By Charlotte Flach
With the UK emerging tentatively from months of restrictions, island destinations near and far offer an attractive option for those that still want to keep their distance.
Drop in the ocean
Safety is a key consideration for post-pandemic travel when clients are choosing a holiday destination, explains Zeenat Gangee, Tourism Promotion Manager for Mauritius, with islands in particular proving popular because they are typically less crowded than mainland destinations.
“People in the long-haul market have spent endless lockdowns in urban areas and have been looking forward to a getaway experience surrounded by nature in a safe environment,” she says.
This perception of safety might be primarily because islands are more remote, adds Peter Brennan, CEO of tour operator Escape to Greece. Several Greek islands “have been able to contain cases of Covid much better than mainland resorts, both within the local population as well as visiting tourists,” he explains.
Many destinations are keen to welcome back UK travellers, even if they aren’t yet on the Government’s ‘green list’.
“The UK is our main market, with which we have a great affinity. We are prepared and ready to welcome visitors for a safe and enjoyable stay,” says José Juan Lorenzo, Managing Director of Tourism of The Canary Islands.
Greek operators also have high hopes for reopening, says Brennan.
“All of our Greek islands are ready and open for tourism. Greece was one of the only European countries to have successfully operated holidays for pretty much the whole season during the summer of 2020.”
Although many islands in the Indian Ocean remain on the banned list of destinations, they are gearing up for a return to tourism, with Mauritius seeing increased interest for later in the year.
Says Gangee: “Our message for reopening will be one of safety and quality that will instil confidence among travellers.”
Most Caribbean destinations remain on the amber list but islands such as Dominica are expecting to move to the green list in the coming weeks - the island has recorded no deaths and there are currently no cases of Covid either.
Clients that have been vaccinated will be able to enter Malta from June 1 without the need for a test.
Non-vaccinated travellers can enter but must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel.
It’s not just long-haul islands seeing increased interest, with the UK market continuing to be on clients’ radars.
“We’ve seen strong interest in Jersey, with the Visit Jersey website reporting a 35% uplift in UK traffic on just one weekend following the border reopening announcement,” explains Amanda Burns, CEO at Visit Jersey.
CityFlyer, Loganair and Jet2.com will all operate additional flights to Jersey this summer.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica is seeing forward bookings for autumn selling well and winter 21/22 is also looking promising.
The tourist board believes this may in part be due to its support of agents.
“The trade sales team for JTB London devised various fun and informative initiatives to ensure agents received destination updates in an engaging format, with videos and webinars on the Jamaica Rewards portal, as well as virtual FAM trips,” says Torrance Lewis, District Sales Manager, Jamaica Tourist Board London.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are launching new routes to Montego Bay, from Gatwick and Heathrow respectively.
Malta’s tourism board has also been supporting UK agents with its ‘Feel Free Again’ campaign.
“We’re always looking for new ways to support our trade partners and we are incorporating travel agents into our advertising plans throughout 2021,” says Tolene Van Der Merwe, Director UK & Ireland of Malta Tourism.
“We have deliberately chosen a broad range of the types of travel agents we work with, including the self-employed and smaller agencies.”
Malta is ready to welcome back travellers with two newly-awarded Michellin starred restaurants, bringing the total on the island to five.
“We have also seen the opening of new hotels including the Hyatt Regency, and Mercure has opened its first hotel in Malta,” says Van Der Merwe.
Agents keen to promote island destinations to clients should emphasise their low rates of the coronavirus.
The Canary Islands remained open throughout 2020, except for a short period at the height of the pandemic,” says Yaiza Castilla Herrera, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce in the Government of the Canary Islands. “Being an island destination has helped us to control the virus.”
Clients keen to island hop can also take advantage of the daily connections between the different islands by plane and boat, she adds.
For more obscure locations, travellers can visit one of the Canaries’ ‘secret islands’ such as La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.
The Balearics have also seen very low Covid rates and are committed to boosting traveller confidence through a ‘tourism reactivation plan’, says Rosana Morillo, Tourism Director of the Balearic Islands.
“This includes a number of guides aimed at reducing the spread of Covid.
“Additionally, we know that the cost of PCR testing is a barrier for many people so we have passed a law to cap the costs with a maximum price of €75 and €30 for an antigen test,” she adds.
Flexible booking policies are a strong selling point for the Greek islands, says Escape to Greece’s Brennan.
“Most hotels offer flexible rates where you can cancel free of charge up to two weeks in advance so a client’s booking risk is mitigated.”
For clients seeking a more authentic Greek island experience, he recommends Paros, Naxos, Tinos, Sifnos and Andros.
“We are finding that those islands not served by flights from the UK are increasing in popularity.”