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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
New Azores flights on holdabout 11 hours ago
It’s rare to report the arrival of a genuinely obscure destination on the tourist map, Terceira probably qualifies. Before COVID-19 disrupted travel, Ryanair planned to launch flights there from Stansted today. To save you Googling it, Terceira is the second most inhabited island in the Azores. Its principal city, Angra do Heroismo, is one of the archipelago’s three capitals, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Details of what to do there – including hiking routes and whale watching – can be found on the tourist office website, visitazores.com. Ryanair’s service now won’t start until 6 May at the earliest.
Long refund delays threatened if holiday law pushes firm under - ABTA warning3 days ago
Travel companies may not be able to pay all the cash refunds being demanded by customers unable to take their holidays because of the coronavirus crisis. That was the warning from ABTA’s chief executive officer Mark Tanzer in an interview with Travel Weekly editor in chief Lucy Huxley. The warning came with industry representatives still urging the Government to facilitate the issue of credit notes to buy time for hard pressed High Street agents and tour operators. “I completely understand why customers want the money but if the money is not there it can’t be given”. As the law stands, package holiday firms cancelling trips are obliged to provide cash refunds within 14 days. ABTA has been imploring Ministers to extend the maximum delay for payment until the end of July. Mr Tanzer said one sticking point in negotiations was concern that the move could represent a removal of the consumer right to a refund “which it isn’t”. “I think if companies are forced to refund cash they don’t have that will push them towards failure”. And a rash of bankruptcies would itself result in long delays for consumers seeking to get their money back, he said. Mr Tanzer stressed that ABTA’s request applied only to the issue of credit notes clearly linked to the original booking – not vouchers. The notes could be used against holidays when the current travel freeze thaws but refunds would still be available if customers decided later that they could not take the planned trip. Some operators are already issuing them. They are covered by ABTA and the Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL scheme, so consumers will still get their money back even if an agent or tour operator collapses before they can use them. But vouchers are not covered.
Launch of spectacular new hiking route delayed4 days ago
The opening of a spectacular new five day hike in Queensland has been postponed. The extended Scenic Rim Trail had been scheduled to open next Tuesday (1 April). It has been designated one of the Great Walks of Australia, whose spokesperson said that with all interstate and internations borders closed there was little choice but to delay the launch. The trail is among the state’s biggest eco-tourism projects, taking in volcanic plateaus and UNESCO World Heritage listed Gondwana rainforests. It is not far from Brisbane. When the operation is up and running, guided walking and luxury accommodation – in cabins and one mountain top house and cottage – will be provided by Spicers Retreats and cost around £1630 based on two sharing. The average distance covered each day will be 10km. A previously existing two day walk will also also available – or hikers will be able to combine it with the new longer hike to create a seven day itinerary.
Birmingham to get 2021 holiday boost5 days ago
Time to look ahead. Britain’s second biggest tour operator, Jet2Holidays and sister airline Jet2.com have announced an expanded programme from Birmingham Airport for next summer. It includes two added Greek destinations – Kalamata and the island of Lesvos. Weekly flights to the former will start on 2 May, departing on Sundays and on 6 May to the latter, operating on Thursdays. Kalamata is on the southwest coast of the Peloponnese and is a close jumping off point for the fascinating Mani peninsula with its quiet coastal villages, barely visited interior and its tower houses, designed to circulate wind in the baking hot summers. Overall the programme represents a 6% jump in capacity comparted with that planned for the coming summer.
Ancient abbey brewery to re-open6 days ago
With frustrated travellers having to self ration visits to their local supermarkets, let alone board jets for exotic destinations, many planned new attractions and transport options will either be unavailable of will delay their opening. For the time being – when not reporting on the impact of the continuing crisis – our news section will look ahead to diversions you might like to note in your diaries as diversions for happier times. Here’s one small new pleasure to enjoy when you can slip across the Channel again. A brewery once run by Cistercian monks is set to open at Clairmarais Abbey near St Omer, in Pas de Calais – just across the Channel in northwest France. More than two centuries after it last functioned it has been revived by the owner of the abbey farm and a local beer enthusiast. The plan is to brew a range of beers there in the Cistercian tradition and generate income for the restoration and preservation of parts of the buildings that remain after the Abbey was destrpyed in the French Revolution. Hops and years will be mostly sourced from the region, barley will be grown on the farm and water will come from the St Bernard well Although the original 12th century walls and framework remain in good condition, establishing the brewery has required some interior work. While this has been going on beer with the abbey label has been brewed and bottled at the Brasserie Bellenaert in Bailleul and the Ferme Brasserie de Wagninville.
Southampton - Belfast flights launch today7 days ago
Eastern Airways was scheduled to launch the first of its new flights from Southampton to Belfast today (23 March) despite the COV-19 crisis. The route was formerly operated by the failed regional airline Flybe. The service will operate to a temporary timetable, with one round trip a day from Monday to Friday. Flights will depart from the Southampton at 10.30am, arriving at Belfast City airport at 12.15pm. They leave Northern Ireland at 12.50pm, arriving at 2.35pm. The Humberside based airline also plans to go ahead with the launch of flights between Southampton and Aberdeen, via Teesside, from 27 April. But it has delayed announcing start dates for services on seven routes, including those between Southampton and Dublin.
Accept credit rather than cash for cancelled holidays, says European Commission9 days ago
The European Commission is encouraging package holiday customers prevented from travelling by the current crisis to accept credit notes rather than cash refunds – provided they can still get their money back if they are unable to take the trip later. In new guidelines on the Package Travel Directive it also states – crucially – that such credit notes should be “covered by appropriate insolvency protection”. That means if the tour operator goes bust before you can use the credit, you will still get a refund under the ATOL financial protection scheme. It is crucial because the scheme does not currently appear to cover customers taking advantage of such offers. Although the UK has left the EU, regulations introduced in Britain as a result of the Directive are still legally binding – and may be for some time after the current transition period. The commission’s new guidelines are vitally important for the survival of tour firms reeling from the impact of the overseas travel freeze. In many instances they have already handed over part of the customer’s payment to airlines and accommodation operators, money they may not be able to recoup. “The Package Travel Directive is the legal framework on which the UK Package Travel Regulations are based, and we now need the UK Government to follow the European Commission’s lead and confirm a similar approach. Mark Tanzer, CEO of the industry organisation ABTA has sent the Government a list of badly needed measures to help travel firms through this critical period. He said "This new guidance will give customers the essential assurance that they will either get a holiday or their money back, as well as providing a much needed helping hand to travel companies through these difficult and unprecedented times.”
Treat customers fairly, travel insurers warned11 days ago
Travel insurers must treat their customers fairly during the current, unprecedented crisis, whether dealing with policy purchases or renewals, or claims. That was the velvet glove warning today from the Financial Conduct Authority. It calls on companies to “clearly communicate” any coronavirus exclusions to existing customers. “There will be some instances where a consumer bought annual travel insurance to cover the risk of cancellation or curtailment and are relying on a policy renewal to cover travel arrangements made before the coronavirus situation escalated. In these circumstances, the terms of the current policy may allow for a pay-out when the event causing the cancellation or curtailment occurs. If the claim arises after the renewal date, we would expect insurers to treat customers fairly, taking individual circumstances into account. This includes where the policyholder was given a reasonable expectation that cover would continue. Where appropriate, renew or consider claims under the terms of the original policy for these travel arrangements.”
Virus closes attractions across UK12 days ago
Attractions across the UK are closing their doors as COVID-19 spreads. Readers still planning visits are advised to check websites. The National Trust said all its houses charging admission fees were shutting. (Since this story was written the Trust has also closed all its gated parks and gardens – and its car parks. ) English Heritage is cosing all its staffed historic sites from their closing times today until 1 May. They include Stonehenge. Free admission sites will remain open. The organisation noted they have large open spaces that allow social distancing and are often in quiet places away from crowds. Public events will also be cancelled. English Heritage looks after over 400 monuments, buildings and other sites, from Hadrian’s Wall to the site of the Battle of Hastings. In London the National Gallery, currently staging a blockbuster Titian exhibition, is to close from tomorrow. The Natural History, Science and Victoria & Albert museums are all shut. So is the British Museum. Its Director Hartwig Fischer said “At present we do not know when we will be able to reopen but we hope to be able to provide further updates soon.’” In a message to visitors the museum said future exhibition plans would be reviewed once it reopened. “Refunds will be offered if exhibitions are cancelled, but we ask you to kindly consider your purchase as a donation to the Museum.” Major exhibitions planed to open soon include an exploration of the Indian philosophy of tantra, scheduled to open on 23 April and “Arctic – culture and climate”, due to start at the end of May. Yesterday the Tate announced its galleries in London and elsewhere were closing.
Whole world now off limits, says Foreign Office13 days ago
The Foreign Office has now advised against all but essential travel anywhere in the world for the next 30 days. While it had already issued such warnings against travel to a number of countries it warned that “any country or area may restrict travel without notice”. The move came as a clutch of tour operators suspended departures. Among were Ramblers and Headwater. The former suspended most of its overseas tours until the end of March but warned April departures could also but affected. The latter suspended departures up to and including 15 May. Riviera Travel suspended tours and river cruises up to and including 23 April. Adventure operator Exodus paused its departures up to and including 15 May.
Flights, cruises, package holidays - massive new cuts14 days ago
With international travel close to a total freeze, British Airways parent company IAG has announced it will reduce its capacity by at least 75% in April and May; Virgin Atlantic said it planned to be cutting around 80% flights a day by 26 March and to make further reductions in April; the huge international holiday group TUI said it would suspend “the vast majority” of operations until further notice. This included package holidays, cruises and the operation of hotels; Ryanair said it expected top ground the majority of its fleet over the next 7 – 10 days and said a full grounding could not be ruled out; EasyJet said it would continue to operate rescue flights where possible but added a similar warning. The BA figure, it should be stressed, represents the number of seats it operates times the number of kilometres its aircraft fly – and therefore does not necessarily translate into a proportion of its flights. Carriers owned by IAG (International Airlines Group) also include Spain’s Iberia and Aer Lingus. Willie Walsh, the group’s chief executive, said: “We have seen a substantial decline in bookings across our airlines and global network over the past few weeks and we expect demand to remain weak until well into the summer. We are therefore making significant reductions to our flying schedules. We will continue to monitor demand levels and we have the flexibility to make further cuts if necessary. We are also taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow at each of our airlines. IAG is resilient with a strong balance sheet and substantial cash liquidity.” TUI , which is headquartered in Germany, has around 28 million customers annually and employs over 70,000 people. It comprises more than 400 hotels and resorts, five leisure air-lines, 18 cruise ships and 1600 retail travel agencies. In a statement today it said: “The Group has cash and available facilities of approx. €1.4bn and year-to-date performance had been in-line with expectations prior to COVID-19. We are taking substantial cost measures to mitigate the earnings effect. Moreover, we have decided to apply for state aid guarantees to support the business until normal operations are resumed. Ryanair said in a statement: “The Ryanair Group has strong liquidity, with strong cash and cash equivalents of over €4bn as at 12 March. Our focus now is on completing as much of the scheduled flying program as is permitted by National Governments over the next 7 days, so that we can repatriate customers, where possible, even as flight bans are imposed and ATC and essential airport services are reduced. We have seen a substantial decline in bookings over the last two weeks, and we expect this will continue for the foreseeable future. We will continue to monitor demand, as well as Government flight restrictions, and we will continue to make further cuts to schedules as necessary.” Meanwhile more cruise lines have suspended departures Carnival paused sailings of its North America based ships until 9 April. P&O and Cunard suspended departures until 11 April. Holland America and Seabourn said they were halting sailings for 30 days.
Travel chaos grows: Spain off limits, US flights to stop, restaurants in France closed15 days ago
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to Spain and flights from the UK and Ireland to the US are to be banned from Tuesday. Both measures will put huge new pressure on airlines already hard hit by the coronavirus crisis. France is now also effectively a no go destination. The downhill ski season there has been effectively suspended after the French Government ordered the the closure of all non essential establishments open to the public until further notice. That included restaurants, cafes and ski lifts, though food shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, and banks will stay open. Wintersports tour operator Crystal announced it had cancelled its entire ski programme for the remainder of the season. In the US the Colorado state government ordered the temporary suspension of all downhill skiing. Leading holiday company TUI UK and airline Jet2 – also a major tour operator – had already cancelled flights to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, until at least 29 March and for the next seven days respectively. The move followed earlier measures by the Spanish authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of bars, restaurants and shops. Some Jet2 aircraft turned back to the UK in mid journey. TUI has also announced the temporary cancellations of holidays to several other destinations. including Malta, Jamaica and Cyprus.
More holiday firms suspend tours17 days ago
As more holiday companies suspend departures in the fact of coronavirus, Cosmos, part of the Swiss based Globus group, has frozen its tours and cruises until 30 April. Customers are able to switch to new dates without incurring cancellation fees or other charges. They are also being offered credits of when booked with associated companies. For example they get £40 if they’re booked on a Cosmos or Escapes by Globus tour during the relevant period or, £150 if they’re due to take an Avalon Waterways cruise. Trafalgar and sister company Insight Vacations are variously suspending holidays to destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Argentina, the Far East and in the UK until the same date. The land cost of holidays can be credited against future bookings with either company or associated operators including Luxury Gold, and Uniworld. Full details are on the companies.“ Adventure operator Contiki has suspended all trips to UK, Ireland the rest of Europe, yje Middle East and Asia – including India and Sri Lanka until 30 April. Its 21 March Patagonia Trail trip has been suspended because of quarantine requirements in Argentina, as have a range of other South American holidays. The company is offering switches to other holidays until the end of next year and free cancellation – with various conditions – to exisiting customers. However its departures to Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Africa and Latin American trips other than those imminently affected are running normally.
*Meanwhile long haul operator Kuoni has extended its flexible cancellation policy for customers making new bookings until the end of this month. They will be able to switch destinations later without charge up until seven days before departure. And the company says it is trying to help worried existing customers. CEO Derek Jones said: “We’ve introduced an additional layer of support dedicated to bringing more flexibility for people travelling to any destination with genuine concerns and our aim is to bring some peace of mind, and help do all we can to delay balance payments, move dates or even limit any charges if they want to cancel.”
Virus closes more ski lifts17 days ago
Skiers and snowboarders are the latest to be hit by the coronavirus crisis. With Italian resorts already off limits and many of those elsewhere in Europe closing their lifts, tour firms are cancelling holidays. Leading operator Crystal announced it had cancelled all holidays to Austria, Norway and Germany for the rest of the season. Customers were promised full refunds with 14 days and advised they did not need to contact the company. This who booked through High Street travel agencies were advised to contact those agents. Inghams said that with many authorities in Austria closing lifts from Sunday (15 March) it was cancelling holidays, also until the end of the season, to the following resorts: St Christoph, St Anton, Ischgl, Galtür, Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, Sölden, Seefeld, Kühtai, Igls, Mayrhofen, Alpbach, Niederau and Oberau, Westendorf, Kitzbühel, Söll, Ellmau, St Johann, Zell am See, Saalbach-Hinterglemmm, Filzmoos, Obertauern, Lech, Zürs, and Bad Kleinkirchheim. The firm said: "If you are due to travel to these resorts in the next few weeks we will contact you in due course with further information regarding your holiday. We will contact those due to depart soonest first and we kindly ask for your patience and to only contact us if urgent. If you booked via a travel agent, they will be your point of contact. "
Ten cruise lines suspend cruises17 days ago
At least ten cruise lines have now suspended departures: they include Viking, Princess Saga and Disney Cruises. Virgin Voyages inaugural cruise has also been delayed until mid summer. Viking ceased operating ocean and river trips until 30 April, blaming “travel complications” caused by the outbreak. Customers affected are being offered full refunds or vouchers worth 125% of money paid and redeemable over the ensuing 24 months on any cruise. If they decide on the latter option and then can’t go, they will still get the original cost of their holiday back. Princess Cruises has “voluntarily” paused global operations of its 18 cruise ships for two months until 10 May. The company will allow customers hit by the move to transfer their payments to future cruises – plus providing a credit towards extra costs, such as those incurred on board. This will be available to anyone who had made their final payment and cancelled their booking on or after 4 February 2020. With the Government advising over 70s not to go cruising, over 50s operator Saga suspended its cruise departures until 1 May. Passengers can take a full refund, or change their departure dates with an additional 25% credit. They may just take the credit, which will be valid for 24 months, and redeem it again a future against a future ocean cruise. Or if it runs out they can’t take advantage they will also get a full refund of the original cruise price when the credit voucher expires. Disney will suspend sailings from tomorrow (14 March) until the end of the month. Virgin offered a credit against a future voyage worth double the original price paid, customer’s original; which you can apply to another sailing, rather than a refund. Those using it before 30 June will get up to $500 worth extra – depending which cabin they booked. If none of that suits they will get credits worth 25% of the price against the cost of future cruises.
Dizzy heights at a discount17 days ago
With a glass floor 1100 feet above street level, Edge, New York’s newest observation deck which opened this week, is the latest attraction to be made available at a discount to visitors armed with a CityPass ticket. The deck, claimed to be the highest in the western hemisphere, is at Hudson Yards, a new $20 billion shopping, dining and entertainment complex on the west side of Manhattan. It is available using the cheaper of two CityPass New York options, the C3, which allows a choice of entry to three of 12 major attractions. They also include the Empire State Building, the ferry to the Statue of L:iberty and Ellis Island (including entry to the respective Statue and Immigration museums), Circle Line sightseeing cruises and the Museum of Modern Art. The pass costs US$87.
Trump bans European travellers18 days ago
In a dramatic bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus, President Trump has banned people entering the to the US if they have been in the EU’s border free Schengen area in the 14 days before their planned arrival. The ban, which is for 30 days from midnight tomorrow (13 March), applies to travellers from 26 European countries but does not affect those from the UK or the US itself. However, is is not clear whether or not it will apply to UK travellers flying via Schengen area airports, notably Amsterdam’s Schiphol. The decision, which may be reviewed before the full period is up if circumstances permit, also suggests travellers from Ireland will not be affected as Ireland is not part of the Schengen area.
Rooms with heavenly views at new Lakes hotel18 days ago
Telescopes for stargazing are on offer at a new hotel just opened in Grasmere, in the Lake District. They will be provided in four of the Victorian House Hotel’s 19 rooms, which will have “hip to ceiling” windows joining at one corner, giving guests a 180 view of sky and landscape. The property will also have separate “Shepherd’s Hut”, sleeping two, by the passing river. It will have a room for muddy walking boots, facilities for washing bikes and a warm water dog shower – with towels to dry them off. B&B prices start at £115 a night.
Tour firm offers free “no questions asked” cancellation19 days ago
As travel firms devise novel ways to keep customers booking and boost cash flow in the face of coronavirus, a novel approach from Ski France. The London based tour operator is offering free cancellation to anyone booking its winter or summer holidays, provided they pay in full at the point of reservation. The offer covers holidays booked on the telephone this month with departures during the rest of the ski season, and summer breaks – such as walking trips – until 10 June. Customers may cancel with “no questions asked up to 72 hours before departure date”. The operator offers hotel, chalet and apartment holidays in over 50 mountain destinations.
FCO declares some Maldives resorts off limits19 days ago
The Foreign Office has now advised against all but essential travel to four island resorts in the Maldives and the coronavirus continues to hite holidaymakers. They are Kuredi, Vilemendhu, Batalaa and Kuramathi. The FCO says they have been placed under temporary quarantine. The Maldives Government has imposed a temporary ban on all cruise ships disembarking passengers or docking in the archipelago and will now allow entry or transit to travellers who have been to a range of countries in the past 14 days – including Italy and China but not Hong Kong. Passengers still arriving by air must complete a health declaration card and undergo screening.