Stuart Forster interviews Peter Rosenfeld about starting up TravSafe to supply packs of PPE for travel.
The global coronavirus pandemic has resulted in illness, deaths and widespread changes to life. Until recently, many people used the acronym PPE to refer to Philosophy, Politics and Economics degrees. Fast forward a few weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown and, to most people in the United Kingdom, PPE stands for personal protective equipment.
Restrictions on travel and the lockdown to slow COVID-19’s transmission resulted in the halting of tourism in the United Kingdom.
COVID-19’s impact on travel
One of the businesses affected is BusyBus, a company specialising in the day-tour, adventure sightseeing market in England’s north-west. The company’s final pre-lockdown tour was on 20 March.
“As soon as coronavirus struck, the problem was clearly going to be social distancing in an enclosed environment and how we were going to get people onto our vehicles and into a confined space,” says Peter Rosenfeld, BusyBus’s founder and managing director.
“It dawned on us that this social distancing issue would probably never be solved in the transport industry…on a 50-seater coach, if you were to have two-metre social distancing you would only be able to carry eight passengers. If you were to have one-metre social distancing, we could get up to about 20 passengers,” he explains.
A bumper year for tourism?
“We were teed up for a record year. A brand-new £75,000 vehicle had arrived on the first of March. It hadn’t even moved. The remaining seven vehicles that we own were ready for the boom year. We’d employed a new, full-time sales and marketing manager. We’d taken delivery of half-a-million leaflets the week before and we were excited. We also had the biggest bank balance we’ve ever seen in the history of the business,” says Rosenfeld.
The first obvious signs of change were on 21 March. Rosenfeld’s phone began to ping. Each ping was refund request: “My phone pinged so many times, I could actually hum a tune to it…I’ve never seen anything like it. It continued for the next two weeks.”
BusyBus issued refunds totalling more than £100,000.
“We offered our entire fleet to the National Health Service, free-of-charge as essential transport for health workers,” says Rosenfeld, but was not taken up on that offer.
By the end of March all of the BusyBus vehicles were off the road and staff members furloughed.
A new business opportunity
“After two weeks I became incredibly bored. My entrepreneurial spirit, which hasn’t been lit for 10 to 15 years, was lit,” explains Rosenfeld. “The last thing I wanted to do in life was start a new business. I was actually looking to exit BusyBus and had buyers lined-up.”
“Then this idea of bundling dawned on me…we could provide PPE to our passengers in a simple way, bundling everything together that they could possibly need. We’d also give them an induction in how to use it properly,” explains Rosenfeld of the PPE gear.
TravSafe’s single use personal protection travel packs bundle together a face mask, face shield, neoprene gloves, paper handkerchiefs and sterile wipes in packaging that doubles as a waste bag. The items are packed with a leaflet featuring a content declaration and instructions on how to use the PPE gear.
Wearing PPE while travelling
The entrepreneur describes a scenario in which travellers social distance while waiting to board their transport.
“The minibus pulls up at the kerbside and the driver, who is wearing a protective mask, gets off and puts on a protective shield over his face. He then distributes the packs to each of the passengers with his clean hands, wearing gloves at this moment in time. He issues the packs and instructs the passengers clearly on what to do with the packs,” says Rosenfeld.
Though buses would be thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated, passengers would risk assess their seating environment.
“The passenger would open the pack and first put the fresh sterile gloves onto their hands. Then put the face mask on, then the face shield, then to go onto the coach and find where they’re going to be seated. They can then open one of the sanitisers and decontaminate the area around the seat — the handles, storage tray, seat belt and seat belt harnesses. At that point they can remove their gloves and place them back into the bag,” outlines Rosenfeld.
Passengers would continue to wear the face mask over their nose and mouth. Face coverings must be worn on public transport in England. Continuing to wear the face shield would be optional, depending on the perceived risk of fellow passengers.
Prevailing thought is that face shields act as PPE against airborne droplets released when people sneeze and cough.
Ready to trade in 14 days
TravSafe had a website and was ready to trade within 14 days of Rosenfeld having the initial idea.
“Three of the items in the packs were relatively simple to source — the gloves, the handkerchiefs and the wipes. Sourcing the face shields and face masks was tortuous. Face masks had gone from 50 pence each to, in some, cases five pounds each. That became really difficult. We eventually managed to buy 10,000 facemasks at a reasonable cost,” he explains.
He procured equipment and materials to produce face shields but encountered an issue getting public liability insurance. Labelling the shields as PPE resulted in complications.
While looking for insurance, Rosenfeld found a catering company in Manchester able to supply suitable masks and placed an order.
“We’ve got a 3,000 square foot warehouse in Chester, which is pretty much full. We have over 100,000 TravSafe packs,” says the company’s managing director. So far, however, demand has been low.
“We’ve sent out over 400 samples to people in the transport industry. Feedback has been fantastic. People say, ‘we are going to use them but are not going to order them yet because we don’t know when we’re going to go back to work’,” explains Rosenfeld.
TravSafe’s PPE kit
Some people may think it’s unethical to attempt to make money as the result of a public health crisis.
“Like any freestanding entrepreneurial business, we would love to make a profit out of this product. At the moment, we’re making no profit out of the product,” says Rosenfeld.
“A pack costs £4.50. That includes VAT and postage and packaging. Remove that and you’re down to a pack price of around £3.20. We don’t make a profit at those prices. We are looking to develop TravSafe into a company that will supply bundled travel packs such as document storage, key holders and money bags – stuff that the TravSafe name suggests,” he adds.
“We want to do our bit for the coach industry and the travel industry. I want people to have the benefit of what we’re doing. The physical pack provides some practical hardware. The other thing it does is it provide a really reassuring message from an operator that they are taking care of their customers. If you have five tours and one of them is issuing TravSafe packs as part of its health and safety, who are you going to choose? It’s a really powerful, reassuring message that you are being looked after,” asserts Rosenfeld.
There have been public discussions about the efficacy of PPE masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19. In the United Kingdom, it looks as if some form of PPE gear will be required for the foreseeable future while travelling.
The easing of the lockdown in England will see some businesses in the tourism sector reopen on 4 July. BusyBus is among them.
See the TravSafe website for details about its packs of PPE for travel.
Stuart Forster was named Travel Writer of the Decade at the 2020 Netherlands Press Awards. He is based in the north-east of England and available for magazine, newspaper and online commissions.
Governments and people around the world responded to the coronavirus in a variety of ways. Take a look at Go Eat Do’s post on the coronavirus’s global imapct.
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