair and Jet2, for example, and there was no way I could afford to undercut their prices and make a profit, so I decided to relocate operations and began flying out of Belfast in 2017.
“At first, I think people were a bit sceptical about the new airline and tour operator, but as soon as people started travelling with us and telling friends and families what a great time they had, bookings soared and the Belfast service has become extremely popular. We also operate out of Teesside and Inverness, the latter of which has proved popular. We are the only tour operator flying into Spain out of the Highlands and this means that people living in the Inverness catchment area don’t have to drive the best part of three hours to either Edinburgh of Glasgow to catch a flight.
“We witnessed a 50 per cent increase in sales during our first year out of Inverness and despite the pandemic, we are going to be operating out of both Inverness and Teesside as soon as we get the green light to fly. We’ve decided to ground the Belfast service this year, but unlike other tour operators, we’ve offered clients the opportunity to take their holiday next year at no extra charge, and to date, the take-up has been 99 per cent."
However, the demand for holidays and flights with JetsGo Holidays just evaporated overnight when the pandemic broke out, Daniel explained. “We could see it coming and then all of the sudden it was like someone turned the tap off. The phones died as did bookings within the first 24 hours of lockdown.
“All traffic on social media and our other digital platforms just came to a grinding halt as the reality set in, and that goes for the travel industry in the UK as a whole. So the past few months has been admin and talking to customers. And the biggest challenge we all face in the industry is boosting consumer confidence.
“The British government has done such a great job at scaring everyone. It’s now going to have to invest twice as much effort in convincing the general public it is safe to travel. I was, am, a great fan of Boris (Johnson), he did a great job over Brexit, but he seems to be a shadow of his former self and he’s surrounded by people with no idea or experience. He’s got backbenchers like William Hague and David Davis who have both been very vocal and talk a lot of sense, but neither Boris nor his cabinet will listen and we’ve passed the point of control in the UK. It’s time for someone to get a grip on the situation, in particular the tourist industry; it’s taking a massive hit both domestically and internationally, and the general public are in a panic and confused.
“Every day it’s a different message. There’s no clarity so people are either holding fire, waiting to book a summer holiday or have given up on going abroad at all this year. Like I said, from our experience in Belfast, the vast majority of customers have opted for next year. The fear factor is massive and that’s down to the government’s management of the pandemic. They haven’t either looked or learnt from the rest of Europe. I spend the winters in the UK and have a lot of friends in business and they’re all saying the same - it’s like because they’re British, they know best. Well, the government is on the verge of bringing the travel industry to its knees.
“Apart from lifting quarantine and getting Britain flying, it also needs to start looking at the bigger picture. Yes we’ve got the virus, but we’ve had it for the past three months and it’s allegedly being dealt with. So, what about business in general? Friends of mine who run their own businesses and are in furlough have told me that as soon as the new normal starts in the UK they are going to have to lay people off because the demand is not going to be there. So, people will be losing income, maybe their homes, and they will not be travelling at any time in the short term.
“But those who are planning on travelling need information. They need to know what to expect in their chosen destination, they need assurances that everything is under control, like it is here in Majorca, and that the authorities are taking all the correct measures and action to ensure the safety and security of tourists.
“That is what we’ve been busy doing in preparation for when we’re allowed to resume operations, but it is something the government should be doing in general: giving the public assurances that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that it will be safe to have a summer holiday. How long or short the season is going to be remains to be seen and, as always, we’ve got the chicken and egg situation of no hotels open/no flights, which could sadly mean a short season. If I could, I would be operating until Christmas in Majorca. I think this October could be the boom month, it’s the next time the kids are off school and it’s still a great time of year to come to Majorca, so too is November. Ok, it’s a bit cooler and there might be the odd drop of rain, but the weather is miles better than in the UK; so fingers crossed for a longer season.”