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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Ostend's Ensor house reopensabout 9 hours ago
After a three year re-vamp, the former home of Anglo-Belgian artist James Ensor has reopened in Ostend with a new “experience centre”. Ensor was a pioneer of the Expressionist and Surrealist movements who influenced artists including Paul Klee. He lived and worked at the house on Vlanderenstraat from 1917 until his death in 1949. Now a new interactive and exhibition centre has been created next door. The first exhibition focuses on Ensor and Ostend. Xavier Tricot, and expert on the artist, says: “This pioneer of modern art was more closely connected to his home town than any other painter. Besides painting seascapes, Ensor painted the port, rooftops and streets of Ostend. He also wrote about his love of the sea, the beach and the skies above the spa town.”
Norwegian plans US flights restart1 day ago
Norwegian plans to start operating long haul flights from Gatwick to the US again this winter. The airline, devastated by the COVID-19 crisis and brought back from the brink of collapse after sealing a Government backed rescue deal, is currently taking bookings for flights from December. But according to the authoritative website routesonline.com, it may resume the services in early to mid January. This version has the airline starting with five daily flights a week from 7 January, followed two days later by New York, then Los Angeles, Orlando and Tampa on 11 January, with take off for Miami and San Francisco on 12 and 19 January respectively.
Asked to clarify today a spokesman for the airline said: "Airlines are continuously amending their schedules at the moment due to the changing global travel requirements and demand. Norwegian is no different. Three weeks ago you could have booked a flight between Gatwick and New York in September. Those flights have now been removed in light of the current situation and passengers refunded or rebooked. Long haul operations remain very much part of the New Norwegian strategy on proven routes between key destinations. We continue to monitor the latest government travel restrictions and guidance in line with current passenger demand and will announce the resumption of operations when it is appropriate to do so.
Thousand hit as COVID claims another travel firm2 days ago
Thousands of holidaymakers have been left seeking refunds after luxury tour operator Fleetway Travel went into administration. The 45 years old firm, which had operations in London and Sheffield had seen a near drying up of new bookings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and suffered widespread cancellations. Besides its own name the company traded under the names Fleetway, Fleetway Travel, Late Bargains, Exclusive Luxury Breaks, Phone & Fly, Explorer’s Collection, Travelsmart, Silversurfers Holidays, Luxury Holiday Collection and Sail Away. The Civil Aviation Authority said no customers were abroad. Customers due to travel should check with their airline. They might be asked to pay for replacement travel, accommodation and other services, but it was expected they would be able to claim refunds whether or not they accepted the offer. Most of the estimated 6500 affected have booked packages, and will be reimbursed under the Authority’s ATOL protection scheme. That will include people who have requested, but not received, refunds. Cruises and other trips without flights and a small number of accommodation only reservations are protected by the industry organisation ABTA – or by the customer’s credit or debit card issuer. ABTA says those who paid Fleetway direct will also need to claim their money back from car issuers using letters published on its “website”:https://www.abta.com.
Travel insurance: Government warning2 days ago
The threat that travel insurance costs will increase when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December came a little closer today. The Government is planning advertisements advising UK citizens heading for the EU from next year that they should ensure they have comprehensive cover in case the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) becomes invalid. Currently the card covers most, is not all, emergency medical expenses if travellers are injured or fall ill in EU countries or in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. This in turn cuts the cost of meeting claims for insurance companies. One broker has warned premiums could rise by as much as 30%.
The possibility remains that the card could be rescued as part of a late trade deal. Some countries may also agree mutual health cover arrangements bilaterally. Portugal has indicated it will be among them, though the Lisbon authorities’ irritation at the country’s exclusion from the Government’s quarantine requirements will hardly help. With travel insurance still in relatively short supply because of the COVID-19 outbreak, some in the travel industry may see the advertising campaign as pouring water on a drowning man. Travellers will also be warned to check whether their mobile phone roaming policies are still valid and there will be new restrictions for those planning to travel with pets.
Travellers will also be warned they may need to have at least six months validity left on their passports.
Staycations to boost UK tourism recovery2 days ago
Britain’s beleaguered tourism businesses may take solace from new research which suggested their industry may make one of the fastest recoveries in Europe. In its latest quarterly report, the European Travel Commission has produced a “resilience index” showing the UK eighth out of 34 countries. Its calculations were based on each country’s mix of domestic travellers and short haul visitors. And prospects for the UK could look better still when potential to market staycations is thrown into the pix. Germany emerged as most resilient, followed by Norway, Romania, Sweden, Finland, Poland and France. Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey are all forecast to find the rebound tougher. Bottom of the table is Iceland, which is just behind Croatia, then Montenegro and Malta.
Price cuts may help. The average daily hotel rate at hotels across Europe has fallen by 9.3%, though the drop is significantly out of line with a 46.6 drop in occupancy. It warns tourism job losses throughout the region this year “could by monumental”, with estimates ranging from 14.2m to 29.5m. European tourism growth is likely to remain below last year’s levels until 2023. On a more positive note, the report says there has been a jump in flight bookings for July and August to destinations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. “Leisure visitors account for the bulk of new tickets purchased, but recovery has been stronger among travellers aiming to visit friends and relatives.”
National Trust houses start to reopen2 days ago
Five National Trust house opened their doors today for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown began. They are Barrington Court in Somerset, Kingston Lacey in Dorset, Lyme in Cheshire, Oxburgh in Norfolk and Petworth in West Sussex. On Wednesday The Argory in County Armagh will reopen, followed by Packwood in Warwickshire on Friday. The reopenings were described as a pilot scheme “to make sure we can do it right”, with each house presenting its own challenges. One way systems will be in place and visitors must book time slots ahead. The Trust says people booking visits to the houses’ gardens and parks may also be able to visit if there are spaces – but this cannot be guaranteed.
TUI launches COVID-19 cover4 days ago
Leading tour operator TUI UK will include cover for COVID-19 on all package holidays taken until 31 December. It will apply to existing and new bookings and is designed to be used alongside travel insurance already held by customers. The move comes with policies including coronavirus cover still thin on the ground. Travellers are covered for medical treatment if they contract the disease while abroad, the cost of testing overseas and the cost of an extended stay and repatriation.
TUI will operate to seven more destinations from 25 July, adding Menorca, Malaga, Alicante, Reus, Zakynthos, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria and departures from Bristol starting again. From 1 August it will add five Greek destinations – Chania, Kefalonia, Skiathos, Santorini and Thessaloniki – with flights from eight more airports.
High Street agency chain Hays Travel has also announced it will offer insurance covering cancellations, medical expenses and repatriation.
Foreign Office cruise advice under fire5 days ago
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office decision to advise against taking cruise holidays has left the travel industry bewildered. Agents who specialise in booking cruises have described the move as “redundant”. Almost all major ocean cruise lines have suspended operations until September at the earliest. While some river cruises are departing earlier than that, they are mostly in countries from which returning travellers no longer need to self isolate and potential customers may be forgiven for pondering the difference between staying in a hotel and a week, say. cruising on the Rhine. The question also remains whether the FCO intended to include cruises from UK ports through British waters, such as those by the Norwegian line Hurtigruten (see our story earlier this week). They would not usually fall with the department’s remit. An earlier warning, issued as the pandemic took hold in March, covered people over 70 and those with underlying health problems such as diabetes. Now it “advises against cruise ship travel at this time”, adding that this is “due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England”. But it says the Government will continue to review this based on the latest medical information. And it says the FCO “continues to support the Department for Transport’s work with the industry for the resumption of international cruise travel”. The advice does not mean you cannot take a cruise. But as it stands it will invalidate your insurance if you do. And you could be required to self isolate on return, though how this would be policed when cruise passengers returned from a river trip in France, for example, which is now exempt from the Government’s quarantine requirement, is anybody’s guess.
New Channel islands flights set to take off5 days ago
In a significant expansion of its operations, Blue Islands is to launch flights from a range of UK airports to Jersey and Guernsey. It plans to restore routes from Southampton that were lost when regional carrier Flybe collapsed in March. Since 2016 the airline, which had connected the south coast airport and the Channel Islands since 2007, had operated operating flights in Flybe colours under a franchise deal. It will fly from there daily to its Jersey base from 31 August, later increasing to double daily. On the same day it will start operating twice a day from Southampton to Guernsey, daily to Manchester and four times a week to Dublin – and four times a week from Birmingham to Jersey. On 3 and 29 September respectively it will launch services to the island from Exeter and East Midlands. And meanwhile – from 3 August – it plans to fly four times a week there from Bristol. Initially the airline will base a 70 seat ATR72 turboprop at Southampton Airport.
Ski train to the Alps axed6 days ago
Eurostar has axed its Ski Train service to the Frech Alps. The trains, which ran twice a week to the Tarentaise region, have fallen victim to the coronavirus. They have been used by skiers and snowboarders to reach a clutch of top resorts, among them Val d’Isère, Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and those of the giant Trois Vallées network, including Méribel and Courchevel. Eurostar said: “With so much uncertainty about travel restrictions we are focusing our timetable on our routes between capital cities, which have the highest demand from customers and shorter journey times. The ski service would also present the same challenges around providing a comfortable experience with the current restrictions on food service and increased hygiene measures.” Asked if it was possible the service might be reinstated for future seasons, a spokesman said: “It’s too early to say at this point, but as with any of our services we will continue to review this.” A campaign was quickly launched in a bid to persuade the operator to change its mind. Daniel Elkan, founder of independent rail-ski guide Snowcarbon, said: While there are indirect train routes to the French Alps, these can’t compensate for the loss of the direct Ski Train. Eurostar’s decision is premature and seemingly made without any consultation of skiers or the ski industry. There’s still time to think again.”
Flying: survey shows travellers conflicted6 days ago
One third of travellers (33%) expect to continue to avoid flying for an indefinite time, according to a survey by the major airline organisation IATA. But asked when they thought they would wait before returning to their usual travel plans, a similar proportion said “a month or two” and 36% said “six months or so”. Twelve per cent said they wouldn’t delay at all, 14% thought it would be around a year and a cautious 5% said not for the foreseeable future.
The survey, which suggested travellers were conflicted over the wisdom of flying. was conducted across eleven countries during the first week of June. Asked about the likelihood of travel once the pandemic subsided two thirds (66%) of respondents said they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to make fewer leisure flights. But 56% said the would travel on holiday by air “as soon as possible”.
Roughly two thirds (65%) say a top concern is sitting next to someone who might be infected. And 85% says they are very, or somewhat worried at the risk of being quarantined while travelling. Only 17% were willing to go into isolation. IATA’s secretary general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “Quarantine is a demand killer. Keeping borders closed prolongs the pain by causing economic hardship well beyond airlines”. If Governments wanted to restart their tourism sectors they needed to impose risk based measures such as those adopted by the EU and, now, by the UK. Some countries had chosen testing. “Where there is a will to open up, there are ways to do it responsibly”.
Despite airline attempts to reassure passengers that cabin air is safe, the survey showed doubts remain. Was air quality on a plane “as clean as an operating room”? Just over one third (35%) were somewhat convinced and 20% strongly agreed. Was it dangerous? The respective proportions were 37% and 20%. And a total of 50% somewhat or strongly agreed that the risk of catching the virus on a flight was low.
IATA represents nearly 300 airlines carrying 82% of global air traffic.
Hurtigruten to launch short cruises from UK7 days ago
Hurtigruten is to launch a series of short breaks from British ports in September. Destinations will include the Isles of Scilly, St Kilda with its Atlantic puffin colony, and Northern Ireland’s Rathlin Island, another major seabird habitat. The Norwegian line’s hybrid powered expedition ship Roald Amundsen will make four trips. The first, departing from Portsmouth on 2 September, will be for six days. All the others, from Liverpool on 7 and 17 September and from Greenock on 12 September, will; be for five days. The ship will operate at about 65% of its capacity, carrying up to 350 passengers. It has a high tech, on board Science Centre, where guests can learn in more details about the places explored, and an indoor-outdoor observation deck over two floors. It also has a pool and hot tubs.
French river cruise line set to cast off8 days ago
French river cruise line CroisiEurope is to resume operations next week. It first cruise since the COVID-19 crisis took hold is scheduled to depart on the Seine next Monday (13 July). From 16 July it will begin cruising on the Rhône and the Burgundy Canal and on the Loire from 31 July. Elsewhere in Europe, Rhine cruises will cast off on 20 July, while Danube, Elbe and Douro itineraries will start on 31 July, and 3 and 7 August respectively. The company will check passengers’ temperatures before they board, disinfect luggage, ensure social distancing, assign seating for meals and operate two service times.
New app will signal less crowded beaches8 days ago
A new app claimed to aid social distancing on beaches is set to be launched in Palma, Mallorca. The app is an adaptation of technology, which has undergone a successful trial, designed to manage the flow of cruise passengers around the city. It links to heat sensors that will monitor the amount of human activity on Palma’s surrounding beaches. The app will display in real time which beaches are full and which are below capacity, enabling holidaymakers to avoid crowds. It will be available to download on android and IOS devices from 10 July – the date from which UK tourists wil be able to travel to Spain without the need to self isolate on their return. The city’s hotel association now expects 60% of hotels in the area will be open by the end of this month, increasing to 70% during August.
Holidays abroad: available destinations still limited9 days ago
Half a loaf, as they say, is better than no bread, but the long list of countries now qualifying for travel corridors or exempted from Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice against travelling for all but essential reasons, doesn’t quite make the world your oyster. A quick piece of research by the PC Agency, which represented the travel industry’s Quash Quarantine group, and Audiencenet, found only 24 countries or territories were accessible to UK citizens without the need – either absolute or potential – for quarantine or self isolation. Malta, which is not scheduled to welcome Brits until 15 July.
The others are France (including the island of Réunion), Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Switzerland, Belgium, Gibraltar, Andorra, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Poland, San Marino, Serbia, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands and Vatican City.
You may wonder why Austria is missing, even though it is included among the Government’s green light countries and those now exempted by the FCO. However Britons travelling there must present a medical certificate on arrival confirming they have had a negative test in the previous four days. If they don’t, they will be required to self isolate for 14 days. Réunion is an overseas Department of France and Greenland and the Faroes are autonomous parts of the Kingdom of Denmark
Portuguese protest at air bridge exclusion11 days ago
Confusion for travellers and irritation for the Portuguese authorities have resulted from the Government’s shambolic dithering over publication of a list of countries exempt from the requirement to self isolate on return. Portugal was not included in the list. It emerged later that Madeira and the Azores were also excluded, seemingly contradicting a Foreign & Commonwealth Office decision to drop its advice against all but essential travel to the Portuguese islands.
In a statement today Mr. Luis Araújo, President of Turismo de Portugal, said Madeira had not experienced a single death since the start of the pandemic and the Azores had only three cases. He said active cases over the whole country had fallen to 13,060.
“We are extremely disappointed to hear that the UK government has made the decision to omit Portugal from the air bridge agreement. The reality in Portugal is totally different from the one portrayed by this decision. We fully maintain and stress unwavering confidence in the safety of the nation to welcome back international visitors. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Portuguese government and tourism industry has worked tirelessly to implement a carefully strategised and thoroughly actioned protocol for the tourism industry and wider society. From our viewpoint, the entire national territory should have been appropriately included in the UK travel corridor owing to the successful containment of the outbreak.
“We wish to place on record that Portugal is the sixth highest country in Europe for the number of people tested and traced for COVID-19. Having already completed more than 1.1 million tests, which account for more than 10% of the population, the virus has been controlled in a safe manner. Naturally, logic would suggest that if other nations followed such a measure, statistics may have been reflected differently.”
At last: green light for summer holidays abroad12 days ago
Holidays in a wide range of countries were at last given the green light by the Government today. Destinations on the Government’s approved list include France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Germany. But Portugal and the US are both excluded.
Among the long haul destinations included are Jamaica, the Seychelles, Mauitius, St Lucia and Barbados. The full list can be see on the Department of Transport website.
After a series of unexplained delays the Department of Transport confirmed that from next Friday (10 July) people arriving in England from 59 destinations "which pose a reduced risk” would no longer need to self isolate. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office was in the process of updating its blanket advice against all but essential travel overseas.
There are some provisos, however. Some of the countries on the list, such as Australia, may be still imposing their own quarantines on arriving travellers when move takes effect. New Zealand is included although its border is still closed to almost all arrivals. And Greece has said it will not open its doors to visitors from the UK until 15 July.
There remain two clouds on the holiday horizon, however. The move does not yet apply to people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And although the lifting of FCO advice will mean travel insurance is no longer universally invalid, only a handful of companies (see our reports on this topic immediately below and earlier) have so far confirmed cover for COVID-19 related claims. Though you may be covered if you have a policy opened before the outbreak took hold it will be important to ask your insurer if you are covered. It is hoped that with the Government clarifying its position, more companies will do so. The alternative will be to rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which covers most, but not all medical treatment costs for those falling ill while abroad.
Relief from quarantine will not apply to anyone who has travelled through a non-exempt country during the previous 14 days, a move clearly calculated to prevent British tourists driving across borders into countries with unacceptably high infection rates.
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and spokesman for the Quash Quarantine Group of some 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “There are still several obstacles to be overcome, namely ensuring Scotland support the planned changes, but this is a welcome boost for the travel industry at such a critical time. The traffic light system will bring clarity to holidaymakers and businesses wanting to travel overseas as well as to travel firms desperate for visibility on what they can offer for this summer and beyond. It is remarkably good news that the blanket quarantine restrictions are being lifted from 10th July, and that the changed FCO travel advice will mean we can plan to go away from tomorrow.”
Travel agencies to offer customers COVID-19 insurance12 days ago
Travel agents are being offered a new COVID-19 insurance policy that they can sell to customers. Crucially, ROCK Insurance Group will follow Trailfinders in covering cancellation besides the costs of falling ill abroad and repatriation. This will be valid even if infection is detected at an airport, preventing the travellers from flying. The firm also says the policy can be cancelled if the UK – or the area where a customer lives – is placed under lockdown again within 14 days of purchase.
BA set for big flights restart13 days ago
Despite the continuing lack of detail from the Government on air bridges, British Airways is to resume flying to a range of short and long haul destinations throughout this month, though with a reduced frequency of departures to reflect lower demand and the impact of quarantine measures.
Short haul service set to restart include Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Morocco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
Domestic flights will resume between London and Belfast, Inverness, Jersey, Manchester, Newcastle and Newquay and the airline will move to double daily services to Edinburgh and Glasgow.”
BA says services will restart “across the Americas”, with destinations including Dallas, Miami, Seattle and Toronto, and to the Caribbean, with flights to Barbados and Kingston. Services to San Francisco, Hing Kong and Singapore have been operating since last month. And those to a number of cities have continued throughout the crisis, among them those to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York (JFK) and Washington.
Airlines dragging feet over refunds, says CAA13 days ago
Some airlines are taking too long to process refunds for cancelled flights, says the Civil Aviation Authority. Following a review sparked by passenger complaints It says they include some major carriers with backlogs of refund requests “extending to many months”. The Authority has asked them to provide commitments that they will speed the process up. “We have received responses from a number of airlines agreeing to this request. We will assess the suitability of these commitments and, should we accept them, we will monitor the airlines’ performance against them. If performance does not improve in line with the commitments, the Civil Aviation Authority will not hesitate to take enforcement action.” It says only a minority of airlines have consistently provided customers with refunds “in an acceptable timeframe”. However, it has noticed a marked improvement since its review began. The review identified a group of carriers that, “based on passenger complaints, did not appear to be providing refunds at all”. The Authority says that after it tackled these airlines about the issue, they are all now paying out.