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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Angry tour firms slam holiday scare tacticsabout 13 hours ago
Travel companies reacted in fury at warnings from Government that it is far too early to consider booking summer holidays. AITO, which represents over 100 specialist tour operators, accused Ministers of scaring people unnecessarily, arguing its customers – many over 50 – knew vaccination was on the way and understood they would still need to exercise caution.
The association’s patience snapped following the latest warning yesterday. Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was far too soon to speculate about future border restricitons and “whether people should be booking a holiday”. It came amid reports that tough new measures -such as closing the UK border and isolating arriving travellers in hotels – could be taken to prevent new coronavirus variants entering the country. Government concerns may have been prompted partly by travel industry claims that bookings have surged as millions are vaccinated.
Derek Moore, AITO’s deputy chair, urged Ministers to “think before they speak” instead of causing damage through “daft, off the cuff remarks” such as “I certainly wouldn’t book a holiday now”. And he called for affordable, coordinated testing centres to replace quarantine
He said: "At present, vaccination is well underway and seems to be very successful. What Ministers have said today didn’t take that into account. Our customers seem to understand better than Ministers; our customers -many over 50 – know that they will soon be vaccinated for self-protection. Our customers understand that remembering “face, space and hands” and the wearing of face masks whenever in public will need to continue, whether they are at home or abroad on holiday, and they accept, can cope with that. Having been cooped up at home for months, unable to meet family and friends, they want something to plan and to look forward to – a decent holiday is an essential this year, for our customers and for the survival of the entire travel industry.
“Government needs to make it crystal clear that the new measures talked about today will be reviewed – that they are not set in stone. People planning on travelling from June onwards will now think, incorrectly, that they will be subject to these latest restrictions. But, by June, a huge proportion of the UK population will have been vaccinated. Why frighten people and put them off booking holidays totally unnecessarily?”
Mr Moore pleaded with Ministers to remember holidays were important to mental health as well as the economy. " Yes, holidays must be safe too, of course – but, with vaccination, testing, the wearing of face masks and the constant mantra of face, space and hands, that is perfectly achievable. Panic and fear is certainly not the way forward."
Few Brits expect normal summer hols1 day ago
Despite reports from the travel industry of soaring bookings and pent up demand, a new YouGov survey has found few Britons are confident of getting “a normal summer holiday abroad this year”. Only nine per cent said they were, while nearly three quarters (74%) said they were not. The remaining 17% didn’t know. The results raise the possibility that many people are prepared to fly in the face of abnormality. Earlier this week budget airline easyJet reported its bookings up by 250% on the same time last year. And yesterday Jet2 and its package holiday arm announced it was further expanding its summer programme with the addition of “thousands of additional seats” from Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Stansted. The move including new flights to Malaga and Larnaca from Birmingham and to the French Atlantic port of La Rochelle from Bristol.
Clifftop hotel to open in Algarve1 day ago
The international W hotel brand is to make its debut in Portugal with the much delayed opening of a property in the Algarve. Scheduled to welcome its first guests this spring the hotel overlooks the Atlantic from cliffs just outside Albufeira, with its old centre and lively nightlife. It promises 134 rooms and suites and 83 residences, all with ocean views and spacious balconies. Some suites will have rooftop terraces with private plunge pools. There will also be larger outdoor pools. The hotel will incorporate a fitness centre and a spa with seven treatment rooms. Dining options will include regional Portuguese and Italian cooking.
Saga says customers must be vaccinated3 days ago
Over-50s specialist Saga will require all its customers to have been vaccinated at least 14 days before departure. To give them more time to receive the necessary double dose it has delayed the planned restart of its holiday operations from April to May. Its escorted tours, hotel breaks and river cruises will begin on 1 May. The first of its ocean cruises will sail on 4 May, as previously intended.
A spokesperson said: " “The health and safety of our customers has always been our number one priority at Saga, so we have taken the decision to require everyone travelling with us to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Our customers want the reassurance of the vaccine and to know others travelling with them will be vaccinated too. To allow our customers time to get vaccinated, we are moving the restart date for our travel businesses to May. Our new vaccination policy will be in addition to the detailed arrangements we have already put in place for when cruises and other holidays restart.”
Cruises: Norwegian lines extend suspensions3 days ago
Norwegian Cruise Line has joined the list of operators extending the suspension of all sailings. As the pandemic rages on it has now delayed the restart of voyages until 30 April. The move also applies to two other Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ two other brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Customers affected were advised to contact their travel agents or the cruise lines themselves. The company said it will “continue to work in tandem with global government and public health authorities and its Healthy Sail Panel expert advisors to take all necessary measures to protect its guests, crew and the communities visited”.
Jabs key to summer travel surge4 days ago
If easyJet’s summer bookings claim is anything to go by, travellers are ignoring Dominic Raab’s warning that it is too early to book foreign holidays abroad. The budget airline says they are up by 250% on this time last year. Chief executive Johan Lundgren told the BBC May was currently proving the most popular month for getaways. ""We know there is pent up demand – we have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed – and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,“.” By then most silver travellers should have had their second dose of vaccine and will be raring to go. Mr Lundgren said vaccination programmes here and across the Channel were “undoubtedly the key to unlocking travel again”. However, much will still depend on the extent to which destinations have the virus under control, assessments of the risk people who have been vaccinated might still pass on the infection, and the lifting of the current requirement that travellers arriving in the UK must show evidence of negative tests taken 72 hours previously.
Skiers' hope springs eternal4 days ago
Almost half (49%) of the UK’s skiers are still clinging to the hope that they may hit the slopes this season despite huge uncertainty over the pandemic, new research suggests. And 64% have already booked holidays, according to the latest survey from the Ski Club of Great Britain. But 36% will leave booking until the week before departure, indicating a likely scramble for accommodation if travel does take off again.
The club originally sent the survey in December but decided to resend it this month in light of new restrictions. In the meantime the number still planning to get away dropped by ten percentage points. Just under one in three (32%) said they had no intention of skiing this season, while the 19% who were undecided said vaccination would be their highest priority.
Teesside to get new Heathrow flights5 days ago
Travellers in the northeast of England are to get a new air link with London, opening the way for connections to the wider world. Scottish airline Loganair has confirmed plans to launch services between Teesside International Airport and Heathrow. It has interline agreements with airlines including British Airways, KLM, Air France, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines and Qatar Airways which will allow passengers to make one booking to a huge range of international destinations. The airport is between Middlesbrough and Darlington. From 8 March the airline will operate two round trips a day from Monday to Friday with one on Sundays. And starting on 28 March it will fly once on Saturdays and twice on Sundays. Weekday flights to London will depart at 6.50am and 5.55pm, returning from Heathrow at 8.50am and 7.50pm.
Shearings' new refund promise5 days ago
Coach holiday specialist Shearings is to place advance payments by customers in a trust account, promising them their money will not be touched until they return from their trips. The move follows controversy over delays in refunds during the pandemic. Tour operators have complained that they had themselves paid in advance for flight tickets but that airlines had declined to return those payments. This has led to suggestions that all holiday payments should be similarly protected. However operators have protested that this would raise their costs. And it is common knowledge in the industry says some of those using trust funds have used them to pay suppliers in any case.
Shearings has long been popular with visitors to this website. After its parent company was forced in administration by the COVID-19 crisis the brand was rescued last June by Leger Holidays – another leading coach holiday operator. Leger acquired its name, website and customer base for an undisclosed sum. Its customers were formerly protected under a Confederation of Passenger Transport scheme. Its new owners are adamant that its customers will be “100% covered for every penny they spend on their holidays”. The money will be held by PTT Trustees, who are approved by the Civil Aviation Authority as part of its ATOL financial protection umbrella for air package holidaymakers.
Liam Race, commercial manager for Shearings and Leger, said: "In the current environment we want Shearings’ customers to be confident that if for any reason our tours do not go ahead, for example due to tier restrictions or lockdowns, then the customer can choose a refund, which they will receive within seven days. Travel Agents can assure customers that Shearings has chosen the most robust financial protection for their holiday payments. By switching to a Secure Trust Account we cannot touch our customers’ money until after their holiday – we can’t use it, for example, to prepay suppliers.
Rotherham based Leger will not take the same route, however. It’s land only holidays are bonded through ABTA, while those incorporating flights are covered under ATOL scheme. Mr Race said its participation in both schemes was renewed at the start of October, before the Shearings move was decided. It will be reviewed before renewal s again due this autumn.
All travel corridors now shut off8 days ago
All travel corridors are to be closed from 4am on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this afternoon. This means means all passengers coming by air and sea will have to take a test within 72 hours of arriving, followed by 10 days of self isolation – and not just those from countries off the corridor list. The quarantine period can be cut to five days if the traveller pays privately for another test. The move t comes amid concern about new variants of the COVID-19 virus and follows the ban on visitors from 14 South American countries – plus Portugal and Cape Verde – which came into force this morning. It spells more grim news for the travel industry with no indication of when the new restrictions might be eased.
South American travel plans hit8 days ago
The emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in Brazil threatens to scupper any hopes of South American holidays raised by the vaccination roll out. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has banned arrivals from 14 countries there. Apart from Brazil itself the ban, which came into force at 4am today, applies to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Arrivals from Cape Verde are also banned and – with an exemption for hauliers – travel from Portugal has been suspended. Mr Shapps said the measure excluded British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residence rights – but they must self isolate for ten days after arriving. With no information on the likely duration of the ban the move will limit options for silver travellers now being vaccinated and hoping to make up for lost time with a major long haul trip this year
Norwegian abandons long haul flying9 days ago
Low cost airline Norwegian has finally thrown in the towel and axed its long haul services. The move means the end of its transatlantic flights from Gatwick with the expected loss of over 1000 jobs. Its entire Boeing 7887 Dreamliner fleet has been ground throughout the pandemic. Norwegian will now concentrate on its European route network, creating a quandary for passengers who had accepted loyalty points to be used against future long haul flights and raising the question whether they will be obliged to cash them in for trips closer to home.
Norwegian had been struggling for some time before the onset of COVID-19. But before the pandemic took hold its seemed the airline might survive. Now it has joined the dismal procession of carriers which have tried – and failed – to make an economic success of low cost, long haul travel. Expert observers have noted in the past, that fact that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary – perhaps the shrewdest of operators – has never entered the fray.
The airline’s CEO Jacob Schramm said customers with bookings affected by the changes would be contacted and refunded". The company’s aim was to operate around 50 narrow bodied aircraft this year and up that to some 70 in 2022, while reducing its debt and raising fresh capital. " Future demand remains highly uncertain. Under these circumstances a long haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will not continue."
Vaccination sparks silver traveller booking surge9 days ago
Vaccination is prompting a surge of holiday bookings by the over-50s, reports from the travel industry suggest. The Government’s promise that all over-70s wil have received the jab by mid-February has clearly stirred a new feeling of confidence. The news backs up Saga’s prediction, reported here earlier this week, that silver travellers would be first to take off as the danger of infection recedes.
Among the beneficiaries is coach operator National Express. Its package holiday division, which includes Lucketts Travel and Woods Tours, has seen a 185% increase in spring and summer bookings compared with pre-COVID business. Jit Desai, its head of holidays and travel, says the vast majority of spring and summer bookings so far have been for UK trips, as uncertainty remains over travel across the Channel and the need to quarantine. However “98% of our customer base is over 65 and we’ve seen an increased appetite for travel in the last week or two with an uplift in enquiries and bookings every time there’s been an announcement about new vaccine approvals and the roll out programme. Some of this is postponed travel carried over from last year. But there’s definitely a trend of customers being comfortable that they will have had their vaccination and be protected from Spring onwards, so can start to make travel plans. Some are telling us that they’ve already had their jab and can’t wait to go on holiday once guidance allows again.”
“Many we’ve spoken to have had the first jab. They know in 12 weeks they’ll get a second jab. It gives them certainty that they can enjoy and look forward to their 2021 holiday. It is something to look forward to, to being with people, with friends, like minded and from the same generation.”
“We launched the brochure for spring-summer 2021 just this weekend gone, and on Monday we took a week’s worth of bookings in a day and that’s continued so far. What the vaccine does is give certainty and confidence. That then allows the customer and ourselves the ability to plan ahead.”
And since the end of last year 50% of online bookings taken by leading tour operator TUI UK were from over-50s – a higher than usual proportion. Managing director Andrew Flintham said the company assumed this was “on the back of the vaccine news”. One trend TUI has noticed is a rise of multigenerational bookings, after months in which families have often been separated by restrictions. But customers still appear to be cautious, tending to book for mid to late summer and early autumn, when vaccination should have reached the majority of the population.
Meanwhile Kerry Golds, managing director of luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent, said: “We’ve seen enquiries from the over-50 bracket double week on week. Africa, Europe, Egypt and Indian Ocean have been fueling the demand.”
New test rule raises questions for travellers9 days ago
Further questions over the revival of travel abroad were raised today by the imminent requirement that people arriving in the UK must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 72 hours. The rule, now scheduled to take effect from 4am on Monday (18) January), will apply whether or not the country they travel from is on the Governments travel corridor list.
The first question was: how long will the requirement remain in place? While there was clearly no immediate answer to that it was equally obvious that holiday bookings would be hard to come until there was news it would be lifted. Airlines immediately demanded it should be a short term, emergency measure. An additional concern, should rule linger on as travel picks up, was how easy it would be for holiday travellers to get tests before returning.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry organisation Airlines UK, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open. However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery. This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad. Ultimately, cheaper and quicker testing is required to ensure travel can be accessible while testing is required but then needs to be unwound once vaccinations and the overall threat of Covid recedes.”
Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, said: “We have long been an advocate of pre-departure testing and today’s Government announcement brings us in line with many other countries and closer to having a consistent, internationally coordinated pre-departure testing regime. When current lockdown restrictions are eased, and infection rates decrease, pre-departure testing could ultimately encourage frequent international travel to restart by eliminating the need for arriving passengers to quarantine. It remains important however that any tests are affordable for passengers and that these arrangements are temporary and are withdrawn at the earliest opportunity when public health conditions permit.”
Cruise suspensions extended9 days ago
Cruise lines under the Royal Caribbean group umbrella have announced a further suspension of of some sailings as the pandemic rages on. Celebrity will not operate until 30 April. Its transatlantic crossing by Celebrity Apex, departing on 1 May has been axed. And European and transatlantic sailings by Celebrity Edge and Constellation have also been suspended. Silversea and Azamara have suspended itineraries until 1 and 30 April respectively and Royal Caribbean will wait to operate most ships again until 30 April until 30 April at the earliest – though its ship Quantum of the Seas is an exception. It resumed sailing from Singapore last month after satisfying the authorities there that its three and four night cruises met comprehensive health and safety requirements.
Over-50s will be "first to travel" says Saga boss10 days ago
Silver travellers will be the first to take off on holiday again, predicts Chris Simmonds, chief executive of over-50s specialist Saga Holidays. “Older customers were the first hit but they will be the first to get the vaccinations; there is a sense of optimism”, he told trade publication Travel Weekly in an interview. They were “hungry to travel”, were adventurous and were thinking about spoiling themselves – with destinations sauch as Uzbekistan on their radar. He was speaking as the operator launched its 2021-22 range of holidays in Europe, the UK and Ireland and further afield. They include a new tour following the Great Migration of East Africa’s wildlife through Tanzania and Kenya and another tracking gorillas in Uganda. And Saga’s river cruise portfolio includes the inaugural season for Spirit of the Rhine – its first ship purpose built for such itineraries. The earliest departures are scheduled for this spring but much will clearly hang on the extent to which the immunisation programme has been carried out.
Meanwhile a survey by commissioned by hotel group Wyndham’s loyalty scheme suggested travel by car was the preferred mode of holiday transport for 64% of UK consumers, against 31% who were ready to fly again. Staycations remain top choice, with 44% expressing a desire to visit familiar haunts and 39% hoping to explore somewhere new in the UK. But the survey, which was conducted in November, before the latest lockdown, showed 37% of those questioned were unsure when they should start planning this year’s breaks.
Jet2 suspends flights, holidays until late March11 days ago
Continuing uncertainty and travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have persuaded leisure airline Jet2 and its holiday arm to suspend departures until 25 March. The news followed an announcement that it would launch new services and packages to Lisbon from Manchester and Birmingham later this year. Today’s drastic move effectively wipes out its winter season. A spokesperson said: “Where customers yet to travel are affected by any programme changes, our approach to providing smooth and speedy refunds has been widely praised by independent travel agents, and we will be automatically cancelling affected bookings with a relevant refund. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have always respected that customers should receive their money back if we have not provided their flight or holiday.”
Meanwhile late summer and Autumn services to Lisbon from Manchester will operate between 3 September and 29 October on Mondays and Fridays. Then, through the winter, they will depart between 4 November and 24 March – on Thursdays and Sundays. Birmingham flights will operate from 30 September until 28 October on Thursdays and Sundays, then on Mondays and Fridays between 1 November and 25 March. With many holiday travellers nervous about making commitments until vaccinations have a significant impact on the COVID crisis, the company is also taking bookings for departures in summer 2022, when it plans to fly twice a week to the Portuguese airport from both airports.
Club Med plans December Quebec ski debut12 days ago
Quebec’s Le Massif de Charlevoix, a superb ski area little known outside Canada, is scheduled to get a major boost this year with the launch of a new Club Med resort. The all inclusive development – with 302 rooms and 25 suites – was originally due to have opened in time for the current season. Now it is expected to welcome its first guests in December, remaining open year round. It will have immediate access to the slopes. Which plunge down towards the St Lawrence river about 90 minutes’ drive from Quebec City airport. The resort will have a 75ft long heated swimming pool an outdoor Jacuzzi and hammam, and what is billed “an a la carte well-being experience inspired by Nordic spas, including a terrace with warm and cold baths, a sauna with a panoramic river view, massages and treatments and a charming snow fountain.” The ski area claims the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies. It was opened in 2002 by Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil.
Ski holiday hopes dwindle15 days ago
Hopes of rescuing a significant chunk of the ski season further receded today as a chalet holiday operator threw in the towel for the entire winter. Huddersfield based Le Ski said: “There are simply too many obstacles to operating our usual high quality catered chalet holidays this winter so we are skipping a season.”
The firm is contacting customers in departure date order to discuss their options. It will and are operate the same 32 chalets in the French resorts of Courchevel, Val d’Isère and La Tania – with London and Manchester flights and transfers – next winter." Managing director Nick Morgan said: "Nick Morgan, MD, said “For the first time in 38 years Le Ski will not take any guests to the Alps this winter. While this is sad, we felt we had no choice but to display some certainty and clarity for our guests, staff and suppliers. The vast majority of our amazingly loyal guests are happily deferring to next winter, which is already looking busier than ever. We are immensely grateful to our guests and chalet owners for their understanding, which enables Le Ski to remain a strong company.”
French ski resorts had been hoping to reopen yesterday but Prime Minister Jean Castex suggested today that with hospitals still under pressure they might not even begin operating in time for the busy “vacances de neige”, the staggered school holiday period in February when the slopes are particularly busy". It was reported that a decision could be made on 20 January. It is not just the infection rate that is likely to be considered, but also the steady trickle of injured skiers and snowboarders occupying hospital time and space.
Earlier three UK tour operators further suspended departures for the slopes and reports from Paris indicated French resorts would remain closed. Inghams, Ski Total and Flexiski – all part of Hotelplan UK – have now suspended their holidays until after 27 February. Parent company CEO Joe Ponte said: “Again, we are extremely disappointed for all of our customers impacted by this news. We hope they will choose to join us on an alternative holiday at a later date, but of course we will provide them with a refund if they want one. It’s still not clear when we will able to travel from the UK to European ski destinations, and understandably many people are eager to get back on the slopes. Our customers can remain assured that we are continuing to closely monitor the situation and when it is safe to do so, we will be ready to deliver the ski holidays people want.”
Leading operator Crystal confirmed that the latest restrictions meant it could not operate until after 12 February. In a statement on its website it said: “We’ll be proactively contacting any customers whose holidays are impacted as soon as possible to discuss their options, prioritising those due to travel in the coming weeks. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”
“For all holidays, we’ll be following Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice, monitoring the situation closely and will do everything we can to get you to your destination. If travel restrictions or quarantine requirements remain in place, we’ll be in touch around two weeks before your departure date to offer a range of flexible options.”
Puglia - new E-bike tours launched15 days ago
E-biking through Puglia – or sticking to pure pedal power – has been added to the holiday portfolio of London based tour operator Cycling for Softies. A suggested eight day itinerary with electric powered assistance through the the heel of Italy would include daily rides of 31 to 43 miles, taking in towns including Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 1000 of the regions characteristic trulli houses, hilltop Ostuni, with its 15th century cathedral and Lecce, whose rich Baroque architecture have earned it the nickname “Florence of the South”. New E-biking tours of northern Sardinia and Sussex are also on offer. Holidays come with bike rental, GPS and luggage transfer. Durations are flexible but the tour only price of a seven night trip by E-bike in Puglia, for example, starts at £1535 a head – with a £150 Berry Bros and Rudd wine voucher thrown in with bookings by the end of January.