An extraordinary week in travel, recapped
By Laura Gelder – July 2020 – 5 minute read
The last week has been a roller-coaster ride for the travel industry, with highs, lows and some confusing twists and turns too. We take a look back at the week that was.
A green light was given
Last Friday, July 3, after much speculation and delays, the government announced that the blanket ban on all non-essential travel from the Foreign Office would be dropped the next day and the 14-day quarantine-on-arrival rule would be relaxed from July 10. It then finally released the list of destinations which are officially ‘low-risk’ for COVID-19, below:
Antigua and Barbuda
Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Pierre and Miquelon
Trinidad and Tobago
The 14 British Overseas Territories are also exempt - great news for many Caribbean destinations, including Anguilla, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Notable exceptions on the list included Canada, the U.S., Sweden, Portugal, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The big 'but'
The Department of Transport’s list (above) plus 14 British Overseas Territories, which, if visited will not require quarantine on arrival back in the UK, was largely welcomed but it was also criticised for being confusing. Why? Because it’s at odds with another set of government advice - the FCO's, and doesn't take into consideration the fact that about half the countries and territories on the list have their own restrictions in place which affect UK visitors.
For instance, New Zealand has barred almost all foreign visitors for the foreseeable future, Australia requires an exemption visa if arriving Brits are not a resident or a citizen and South Korea has a 14-day quarantine on arrival policy. In Europe, Austria requires Brits to self-isolate unless they have a recent medical certificate or negative test for COVID-19 on arrival, visitors to Iceland can either choose to pay for a test or go into quarantine on arrival and anyone who has been in the UK for the last 14 days is not allowed to enter Cyprus.
What does it mean? Well, effectively there are only around 25 countries which are truly viable for a holiday in the near future, although the list of 59 is due to be revised on July 27.
Popular countries which really do have the green light for travel from both parties include Spain, Italy, France, Croatia, Greece (from July 15), Malta, Turkey, Germany and Denmark.
But wait! Adding further uncertainly, the devolved governments opted out of accepting the central government’s list at face value and on July 8 the Scottish government announced that Spain and Serbia would not be on its own safe list. However, Wales announced on July 9 that it would follow England's list.
Criticism and confusion
The Scottish Passengers' Agents Association said the news that Spain was not on Scotland's safe list was 'very disappointing'. SPAA President Joanne Dooey said: "The announcement would have been better for the travel industry if a regional approach had been taken to Spain rather than the blanket ban we're been given," referring to the fact that the Balearic and Canary Islands were included in the ban.
She added: "The travel industry depends on flight routes. Without a consistent flow of passengers, airlines and travel company may decide that it is not worth them having a flight route to and from Scotland. This is the height of the Scottish Holiday season and once we lose flight routes, we are looking at significant loss of jobs and serious detriment to the Scottish economy."
Destinations weighed in on the government advice too, in particular Portugal which released a statement expressing its disappointment at being off the list, probably due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in its capital Lisbon. An official statement issued by Luis Araújo, President of Turismo de Portugal, began: "The reality in Portugal is totally different from the one portrayed by this decision. Since the beginning of May the number of hospitalisations in intensive care units has halved, overall hospitalisation is down 60%, deaths down 70%, and active cases at just 13,060 for the entire nation."
The statement pointed out how Portugal become the first European destination to receive the ‘Travel Safe’ stamp by the WTTC and has the 6th highest number of people that have been tested and traced in Europe. It also criticised the fact that the Azores (which has had only three cases) and Madeira (which has had no deaths at all) are banned too. Araújo said: "We have to remain completely honest when voicing our bewilderment at such a decision and confusing message."
Good and bad news
On July 8, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures to boost the economy, including slashing VAT for hospitality and tourism businesses in the UK. The new scheme will see VAT be reduced to 5% from 20% for eateries, accommodation providers and attractions like theatres and theme parks for six months starting from July 15.
An ABTA spokesperson said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement, as it is good news for domestic tourism. However, the lack of backing for outbound tourism represents a missed opportunity, as this is a sector that directly provides 220,000 jobs right across the UK and is in urgent need of tailored support. We shall continue to press for additional support measures for the travel and tourism industry in the coming weeks.”
Sadly it's already too late for Funway Holidays, which announced on July 7 that it would cease trading due to the impact of COVID-19 on its business. The business employs less than 50 people and will close on 30 September after 27 years of trading. All bookings departing on or after Setemmber 1 are now cancelled.
Cruise receives a blow
On July 9 the government released a seperate statement advising against all cruise ship travel - effectively hardening its previous advice, which only excluded the over 70s from cruising.
A government statement said: “This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England. The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.”
The FCO said it "continues to support the Department for Transport’s work with industry for the resumption of international cruise travel.”
A CLIA UK and Ireland spokeperson said: “We have noted the advisory issued today. The health and safety of guests and crew is an absolute priority for our member lines. Since the voluntary suspension of operations, we have been working collaboratively with the government on the road map to resumption involving a ‘door to door’ strategy – from the time of booking through to the passengers’ return home – with enhanced health protocols. We look forward to completing this planning exercise with government and for the advice to be updated.”
That was the week that was.