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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Destination travel insurance – big differencesabout 2 months ago
Portugal and the Canary Islands have joined the slowly growing band of destinations offering their own travel insurance policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. But readers should note that the cover they offer differs significantly. The former’ policy also covers visitors for non coronavirus related expenses – for example the cost of medical treatment for a heart problem or the theft of laptop. The policy launched in the Canaries covers only COVID-19 related costs. Foreign & Commonwealth Advice against all but essential trips renders holidaymakers’ insurance invalid. Along with the requirement to self isolate on return to the UK this is a prime deterrent to travelling (note that the FCO advice applies only to mainland Portugal – not the Azores and Madeira). So it is important to check the extent of cover in policies launched in other holiday destinations. Meanwhile travel industry voices continue to call for testing at airports, though this would add to the cost of holidays and would help solve current problems only if tests were restricted to departing passengers. However much insurance is provided there is little likelihood that travellers will risk a positive test on arrival wrecking their holidays.
Luxury cruise to Scottish islesabout 2 months ago
The cruise ship Scenic Eclipse, with two helicopters and a six seat submarine aboard, is scheduled to visit the islands wilder shores of mainland Scotland and the Hebrides next summer. Marketed as a “discovery yacht” because of it can access smaller ports, the 228 passenger vessel will sail from Bergen in Norway to Dublin, departing on 29 August. Among other excursions, passengers will get the chance to learn about ancient Norse roots on a hike around the cliffs of Sumburgh Head, take a photography tour of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and look for wildlife on the beaches of Iona with the shops on board naturalist. With an early payment discount of £250, prices start at £7745. That covers flights, private door to door chauffeur transfers, shore excursions including kayaks and Zodiacs – and a personal butler.
"Coral Greenhouse" opens on Great Barrier Reefabout 2 months ago
Tours of the extraordinary new Coral Greenhouse on the Great Barrier Reef are set to start today. The installation is the first stage of the Museum of Underwater Art, about 50 miles from Townsville in Queensland. The design of the huge skeletal steel and concrete structure with its sculptures will allow coral to propagate and provide shelter for marine life such as octopus and small creatures trying to escape predators. Sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor says the greenhouse will be slowly colonised and gradually absorbed into its surroundings. One of the first commercial companies to operate a tour is Adrenalin Dive, which will take a boatload of keen divers this weekend.
Lisa Woolfe, Townesville’s enterprise director for the visitor ecomony and marketing, said the new attraction was a game changer for the region. Townsville is positioned in the central section of the Great Barrier Reef with arguably some of the best examples of coral reef available for visitors to enjoy and we’re excited that we can now jointly offer this experience with something so unique and awe-inspiring as the MOUA. Following such a traumatic period for the entire tourism and hospitality industry, a project like this is a breath of fresh air for our region and gives hope to operators knowing that visitors have yet another reason to travel to Townsville North Queensland and experience the paradise we call home.
Skiers to defy virus - researchabout 2 months ago
Over 96% of skiers who hit the slopes before last season was cruelly cut short by COVID-19 say they want to return next winter despite the threat of a second wave. That was the key finding from the latest consumer research by the Ski Club of Great Britain. The remaining four per cent said they would book the following year. Almost a quarter (24%) of those questioned said their ski holidays had been disrupted by the outbreak, with almost half of those in resorts when the outbreak reached crisis point. The Club says that a group travelling with its Freshtracks operation, which had been evacuated from the Italian resort of Canazei to Austria, had even booked the same trip for the coming winter.
Thew survey found 40% booked ski holidays independently rather than through a tour operator but that almost a quarter of them (23%0 were highly likely or likely to switch to a tour operator or travel agent in the wake of the disruption.
France, chosen by 40%, remained the most popular destination. Austria wa second with 19%, followed by Italy (11%), Switzerland (5%) and Canada (4%).
BA resumes flights to 14 European destinationsabout 2 months ago
British Airways is set to restart flights to 14 European destinations this month. The include Bari, on the Italian Adriatic coast of Italy, Catania in Sicily, the Greek island of Kefalonia, Bastia in Corsica, Lyon and Bordeaux, Bodrum in Turkey, Malta, Paphos in Cyprus and Pula in Croatia. Long haul destinations planned for relaunch icclude Antigua, Nairobi and Islamabad.
Meanwhile new insurance on offer through the airline, including cover for COVID-19, again raises the vexed question of upper age limits for silver travellers. Although statistics suggest the disease is greater threat the older people get, single trip policies are available up to the age of 79. However, the cut off age for annual multi trip insurance is 65. The insurance is arranged by Allianz Assistance. Visitors to this website, many of whom – in normal time – travel abroad several times a year, may see that as extraordinarily young. A spokeswoman for Allianz said: “We regularly research the market to gain a clear insight into the buying habits of different customer groups within the UK. As such, we understand that the target markets vary across each of the distribution channel partners that we work with. As it is the younger population that tend to purchase travel insurance through airlines and travel providers, the products available through BA have been tailored to meet the needs of this audience.”
Costa Rica ready to welcome Brits againabout 2 months ago
Costa Rica has re-opened its borders to UK tourists – but more in hope than immediate expectation. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office is currently still advising against all but essential trips there and travellers also need to self isolate when they get home. A spokesman for the country’s Tourism Board said British Airways planned direct flights there from October. Before that travellers would need to fly on Iberia via Madrid. As things stand visitors to Costa Rica will need to receive a negative result of a PCR test taken during 48 hours before departure. And on arrival they will have to take out local insurance that covers the potential cost of treatment pr quarantine accommodation while there. Costa Rica’s new Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura said: “We expect to receive fewer than five commercial flights per week at the outset, However, these are drops of hope for more than 600,000 people who directly or indirectly depend on the tourism industry.” Last year the country welcomed 78,562 visitors from the UK.
TUI extend Spanish holidays suspensionabout 2 months ago
TUI UK has extended its suspension of holidays to Spain following the Government’s controversial reimposition of restrictions on trips to the country. It has now cancelled departures to the Balearic and Canary Islands from today until 10 August and those to mainland Spain for a further seven days after that. Jet2, has cancelled its flights and holidays to the islands and mainland until 9 and 16 August respectively.
Both operators have increased capacity on offer to Greece and Turkey. The latter’s CEO Steve Heapy says the company has seen a sharp rise in demand for trips to the two countries.
Meanwhile some Jet2 customers on holiday in Spain have been left in confusion by the operator’s request that they should fly home early, although the Government has said people already there could return as planned. It was reported that some were trying to organise alternative flights so they could complete their holidays. A Jet2 spokesman said: “We are operating empty outbound flights to pick up customers from these destinations up to and including 3rd August, and we are contacting customers who are currently in these destinations to advise them of their options regarding flying back to the UK. We appreciate that some of our package holiday customers were due to stay on holiday for longer than this and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. It is important to note that we are responding to a very fast moving situation with updates coming from the government with little or notice, and we have had to make decisions about our programme accordingly. We can assure these customers that we will be in touch with them to resolve any issues that they may have.”
All UK airlines now paying refunds, says CAAabout 2 months ago
The Civil Aviation Authority says it has evidence that all UK airlines are now paying refunds and that call centre waiting times have reduced – in some cases significantly. This follows a review sparked by consumer complaints and contact with offenders. The Authority found some airlines were offering passengers only the option of rebooking on a later flight or accepting a voucher and others were making it “unduly difficult” for customers wanting their money back to contact them.
For the first time it has named airlines accused of refusing cash refunds. But in all cases it says the evidence is “based on passenger complaints”. And in response to its inquiries they are paying out. They were Air Canada, Air Transat, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines and WestJet.
The Authority also identifies those it says have failed to process refunds sufficiently quickly. They are easyJet, Emirates, Loganair, Ryanair, TUI and Virgin Atlantic.
The Authority said: The majority of airlines now provide an on-line method of requesting a refund. Of the small number that still require passengers to telephone their call centre we have required them to focus on reducing call waiting times and making it as easy as possible to request a refund.
“Our review found that a number of airlines were not performing adequately. We have gained immediate commitments from these airlines to improve their performance and the time taken to provide refunds to consumers, without requiring enforcement action. This is the most immediate way of providing benefits to consumers as enforcement processes can take a considerable amount of time to complete given the potential for legal proceedings. We have previously called for stronger, more immediate, powers to act to protect consumer rights.”
Rory Boland, editor of Which? said: “ the Government needed to give regulators more powers “to take swift and meaningful action”. It said the CAA was “failing the consumers it is supposed to protect. The reality is that people are still owed millions of pounds in refunds, are facing financial and emotional turmoil, and continue to be fobbed off by a number of airlines who have been brazenly breaking the law for months. These airlines will now feel they can continue to behave terribly having faced no penalty or sanction.It is obvious that the CAA does not have the right tools to take effective action against airlines that show disregard towards passengers and the law, but more worryingly, it’s not clear the regulator has the appetite to use them.”
The CAA said its action was “the most immediate way of providing benefits to consumers as enforcement processes can take a considerable amount of time to complete given the potential for legal proceedings. We have previously called for stronger, more immediate, powers to act to protect consumer rights.”
Other European airlines were not included initially in its review because discussion were taking place between national enforcement bodies, governments and the European Commission. However, it has now written to a further 30 European and international airline flying in and out of the UK “to highlight the results of our review, and to warn them not to deny consumers their right to a refund. We will not hesitate to take further action against any airlines where necessary.”
Cyprus: Jet2 Holidays suspends departuresabout 2 months ago
Jet2 Holidays has postponed its planned departures to Cyprus, blaming “prohibitive entry requirements”. From Saturday (1 August), the authorities there will relax the current ban on visitors from Britain. But they have decided to demand proof of a negative COVID-19 test on arrival, obtained with 72 hours before travel. Evidence can be in the form of an email or SMS but must include the date and time the test was taken and the type, which should be PCR, carried out with a swab. Jet2, Britain’s second biggest tour operator, said it “had no choice but to suspend flights and holidays to Larnaca and Paphos up to and including 16 August”. It added: “We continue to urge the Cypriot authorities to review the entry criteria in line with other destinations, so that our customers can enjoy their well deserved holidays”.
Spain: low island infection ratesabout 2 months ago
Infection figures for the Balearic and Canary Islands and to a lesser extend, Andalusia and the Valencia region suggest tour operators are justified in their anger at the Government’s blanket restrictions on travel to Spain. According to a report in today’s Guardian the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in the the two island groups over the past two weeks is 9.2 and 7.1. Those rates compare with the overall UK average of 12.7 and are significantly bettered only by northeast and southwest England (5) and Scotland (4). Cases in Spain were heavily weighted towards four regions in northeast Spain: Aragon (314), Catalonia (132), Navarra (136) and the Basque Country (66). Of these Catalonia includes a significant number of holiday resorts visited by British holidaymakers. The Basque Country attracts some. The other two are inland but have areas close to the sea.
Uncertainty forces more cruise cancellationsabout 2 months ago
Uncertainty over the immediate future of cruising has forced Saga to cancel more sailings until December. Its ship Spirit of Discovery will now return to service on 16 December. As a result, cruises to the Canary Islands due to depart on 18 November and 2 December – the latter also taking in Casablanca – have been cancelled. And two trips on the company’s new ship, Spirit of Adventure – one to the Canaries, the other to the Caribbean, have also been axed, though the vessel’s inaugural cruise is still scheduled to go ahead on 5 November, and has some space left. Options for passengers affected include transferring the full amount to an alternative cruise, plus 10%.
Spain: Government under relentless fireabout 2 months ago
Angry reaction rumbled on among travel firms today after the toughening of restrictions on Spanish holidays. After first exempting the Balearic and Canary Islands from its advice to avoid them except for essential reasons, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office performed a U turn yesterday. So far the Government has offered now rationale for the move.
Furious tour operators and High Street travel agents argue that infections in the islands are low. One long serving industry representative wondered: “What planet are they on”. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary accused Ministers of panicking. Chris Rowles, chair of AITO, whose members are specialist travel firms, said the association had no intention of putting people’s health at risk, but added: “It is AITO’s firm belief that the Government, by constantly hiding behind sweeping statements about ‘following the science’, without supplying travel industry experts, amongst others, with a firm rationale and allowing the travel industry to discuss it with them, Government is going down the wrong route in connection with air corridors and quarantine."
After the weekend news that travellers from the whole of Spain would be required to self quarantine on arrival in Britain the UK’s two biggest operators, TUI and Jet2 announced initially that they would continue to fly customers to the islands, – _ which include Mallorca, Ibiza, Tenerife and Lanzarote – if they were content to self isolate on their return. But later they suspended holidays there, as they had for mainland Spain.
Earlier the major International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the snap move did not accurately reflect the risk of a spike in one corner of the country. Former cabinet minister turned travel presenter Michael Portillo told the BBC’s World at One: “The Government lumping together all of Spain together, creating maximum confusion and anger and economic damage almost looks like a deliberate attempt to wreck the economy not only of this country but of Europe” He pointed out that the Canary Islands were twice as far from the UK as Barcelona. There was no scientific basis for linking infections there – or in Andalusia – with those in Catalonia. Asked about Norway’s decision to also quarantine travellers from Spain he replied: “Well, they’re just as wrong headed.”
Andrew Flintham, managing director of the TUI, UK’s largest operator, had also questioned why Ministers could not have taken a “regionalised” approach. “We’d really like a nuanced policy, so if there is a travel advice that says you can still go to the Canary Islands and the Balearics, we’d also like to have that backed up with a quarantine that obviously, isn’t in place. If there’s a travel advice that says you can’t go, then we believe that clearly the quarantine should be in place. If we can have a lined up and regional policy, it will be much easier for us to communicate that to customers.”
Industry leaders will be keeping hawk like eyes on the daily statistics of new cases emerging from Spain in an effort to judge whether the requirement and FCO advice continue to be justified. They will also be asking how many current cases have been recorded in or around busy tourist resorts compared with the number being picked up in little visited areas.
Health Minister Helen Whately said the government had to act “rapidly and decisively”. It was the “right thing to do” as the UK’s virus rate must be kept “right down” to avoid a second spike and the quarantine policy for other countries would be kept under review.
Sherry hotel opens in southern Spainabout 2 months ago
Only to be faced with the UK’s sudden imposition of new restrictions on travel to Spain, one of the country’s longest established sherry producers has opened a new hotel in the southern city of Jerez. Housed in 150 years old former winery workers’ cottages, the Hotel Bodega Tio Pepe is opposite the Alcazar and cathedral. The property has 27 rooms, a pool with views of the historic centre, a fitness centre, restaurant and bar and a garden, where guests can take breakfast or an aperitif, opening on to Calle Ciegos. The property will also offer tours of the winery and vineyard – and tastings.
Aerospace Museum to reopen2 months ago
Aerospace Bristol, home to the last Concorde to fly, is to reopen on 1 August, with a one way “flight path”. Tickets must be booked in advance and the number of visitors will be limited. Visitors will be able to step aboard the supersonic airliner again, and look into the cockpit, but they will have use hand sanitiser when entering and leaving the cabin and wil be required to wear masks. Them museum explores the history of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, its role in two world wars, plus the space race and the latest aviation technology. It will be open from 10am until 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Visitor services manager Rachel Chivers says: “We’re fortunate that the museum is situated in large, spacious aircraft hangars. There’s lots of space between the exhibits and an easy-to-follow one-way route, which will allow people to enjoy a family day out while maintaining safe social distancing.
BA to launch Montego Bay flights2 months ago
British Airways to operate winter services from Gatwick to Montego Bay in Jamaica from 13 October. Flights will depart from Gatwick on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 12.20pm, arriving at 5.30pm. London bound passengers will leave at 7.30pm, arriving at 9.25am next morning. Montego Bay is on the island’s north coast. BA began flying again to the capital, Kingston, on Monday. It has also restarted services to Barbados and will resume operations St Lucia and Antigua on 25 July and 1 August respectively. However. Its Caribbean flights are currently departing less frequently than they were before lockdown.
COVID-19: travel insurance policies beefed up2 months ago
Allianz Assistance has beefed up its travel insurance to include reimbursement for coronavirus claims. Besides paying out if customers are stricken with the disease while abroad policies include cover for cancellation if a traveller or travelling companion is prevented from departing by symptoms, diagnosis or quarantine, is denied boarding or needs to stay home because a close relative becomes sick. Policies cover other diseases classed as epidemics of pandemics.
Staysure has improved its cover by adding COVID-19 related cancellations to its policies. It was thought to be the first to cover customers for expenses incurred if they fell ill with the disease while abroad. But at first the company, which specialises in the mature traveller market and those with pre-existing health conditions, excluded claims if the disease rendered them unable to travel. Much like Allianz customers they will be covered if they, or a household member, have to cancel their trips, if they are denied boarding on the way to their destination, or if they have to cut their holiday short because a relative has died of coronavirus. The new cover is being added to all new policies and to year round policies bought since 16 March.
Swan Hellenic cruise brand revived2 months ago
Swan Hellenic, the cultural cruise line, is to be reincarnated, according to reports. It will operate two state of the art expedition ships, under construction in Finland. They will each have 76 cabins and carry up to 152 passengers. The first will be launched in London in November next year before departing for Antarctica. The second will be launched in 2022 in St Petersburg, before heading to the British Isles, Iceland and the Arctic. After their initial seasons the ships will sails to a range of destinations around the world. The original Swan Hellenic, born some seven decades ago, ceased operations in 2017.
Edinburgh to get new luxury hotel2 months ago
In what will be seen as a statement of faith in a return to normality, Legal & General is to invest over £50 millions in a luxury hotel and city centre hub on Edinburgh’s Princes Street. The hotel, which will have views of trhe castle, will be housed in a former Debenhams store. The hub will include shops and “fine casual dining”. In a statement the company said: “It is envisaged that the plans will help realise the council’s long held ambitions to create a café culture in Edinburgh’s most famous street. Legal & General is committed to reshaping the urban landscape by recycling hard-earned UK savings and pensions into real assets which promote job creation and can support cities’ post-Covid economic bounce back.”
Cruise line goes Under2 months ago
The company that traded as Cruise and Maritime Voyages has gone into administration. The line, which operated six ships, is the latest travel company to be laid low by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not known how many customers wopuld be hit. The company’s demise comes with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advising against ocean cruising, including trips in UK waters. A statement on its website said South Quay Travel & Leisure, which traded under the line’s name, sold mainly cruise packages. Customers who has booked these could claim their money back under ABTA’s protection scheme. The also sold a small number of packages including flights, which were covered by the Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL protection net.
Ireland - hiking & cycling short breaks launched2 months ago
Recognising demand for staycations, specialisty tour operator CaminoWays has launched short hiking and cycling breaks in Ireland. There are two on foot, including three days of walking and four nights’ accommodation on the Wicklow Way and the Causeway Coast Way. The former finishes in Dublin’s Marlay Park. The latter – billed as slightly easier, takes in the Giants Causeway and finishes in the Victorian seaside resort of Portstewart. The cycling trip – also for three days/four nights – is on the Great Western Greenway. It follows the route of the eponymous railway, which was closed in 1937, but the firm suggests you can make deviations as stamina allows. The breaks start from £300, £440 and £340 respectively. If you don’t want to carry your own bags you can have them transferred between overnight stops. Flights are not included.