In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
  • French bar

    Image © Roger Bray

    French to start eating, drinking out again

    1 day ago

    There was hope and frustration from across the Channel today after the French Government announced restaurants, cafes and bars could re-open from Tuesday. The news will have Francophiles champing at the bit but the UK’s controversial quarantine plan – reciprocated by France for arriving Britons – will prevent them taking advantage.

    The French move applies to all the country’s départements but in some zones it comes with temporary restrictions. Thus in Paris and the Île-de-France region only outside terraces will be open. This measure will stay in force until 23 June at the earliest.

    Tables must be at least one metre apart. Big family lunches will be out, with no more than ten people will be allowed to share a table. Customers will have to wear masks when they move about on the premises – to visit the toilet, for example. And – disappointing for those fond of dropping into a café for a beer, a glass of wine or a quick breakfast croissant and coffee – consumption while standing will still be banned.

  • Coronavirus

    Pressure grows to scrap travel quarantine plan

    2 days ago

    Pressure built on the Government today to think again about its plan to require travellers arriving in the UK to self isolate or enter quarantine. Nearly 80 travel industry leaders were reported to have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging a U-turn on the plan, which is due to take effect from 8 June. Their letter warned that it would severely stretch companies who were still having to employ staff to deal with existing customers and that other countries would reciprocate, with similar plans for tourists arriving from Britain. And they said there was “substantial merit” in the idea of “air bridges” that would allow travel between countries with low rates of COVID-19. Boris Johnson told MPs yesterday that this might be implemented from the end of June if agreements could be reached time with countries whose infection rates were at least equivalent to the UK’s.

    Meanwhile Disney plans to re-open its Florida theme parks from 11 July. Seaworld plans to re-open earlier – on 11 June. Both moves are subject to approval from the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.

    Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando will start a phased re-opening of the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks, followed by EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on 15 July. Guests aged three and up will have to wear “appropriate face coverings” in the parks and resort hotel public areas, and will undergo temperature checks before admission. Attendance will be limited through advance reservations and physical distancing controlled. New ticket sales and resort hotel bookings are being paused temporarily to focus on customers with existing reservations. A company statement said: “Experiences that draw large group gatherings, such as parades and nighttime spectaculars, will return at a later date. In addition, ‘high-touch’ experiences such as makeover opportunities, playgrounds and character meet and greets will remain temporarily unavailable, but characters will still be in the parks to entertain and delight guests.”

  • Blenheim palace

    Blenheim to re-open park and gardens

    2 days ago

    Blenheim Palace will re-open its park and formal gardens on Saturday. For the first week admission will be limited to annual pass holders. Other visitors will be allowed in from 6 June.

    The baroque Unesco World Heritage Site in Oxfordshire, home to the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704 and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, has designed a series of one way routes through the 2000 acre estate. A new free audio guide to the park and gardens can be downloaded onto smartphones. There will be mobile eateries and extra outdoor toilets with washing and hand sanitising facilities.

    Guests will be able to pick from four route options, ranging from 35 minutes to two hours, taking in the formal gardens, the Rose Garden and the Temple where Churchill proposed to his wife to be, Clementine.

    Time slots can be booked at the “Blenheim website”:https//blenheimpalace.com

  • Charitable travel

    New travel agency will help fund charities

    2 days ago

    A new travel agency – due to launch on Monday – will handover to charity the commission it earns on holiday and flights bookings and other sales. The first of its kind, Charitable Travel, will allow customers to donate 5% of the total trip price to a good cause of their choice, enabling them “to share the pleasure a holiday brings by supporting local communities both at home and abroad”.

    Though travel is still in lockdown the firm will offer travel from September – with its real focus on selling trips with departures next year. It will operate online but there will be no internet booking function. Instead, customers will need to fill in a form on its “website”:https://charitabletravel.

    Founder and CEO Melissa Tilling says: ““I have always been a fervent believer in the good that travel and tourism can bring to local communities in the destinations served and although the industry is facing an incomparable crisis right now, we are resilient. UK travellers are passionate about their holidays and determined they will travel again once it is safe to do so.”

    “During the current COVID crisis we have seen an inspiring show of unity from people across the country, a true community spirit has arisen as we realise the importance of appreciating and supporting one another. We have also been reminded in recent months that to travel is a privilege and many of us have spent our time in isolation seeking out travel inspiration, planning for that much needed break to look forward to.”

    Th firm has been incorporated as a Fundraising Futures Community Interest Company. It is part of the Worldchoice agency consortium. Worldchoice is in turn a member of the Travel Network Group, which supports over 1000 independent travel companies.

  • Ebrington arms

    Ebrington Arms - in the Cotswolds

    Almost half over-65s happy to stay at pubs again

    3 days ago

    Nearly half of all Britons over 65 who have stayed overnight in pubs will be perfectly happy to do so again when the holiday clampdown is lifted. That is the conclusion from a survey commissioned by Stay in a Pub, which promotes over 1700 “boutique” pubs with bedrooms. It found that 41% of its registered customers would be “completely comfortable” spending the night after COVID-19 restrictions were eased and 80% would be “pretty comfortable”. When those figures were broken down into age groups it emerged that 45% of over 65s fell into the former category, while 84% of 46-55 year olds took the latter view.

    Those questioned, 95% of whom live in the UK, were also asked what measures would reassure them. The company said the massage that came back “loud and clear” was that they expected not only high hygiene standards and social distancing but evidence through a “COVID-19 Safe” kite mark or other accreditation. They would expect hand sanitisers in rooms and public areas and – also in rooms – anti-bacterial wipes and other cleaning products they could use. A significant number wanted staff to wear gloves and masks. Some suggested bed linen packs so they could make up their own beds, room service meals – and only rooms with en suite facilities being available.

  • Spain to re open

    Image by Tibor Janosi Mozes from Pixabay

    Spain plans summer tourism return

    4 days ago

    Spain plans to end quarantine for foreign visitors from 1 July. The news will provide a huge boost for Britons still hopeful of getting a summer holiday on the Costas, for example, and for the beleaguered UK travel industry. The hope that Europe’s tourist season might stagger back to life saw shares in airlines and travel companies surge in value today.

    Previously the Madrid Government had said only that the rule would be lifted on an indeterminate date in July. The 1 July date would come shortly after the UK Government’s promised review of its own requirement that incoming travellers should self isolate or go into quarantine. Airline chiefs and tour operators will now be pressing ministers to give them as much advance notice as possible of their intentions.

    Low cost airline Jet2 and its package holiday arm have already announced they will resume operations on 1 July. And on the same day Ryanair – whose boss Michael O’Leary has bneen outspoken in his criticism of the quarantine rule – plans to restore 40% of flights from bases across Europe.

    Meanwhile Greece has re-opened access to its islands for domestic travellers and also plans to open its doors to international visitors from 1 July. But Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis has warned Britons may not be on the first list of nationalities to be allowed entry unless there is significant fall in UK infections.

  • Shearings

    Image by Kk70088 from Wikimedia Commons

    Shearings collapse - most customers financially protected

    5 days ago

    The vast majority of customers of the failed Specialist Leisure Group – owners of coach tour specialist Shearings – will either get their money back or be unaffected, according to the travel trade organisation ABTA.

    Most of those booked on coach packages would be reimbursed through the Confederation of Passengers Transport’s bonded coach holiday scheme or from their credit or charge card issuers.

    Those planning flight inclusive Packages would be covered by the Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL scheme.

    People who booked through Wallace Arnold – the group’s High Street travel agency chain – would be protected under whichever scheme covered their holiday. If they were booked to travel with a third party tour operator – such as TUI, for example – they would be protected by the ATOL umbrella. Their holiday paperwork would show who the holiday was arranged with.

    Customers who were waiting for refunds following cancellations forced by COVID-19 – or had received refund credit notes – were advised to follow advice on the submission of claims due to be issued tomorrow.

  • Coronavirus

    Shearings: coach holiday firm's parent group collapses

    8 days ago

    The Specialist Leisure Group, which included coach holiday operator Shearings has collapsed into administration with some 64,000 forward bookings. A statement on the company website said “all tours, cruises, holidays and hotel breaks” had been cancelled and would not be rescheduled. The group’s Bay Hotels, Coast & Country Hotels and Country Living Hotels would not re-open and its Wallace Arnold travel agencies were also now permanently closed. The group also included National Holidays – trading as Caledonian Travel and Travel Style – and Ukbreakaways.com.

    All customers with package holiday bookings were expected to get their money back under financial protection schemes including ATOL. The collapse will also be the first to hit customers with credit notes, issued after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many thousands of holidays, which may be redeemed for future trips. The statement said these notes “may” offer the same financial protection as the original booking. But it is likely that customers holding them will be reimbursed under a guarantee from the trade body ABTA.

    However, some customers may not get their money back unless they booked with credit and – usually – charge cards. They may include those booked on self drive holidays, stays at the group’s hotels, and activity only breaks without organised coach travel. Credit notes for cancelled self drive holidays and hotel breaks are also unlikely to be covered.

    People who have booked holidays through Wallace Arnold agencies with tour firms outside the group – such as TUI and Jet2holidays, should not be affected.

    Further details can be found on the group “website”: https://www.shearings.com/

  • Afro amercian

    African American music museum set to open

    8 days ago

    A major new museum celebrating African American music – from spirituals to hip hop – is now scheduled to open in Nashville on 3 September. It will have six galleries – five permanent, the other with rotating themes. They will explore the influence of religion, the Great Migration from rural south to industrial north and the birth of the blues, the emergence of jazz, civil rights and protest, and the genres of the past 50 years. Its collection will include instruments, stage costumes, sheet music, stage costumes, recording equipment and photographs.

  • Hygiene kits

    Hygiene kit

    Emirates re-launches London flights

    8 days ago

    Emirates has re-launched flights from Dubai to Heathrow, requiring passengers to wear face masks, which are included in complimentary hygiene kits handed out at check in. At Dubai airport travellers also have to wear gloves. Most cabin baggage must be checked into the hold, though “essential items” such as laptops, brief cases and handbags may be brought on board. Passenger arriving in Dubai will undergo thermal testing and get fresh hygiene kits if they are taking an onward flight.

  • Jet2

    Holiday giant to take off in July

    8 days ago

    Jet2holidays and low cost carrier Jet2.com – Britain’s second biggest tour operator and its sister airline – plan to start their summer holiday and flights programme on 1 July. The tour operator is Britain’s second largest in terms of customers carried. The move came as the Government confirmed all travellers arriving in the UK from 8 June would face 14 days self isolation or enforced quarantine. The policy will be reviewed after three weeks, just four days before the leisure travel giant is due to resume operations.

    In a brief statement today, a spokesperson for the airline and operator said: “The health and safety of our customers and colleagues is our absolute priority, and we are continuing to monitor the situation very closely. We have said throughout that the sun will shine again and when it does, we will be there to take customers away on their well-deserved holidays. As well as this, agents can be assured that we will be implementing measures, in consultation with the relevant authorities, to ensure the safety and well-being of everybody onboard. We will announce further details on this in due course.”

  • Easyjet

    Cautious comeback for easyJet

    9 days ago

    EasyJet is to begin operating a limited number of mainly domestic flights on 15 June. Services will depart from Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool., Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Belfast and the Isle of Man – plus Paris Charles de Gaulle and various other airports in France, Lisbon and Porto, Barcelona and Geneva. The airline expects to increase flying as demand picks up and restrictions are relaxed. Passengers, cabin crew and ground staff will be required to wear masks and, initially, there will be no food service on board. EasyJet says its health measures have been checked out with international safety organisations and “relevant national authorities”.

  • Air terminal

    Image by Gerald Friedrich from Pixabay

    Unruly passenger warning as air safety experts set out virus measures

    9 days ago

    Measures to protect air travellers from COVID-19 are likely to spark an increase in “unruly or disruptive” behaviour among passengers. That’s the warning from the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). It says problems could arise when people object to sitting next to each other or accuse each other of not following the rules. “There is a strong potential for conflict if it is not managed properly. In the worst-case, panic could become quite a serious threat to flight safety – for example if there are significant displacements within the cabin. To address this, operators are invited to consider the raised likelihood of these factors within their procedures and training.”

    The warning comes with a set of guidelines for the resumption of air travel, drawn up with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. They say airlines should encourage travellers with symptoms not to check in for flights by offering incentives such re-booking at no cost or a refund based on a doctor’s certificate confirming suspicion of infection “up to six hours before a flight”. Passengers who do not obey safety rules at the airport or on the aircraft should be denied boarding or disembarked. They should be removed from the airport by “the competent public authorities”.

    Though the two organisations will update their recommendations if a suitable pre-flight test for COVID-19 becomes available they say testing or “immunity passports” are not justified by current scientific knowledge.

    All passengers should be recommended to wear medical face masks, in the airport terminals and on board. On long flights they should take enough to replace them every four hours or if they become wet or dirty. Plastic bags should be provided for disposal. Use of masks should be stressed particularly strongly when it was impossible to seat people at least 1.5 metres apart.

    The recommendations tackle every detail of the journey – from airport to airport. Friends and relatives should say goodbye outside the terminal. Boarding should be by row from the back or by filling window seats first. If a passengers develops symptoms on board, for example, they should be moved to the last row window seat, preferably where the air circulation outflow valve is, and allocated a toilet for their exclusive use.

    On board service should be cut to the minimum. Duty free sales should be suspended. Preferably, pre-packaged and sealed food and drink should be provided. Queuing for toilets should be avoided.

    EASA believes that if travellers’ confidence is to be restored they will need to be assured “that filtered air on airplanes is safer and cleaner than many of us breathe on the ground”. On aircraft equipped with high efficiency particulate air filters, recirculation fans should not be stopped – but fresh air flow should be increased if possible. And airlines and airport operators “should collaborate to ensure that passengers are not kept on board an aircraft without proper ventilation for longer than 30 minutes”.

    Passengers should fill in track and trace cards before arrival, physical distancing should be observed in the baggage collection hall – and people meeting travellers should stay outside the terminal.

    Critics of the Government’s Brexit stance may point out that if common health rules are agreed in the EU, the UK will have no option but to stay in line after the end of the transition period on 31 December – though it may no longer be able to participate in EASA meetings to discussion them.

  • Portugal

    Portuguese beaches set to open

    Portugal - tourism set for restart

    10 days ago

    Portugal plans to re-open its beaches on 6 June, with limits on the number of bathers permitted. Tourism officials say extra supervision will be provided, to ensure strict adherence to the rules.

    The country has not imposed quarantine requirements for visitors, except in the Madeira archipelago. Visitors to the Azores must arrive with evidence of a confirmed negative COVID-19 check, take an immediate test on arrival or submit to voluntary isolation in a designated hotel.

    This week has seen the opening of museums and other places of cultural interest, such as churches and art galleries. Restaurants, cafes, patisseries, terraces, promenades and shops up to 400 square metres are also now open.

    The latest update from Visit Portugal did not detail hotel openings, saying only that more than 4000 of its “Clean & Safe” stamps had been taken up by these and other companies catering for tourists . The stamps ensure compliance with the country’s Department of Health specific recommendations on hygiene measures to prevent COVID-19 and other possible infections.

    It is not clear if Portugal might be among countries open to UK visitors when expected UK rules requiring self isolation or quarantine for all arriving visitors are reviewed, towards the end of June.

  • Bologna

    Bologna - is Italy back on the radar?

    Summer glint of foreign holiday hope

    11 days ago

    The Government appears to have inched open the door to overseas travel this summer after all. After hopes were dashed that early trips to France might be on the cards, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that when the 14 day self isolation or quarantine requirements currently planned were reviewed, people arriving in the UK from countries with rates of infection similar to the UK’s might be exempted. That raised hopes of reciprocal agreements, allowing British holidaymakers to travel later in June to countries including Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and – after the earlier false dawn – to France.

    Spain hopes to open for overseas tourism by late June. Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos suggested the its two week quarantine for overseas visitors might be phased out as the Spanish were permitted to travel more freely within their own country. The UK quarantine threat appeared to have killed off any hope of saving the summer holiday season. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has already branded it “idiotic”. The Government was “telling us you can’t fly unless you isolate for 14 days, yet you can go on the London Underground, you don’t have to isolate for 14 days. They’re making this stuff up as they go along and none of it has any basis in science,"

  • Kempinski hotels china 2   temperature check

    Temperature checks

    Kempinski re-opens all China hotels

    11 days ago

    With doubt still clouding the prospected of Britons escaping for summer breaks, the luxury hotel group Kempinski has re-opened all its properties in China.

    New safety measures have been introduced to protect guests and staff, including temperature checks for everyone entering at all hotel entrances. Customers are provided with complimentary hand sanitisers and masks and local laws on social distancing are observed in restaurants and public areas. The company’s CEO for Asia said: “These are unprecedented times for the hospitality and catering industry. Travel is not a question of price, but a security issue.”

    Kempinski’s 76 five star hotels in 34 countries were now obliged to follow a 70 page guide that affected all departments, from check in procedures, through furnishings to food and drink and housekeeping. The Group operates 22 hotels in China.

    According to the hotel industry research specialists STR, hotels in China operated 40% full between 6 and 10 May, as business travel picked up. Official Chinese figures show as of yesterday the country suffered nearly 83,000 cases, with over 4600 deaths, the vast majority in Hubei province.

  • Pitons 3104113 1920

    St Lucia's Pitons -Image by Mimi S from Pixabay

    St Lucia readies for tourism restart

    11 days ago

    The Caribbean island of St Lucia, which closed its borders to international tourism on 23 March, is to start welcoming tourism early in June. Around 1500 hotel rooms are being prepared for visitors. But the re-opening of hotels will depend on completion of a new COVID-19 certification process. The first international flights allowed to land will be from the US only. The island’s Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee says its phased strategy will be to protect locals and visitors through advance testing, daily screening of tourists and staff, sanitisation at various points on the traveller’s journey – and social distancing.

  • Philantoiurism

    Philanthropic tourism may be new trend

    12 days ago

    Philantourism may not be in the lexicon you deploy down at the pub (when you can get there), but when the world opens up for travel again it could be a good way to repair some of Covid-19’s worst effects.

    So says luxury tour firm Orginal Travel, which defines it as “the act of choosing a holiday or experience in order to support a destination". It has put together a programme of “philanthropic” itineraries including a trip to Zimbabwe, with accommodation in privately run lodges that employ local people and a 14 day Australian with the chance to help koala and bushfire recovery projects.

    Founder Tony Barber says: “ We first recognised this as a trend when Sri Lanka was taken back off the FCO’s “advise against travel” list following the tragic Easter bombings. Our clients were really keen to book again and we have noticed a strong sentiment, particularly among British  travellers  -  who are a fairly hardy bunch  -  to support countries that are dependent on tourism and whose economies are suffering from the aftermath of terrorism or natural disasters and now, pandemics. Philantourism is a natural evolution of voluntourism, but less of a commitment; you don’t need to do anything after you arrive, other than enjoy the culture, buy local and put your spending money into the tourism economy. We have no doubt that this trend will continue to grow once travel restrictions are lifted and people are able to help the worst-affected countries get back on their feet.”

    The firm is offering a two week Sri Lanka itinerary with the focus on street food and immersion in culture and traditions, including learning the time honoured art of casting during a visit to a fishing village.

  • Hope dashed

    Have French holiday hopes been dashed?

    15 days ago

    Has the Government created yet more confusion with Boris Johnson’s announcement that France would be exempt from quarantine rules for arriving travellers? As my earlier news story suggested, the accompanying written statement appeared to come with a dollop of wriggle room. Now a Daily Telegraph report suggests it’s still too early to start dreaming of fortnight in la France profonde. It quoted a Whitehall source as saying the French did not want a blanket exemption and suggested it could be “job specific”. An additional problem is that discriminating in favour of French travellers rather than those from other EU states could land the UK in the European Court of Justice as, though we have left, we are subject to Brussels rules until the end of this year’s transition period. The paper quoted a source as saying: “What is now being said is that if you were thinking of having a holiday abroad by going to France, you will have to can it.” However, the Guardian quotes a senior Government advisor as saying it is pointless to quarantine all passengers arriving in the UK. It would only be effective, he said, if Britain’s infection rate was much lower than the traveller’s country of origin.

  • Britanny

    Britanny beaches - don't sit down

    Europe - travel on verge of cautious bounce back

    15 days ago

    Europeans will enjoy a tourist season this summer, says the EU’s economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, “even if it’s with security measures and limitations”.

    While UK Ministers have been downbeat about the prospects of summer holidays, other EU states have been starting to re-open their borders. Germany and Austria are the latest to agree the lifting of restrictions. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there would be be random frontier crossing checks from today (15 May), with the prospect that free movement will resume on 15 June.

    Club Med plans to open its Les Arcs resort in the French Alps at the end of June and other European properties at the start of July. The Palladium hotel group – again hopes to re-open on the Costa del Sol and the Hard Rock Hotel in Tenerife on 12 June, with those in the Caribbean and Mexico following on 1 July. Both companies’ stress that their plans remain subject to local restrictions and that plans are in hand to put new hygiene precautions will be in place – such as online check in to minimise contact between staff and guests.

    Above Chamonix – also in the French Alps – trains will run on the rack and pinion railway to the Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi cable cars will operate this weekend. from 21 – 24 May and maybe beyond then if weather and demand permit. Visitors wll have to wear masks and will have their temperatures checked.

    Spain and Britain have both announced 14 day self isolation requirements or quarantine for arriving travellers, though those from France and Ireland will be exempt. Britons may also cross to France without facing quarantine – a reciprocal arrangement agreed by Prime Minister Johnson and President Macron which has bewildered many observers.

    Beaches in Britanny were re-opened this week, but a local source reported guidance that people could “walk, paddle or swim”, but not sit down

    The huge TUI group, which is looking at cutting its workforce by some 8000, has said it is “ready to resume travel activities. The company, which employs around 70,000 staff in summer, says its hotels in Germany and other European states are “ready to go”. Its CEO Fritz Joussen said; “People want to travel. Europe must now gradually open up. Summer holidays are possible responsibly and with clear rules. We will reinvent the holiday in 2020. The safety and well being of our guests and employees around the world continue to be our top priority. Together with the destinations and our partners we have developed extensive measures to protect our guests. The demand for holidays is still very high.” He said the season would start later – but could last longer.
    The EU is recommending that rail and air tickets should be bought online to avoid contact.
    *That distancing should apply during security checks.
    *Passengers not from the same family should be seated apart.
    *Consideration should be given to stopping on board food and drink sales.
    *Fewer passengers should be allowed on aircraft and other forms of transport.
    *And all transport workers should be supplied with protective equipment – including possible barriers for drivers.