AS the human tragedy that is the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll, what is becoming ever clearer is that, whatever the strength or otherwise of economic recovery, it will be hugely uneven.

Sadly, those people on low incomes with little in the way of savings, who are or were in insecure employment, look to be among those who will be hit hardest by the current crisis, as has been the case in past downturns such as that triggered by the global financial crisis.

What is also becoming ever more evident by the day is the hugely contrasting fortunes of different sectors of the economy, with the international travel industry facing enormous challenges as countries and their citizens adapt to a most-abnormal situation that looks set to persist. The big hope for this sector, and for tourism and hospitality businesses at home and abroad, is that a reliable vaccine can be found, and quickly, but this remains to be seen.

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Hopes of a “V” shape for the plunge in output arising from the lockdown put in place to save many thousands of lives and the subsequent economic recovery – which were relatively high in those far-off days of early spring – have vanished.

The long-term damage from the huge dislocation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming ever clearer. That said, we must not lose heart for various reasons, one of which is that to do so would be to compound the economic woes.

Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane has this week sounded a positive note on the UK’s economic recovery, amid the gloom.

Mr Haldane told newspaper City A.M. that the “recovery isn’t being given enough credit”. And he declared the economy had “bounced back” in large part because consumers had shown themselves to be “incredibly resilient and adaptive and so too have businesses”.

There have been some other glimmers of hope, including an upbeat trading statement this week from retailer JD Sports, which is focused on training shoes.

Of course, we have read much of the surge in share prices of technology-based companies which have found their services in great demand given the need for remote working amid the pandemic, including Zoom. Some of the more consumer-facing technology businesses, such as online retailers, will not be immune to the chill winds in terms of rising unemployment and fragile consumer confidence. That said, demand for remote shopping amid the pandemic and all of its uncertainties shows no sign of abating, which will assist online retailers.

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Over the summer, what has become ever clearer is the scale of the challenges facing some sectors, which already looked likely to be among the most negatively affected by social distancing, quarantine requirements and all the other changes the pandemic has brought.

Amid a grim year for the tourism sector in Scotland and many other countries, hospitality businesses north of the Border and elsewhere in the UK have received a boost from the Westminster Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. However, that scheme has now ended.

And there have been worrying surveys within the last fortnight which shine the spotlight on what the future might hold for hospitality businesses.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association warned this week that up to one-quarter of the 50,000 jobs in the sector north of the Border could be lost, drawing this estimate from its large-scale survey revealing 45 per cent of business owners do not expect a return to “any sort of normal trading” for pubs and bars until a vaccine is found.

The survey shows 63% of pubs and bars businesses are employing fewer people now than in January, which is a quiet month. Meanwhile, 89% of licensed premises in Scotland are reporting their revenue is down on last year. And 38% are experiencing revenue declines of more than 50%.

This survey followed research published last week by the University of Edinburgh Business School, in collaboration with London-based fintech specialist Wiserfunding, signalling more than one in four tourism and hospitality businesses in Scotland could go bust.

Using Wiserfunding’s modelling and technology, it was found that a “mild stress” scenario – equivalent to the 2008 crash with “some downward adjustments by industry experts” – resulted in 28% of firms defaulting, costing around 58,520 jobs. In a more “severe” situation, assuming a second prolonged lockdown, the level of default rose to 43%, costing around 89,870 jobs. These are grim figures indeed, particularly at a time of elevated worries over the potential need for further lockdowns.

The Scottish hospitality sector is of course very significantly affected by necessary social-distancing requirements. Businesses in this sector have, on the whole, shown remarkable innovation in adapting to the world of the pandemic, and have been impressively fleet of foot in altering their business models.

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However, this has in many cases led to significantly reduced capacity. As we head into the winter, with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme an increasingly distant memory, these businesses will also face the huge challenges of grim unemployment levels and the consequences for consumer confidence and spending, as well as the end of the main tourist season.

For businesses dependent on overseas visitors, including students, at any time of the year, the huge challenges of international travel will continue to weigh heavily.

The international travel sector has also adapted in a huge way to operate in the world of the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines and airports, as well as hotels, working extremely hard on safety protocols.

Huge job losses have and are being seen in this sector, in airlines, airport services companies, travel operators and hotels, and there looks to be worse to come on this front.

We moved quickly from a period in the spring when it looked as if summer holidays in other countries would be firmly off the agenda in Europe to a situation by July where possibilities were opening up fast.

However, the reopening of international leisure travel has proved to be fraught with difficulties, arising in large part from the unpredictable nature of this virus and associated ever-changing quarantine requirements and advice.

For travellers from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, it was only a matter of weeks before the need to quarantine on return from a holiday in Spain was introduced. Since then, a raft of other countries have been put on the quarantine list, including France, Croatia, and the Netherlands, to name just a few. Even holidays to Greece, which has been among the most successful countries in dealing with the pandemic, have fallen into the quarantine requirements.

It is obviously a hugely difficult time for travel sector companies and their employees.

And it is also far from easy for people looking to travel abroad, something that could provide a valuable respite for many in these difficult times.

Things that are normally relatively straightforward have to be studied in minute detail, including travel insurance and what it does and does not cover, as well as the cancellation policies of the companies through which trips are booked.

Then there is the need to watch the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice on a daily basis, and follow specific requirements for devolved nations. Travellers must also be aware of the requirements of countries they are visiting. There are forms to be filled in. And, of course, for many people who cannot work from home, there is the huge issue of lost earnings if there is an unexpected need to quarantine after returning from abroad.

One of the big fears of travellers is a requirement to quarantine in overseas countries if, for example, they have no symptoms of coronavirus but test positive on arrival at a destination or contract the disease when on a flight or when abroad. Further thought needs to go into how reassurance can be provided on this front, perhaps including looking at the practicalities of being tested at the point of origin, although there would still be potential on this basis for someone to contract Covid-19 before their return journey. The risk of such problems is obviously lower when coronavirus is less prevalent, as was the case for a brief spell in many countries during the summer. However, amid fears of a resurgence of the virus, this risk will weigh heavily on people’s minds.

There is, of course, a lesson for travel companies and airlines in all of this. And insurers should offer cover, at a price that reflects risk, rather than favouring blanket exclusions.

Savvy consumers will hopefully favour increasingly those companies which provide the level of assurance they need to book. There will, of course, be limitations to just how much reassurance travel operators can offer, and people will have to make decisions based on their circumstances, but a fair approach will be the key here.

Package holiday giant TUI had an uncharacteristic customer service wobble in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic hitting, and apologised in May over refund delays. It has, however, stood out during the summer as a company that has really gone out of its way to try to provide the reassurance required to get people to travel again.

It has been offering “Covid cover” until the end of the year to augment travel insurance policies, to try to provide greater reassurance to people that they will be looked after when abroad.

TUI’s refund and amendment policies also look relatively flexible in a sector that has seen the rise of purely online providers in recent years. These policies have made TUI’s offerings look attractive relative to those of some online travel booking sites in these turbulent and unpredictable times.

The likes of TUI’s promise of “quarantine-free” holidays, the opportunity to obtain a refund or amendment easily where specified circumstances change, and extra cover while abroad are exactly what is needed if the sector wishes for people to travel sensibly, taking account of the public health restrictions. Airlines, as well as online travel booking sites, should take note. Some airlines have certainly taken steps in the right direction but there is much further to go.

There is undoubtedly strong demand for overseas travel, where it is possible and safe amid the pandemic, but reassurance is crucial.

For travel companies, which have obviously seen a huge financial hit already from the crisis, there will be a cost of providing refunds.

But this would hopefully be outweighed by the benefits of attracting consumers looking increasingly to take the most secure option, rather than book with a company with unaccommodating or inflexible refund policies that might, for example, prove a barrier rather than a bridge between a customer and an airline.

Companies in all sectors which treat consumers fairly in these times, as far as they can given the financial challenges, are the ones that deserve to succeed. And, when the dust hopefully eventually settles and consumers reflect on which companies treated them well and which did not amid the pandemic and tell friends and family, the brand value of the good operators should receive a boost.