In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
  • Quebec

    Quebec city - new hopes for holidays abroad?

    Quick COVID tests raise travel kickstart hope

    about 1 month ago

    Hopes that cheap, rapid coronavirus tests may kickstart overseas travel have been raised by the prospect that they could be available within weeks. Sir John Bell, Regis professor of medicine at Oxford University and a senior Government advisor, told the BBC at the weekend the tests, which cost around £3 – £5, could prove “a bit of a game changer”. There’s quite a lot of work going on into tests where the turn around time is very short – minutes – which can be used repeatedly and distributed to people in schools, universities and in the community. They’re not ready for launch yet but we’re making a lot of progress on that. There are several in play". He said the risk of false positives, which not long ago was estimated to be up to 50%, had been solved. It was now only about one in 1000, he said. It was estimated that about 70% of people with the infection were a symptomatic “so we really need to get into asymptomatic testing”. One great advantage of the cheap tests would be to cut the number of people needlessly in quarantine after coming into contact with an infectious person, particularly if positive tests were followed up with PCR checks. For example, at present each student testing positive might have around 30 such contacts. Though it is clear that the first to benefit from such tests would be frontline workers and children and young people in those in full time education, Sir John’s reasoning could equally apply to people returning from holidays. The prospect will raise optimism that the travel industry’s pain might be eased sooner rather than later. One obvious possibility is that tour operators and airlines might be able to provide pre-flight tests privately.

  • Hotelritz royal suite 2

    Royal Suite

    March reopening planned for Madrid's Ritz

    about 1 month ago

    One of Europe’s grandest hotels, the Ritz in Madrid, is scheduled to reopen in March after the most extensive and costly renovation in its 110 year history. Boasting a guest book including Prince Charles and Diana, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, Fidel Castro, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Eva Peron, Nelson Mandela, Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth, its opening was originally set for the summer just past. Its glass domed Palm Court will make a comeback after 80 years. Now part of the Mandarin Oriental stable, the property will open with 153 rooms, including 53 suites. It will incorporate new leisure facilities including an indoor pool and a fitness centre. The hotel is taking bookings for stays starting on 15 March. It is a short step from the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemiza museums and about a 15 minute walk from the Reina Sofia 20th century art centre, home to Picasso’s Guernica.

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    Crete: image by azafos from Pixabay

    Crete off Quarantine List

    about 1 month ago

    Travellers returning from Crete will no longer need to self isolate from 4am on Sunday. However, if this appears at first sight to be a ray of sunshine in the gathering COVID gloom, note that if you’re minded to escape there, you should keep hawklike eyes on Foreign & Commonwealth advice concerning the most up to date Greek entry requirements. Meanwhile, also from 4am on Sunday, travellers arriving from Italy will need to self isolate for 14 days. Italy has in any case introduced a requirement that people arriving there must either show evidence of a negative test or take one at the airports and self isolate until the result is known (see our story posted last week).

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    Surge in UK boat holiday bookings

    about 1 month ago

    Specialist tour operator Le Boat says its bookings for next year are already up by 133% compared with this time last year, when coronavirus had yet to enter people’s consciousness. The surge in staycations has prompted company to make additional boats available for hire on the Thames between Kingston-upon-Thames and Oxford and the Caledonian Canal and Loch shown a preference for destinations that do not involve air travel, leading to expectations – assuming current travel restrictions are relaxed – of increased bookings in France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

  • Italy

    Italy - requires negative test

    Few silver travelers plan winter trips abroad

    about 1 month ago

    Less than one in ten over 50s is planning to travel internationally between now and next April, according to new research from YouGov. Only 9% of those aged 50-64 and eight per cent of over 65s said trips abroad were on their calendars. In contrast, 84% and 86% said they had no such plans. The remainder were undecided. The survey makes gloomy reading for travel companies. Even among people aged 18-24 only 16% said they were planning to head abroad.

    Obviously the number of destinations available has been dwindling and even among those still on the Government’s travel corridor list there are some, including Italy and Barbados, that require negative test results. So it remains possible that a widespread fall in COVID-19 infections could spark a late getaway surge.

    Though tougher restrictions may change their outlook, a more encouraging 40% of 50-64 year olds said they were planning to travel domestically. But the proportion fell to 28% among over 65s. The figures for those who didn’t have domestic travel plans were 46% and 56% respectively.

    When it asked how they felt about transport the two age groups indicated they would more confient going abroad by rail or sea than by air. Those proportion who said they would feel safer travelling by train, ferry and aircraft were 26%, 29% and 17% respectively among 50-64 year olds, and 21%, 23% and 11% among those over 65. Three quarters and 80% of the two groups respectively said they would not feel safe flying.

    Another new survey, by online travel company Opodo, claimed that the British were more jittery than other Europeans about post pandemic travel. Forty one per cent of us said they were “scared or worried” compared with the European average of 35%. The French were the least frightened, with only 20% admitting to nervousness.

  • Heathrow pax

    Image courtesy Heathrow Airport

    New plea for pre-flight tests

    about 1 month ago

    A fresh call for international agreement on testing before passengers board flights has come from Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye. As the airport reported an 68.9% drop in the number of passengers it handled in 12 months to the end of September, he said “The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce is a great step forward, but needs to act quickly to save the millions of UK jobs that rely on aviation." He said tests five days after arrival following five days of quarantine would kick start the economy. “But the government could show real leadership by working with the US to develop a common international standard for pre-departure testing that would mean that only Covid-free passengers are allowed to travel from high risk countries.” Heathrow is urging the taskforce to report by 1 November.

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    Low COVID risk on flights says airline expert

    about 2 months ago

    The risk of contracting COVID-19 on a flight is lower than the danger of being struck by lightning, according to the airline organisation IATA. The association’s medical advisor, Dr David Powell, said only 44 cases in which transmission was thought to have occurred in flight had been reported since the start of the year. Over that period around 1.2bn passengers had travelled. That worked out at one case for every 27m passengers. The danger of being struck by lightning in the UK is roughly one in 1.2 milion

    “We recognize that this may be an underestimate but even if 90% of the cases were un-reported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travelers. We think these figures are extremely reassuring. Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread.”

    Dr Powell pointed to research by aircraft manufacturers Airbus, Boeing and Embraer showing that filters, downward airflow in cabins and the high rate at which air changed – plus mask wearing – all limited the risk.

  • Quantum of the seas 848437 1920

    Quantum of the Seas: image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

    Singapore to trial COVID safe cruises

    about 2 months ago

    Singapore is to pilot what it hopes will be COVID safe cruises, starting next month. If successful it could prove a small but important step towards getting the ravaged cruise industry back on its feet. A mandatory certification programme is being developed by the tourist board, setting out stringent measures throughout the journey – from before boarding to after disembarking. Two cruise ships will take part in the trial: Genting’s World Dream will start operating on 6 November and Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas will begin sailing in September. The cruises will be open only to Singaporeans, they will be round trips with no ports of call and the ships will carry only 50% of their capacity. Passengers will undergo compulsory tests before boarding, measures in board will be designed to discourage close contacts and inter mingling by groups. And contact tracing will take place both during the cruises and for 14 days afterwards.

  • Bologna

    Bologna market: image © Roger Bray

    Italy demands COVID tests

    about 2 months ago

    Travellers to Italy now need to show proof of a negative COVID test on arrival. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises it needs to be carried out in the 72 hours before departure and must be a molecular (PCR) or an antigenic test. It should be arranged privately and not through the NHS. Alternatively you can take a free test when you arrive at the airport in Italy. You will then have to self isolate at a hotel or other accommodation until the result comes through – unless you fly to an airport with fast testing that takes up to one hour. Then you will have to wait for the result. The FCO stresses you should check airport websites to see which tests are available. It warns that testing has not been introduced at some airports. Passengers flying to those airports – or finding testing facilities closed – must take a test somewhere else within 48 hours. Whether or not you need to book a test you must call the COVID-19 helpline (details on the FCO website) to in form them of your visit.

  • Santrorini

    Santorini: image by Russel Yan from Pixabay

    Five Greek Islands taken off quarantine list

    about 2 months ago

    Five Greek islands have been removed from the quarantine list. From 4am on Saturday, travellers returning from Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Santorini and Zakynthos, will no longer need to self isolate.

  • Icon trailfinders orange

    Which? names Trailfinders top holiday firm

    about 2 months ago

    Trailfinders has been named as Holiday Provider of the Year by consumer champion Which? It emerged ahead of three other tour operators shortlisted for the accolade – Explore, Inntravel and Kuoni. Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult said: “The travel industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic as airspaces were closed and travel restrictions were implemented. Trailfinders responded brilliantly, and promptly refunded customers when many other companies faltered." It also performed well, says Which?, in other categories that were judged – the organisation of package trips, city breaks, escorted and self guided tours.

  • Air terminal

    Quarantine move could prove damp squib

    about 2 months ago

    The Government has set up a taskforce to look at whether travellers could self isolate for a shorter period after returning from countries outside the travel corridor list. Possible changes include allowing them to pay for a test between five and eight days after getting home. However, the move looks unlikely spark much celebration in the travel industry. The currently mooted price of £150 per private test is enough to deter the majority of leisure travellers. And most incoming tourists would be put off by even a few days of quarantine.

    The taskforce is expected to report next month. But airlines, airport operators and travel firms, who have seen traffic and revenues severely damaged, are already exasperated with Government inaction. They want quarantine requirements to be replaced with comprehensive testing. The International Air Transport Association argues that the only way to revive global travel is to test passengers before departure. Efforts are being made are underway to create bilateral arrangements between airports – for example on the lucrative route between Heathrow and New York.

    A spokeswoman for British Airways told the BBC “Although every step to improve the current situation is welcome, we do not believe quarantine is the solution. The best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying.”

  • Ski slopes

    Most skiers pessimistic about holiday chances - new research

    about 2 months ago

    Will the ski slopes be strangely empty this winter? New Research from the Ski Club of Great Britain suggests if you’re brave enough to defy the virus there’s a chance you may have the slopes to yourself. Although 86% of skiers still intend to go – and a quarter have already booked holidays – only 29% are confident that they’ll actually get there. The main reasons for this widespread doubt are Government restrictions and travel advice. A whopping 79% of those questioned said the current policy – of approving travel corridors and requiring self isolation for people returning from countries not on the list – wasn’t fit for purpose.

    A similar survey in June, before the resurgence of COVID, found 96% of skiers planned to hit the slopes during the coming season. Last winter 86% travelled there by air. The latest research suggests that could fall to 59% this winter, with those driving via Eurotunnel jumping from 7% to 27% and those catching ferries increasing from 3% to 8%. Apartments look likely to be in demand, too, with 25% saying they would self cater, compared with 19% last season. The proportion planning to book hotels fell from 43% to 38% and those intending to stay in chalets dropped rom 25% to 19%.

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    Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay

    Failure to test travellers harming wildlife, says operator

    about 2 months ago

    The drastic fall in long haul travel could have a serious impact on wildlife, a leading tour operator warns. While birds and other creatures in some areas may have enjoyed the peace of lockdown, he says poaching is on the rise as lost tourist income from safaris drives local people to seek alternative ways to support their families.
    The warning comes from Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent, who is pressing for accessible testing “across the board”, allowing people to prove they are COVID free and travel with less need to quarantine. It also comes amid mounting confusion over whether airport testing should be carried out on arrival or before departure.
    IATA, the international airline organisation, has called on Governments to agree on a regime of pre-departure testing as that might remove the threat of quarantine on arrival. But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated during this week’s Tory conference that such a system was still far from the UK Government’s thinking. He is expected to reveal details of an airport testing trial this week. One possibility is that the Government will require two tests, with a relatively short spell of quarantine between them. This would do little to encourage leisure travel, however.

  • Pierre auguste renoir. unge mennesker p%c3%a5 gaden. %28ca. 1877%29. fotograf pernille klemp

    Renoir: Young People in the Street (image by Pernille Klemp)

    Danish art museum nears re-opening

    about 2 months ago

    Denmark may have been withdrawn from the Government’s travel corridor list but the country has new treats in store when COVID-19 finally retreats. Notable among them will be the extended Oordrupgaard Museum, 10k north of Copenhagen, home to one of Europe’s most impressive collections of late 19th and early 20th century French and Danish art. The museum has been closed during the addition of five underground exhibition rooms, only one of which is visible from outside. They will link the original 20th century building to a more recent extension, designed by Zaha Hadid, which opened in 2005. Expected to re-open around by the start of 2021, its collection includes works by Renoir, Manet, Cézanne, Gaugin, and Courbet.

  • Gatwick

    Gatwick South Terminal

    Gatwick to charge for terminal drop offs, pick ups

    about 2 months ago

    Drivers dropping of or picking up passengers outside Gatwick’s terminals will be charged £5 starting next year. Currently around 15% of people using the airport travel that way. Revenue raised will help the airport offset the devastating impact of COVID-19 by preserving jobs. To avoid the charge drivers will be able to park free for two hours in the airport’s long stay car parks, while passengers use shuttle buses. No date has yet been set for the introduction of the charge. Special arrangements are being worked out for disabled travellers and local people who use Gatwick’s station most days to travel to and from work.

  • Good hotel guide

    Hastings b&b wins top award

    about 2 months ago

    Half timbered yet hip is the verdict of the latest Good Hotel Guide on Swan House, Hastings, winner of its b&b of the year award. One “trusted” reader described it as “a successful combination of stylish and homely, a warm, comfortable, well cared-for historic house”. The Tudor building, in a quiet cul-de-sac in the Old Town, has a beamed lounge cum breakfast room and a courtyard garden. The award is one of ten annual “Césars”, named after the famous luxury hotel pioneer César Ritz. Of the 37 additions to the Guide’s main section, the award for best newcomer goes to Baraset Barn, at Alveston, near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. With “high-beamed ceilings, flagstone floors and superb menus”, the property is described as “a foodie heaven”.

    Country house winner is the riverside Grasmere Hotel in Cumbria, a Victorian Hotel with walks from the doorstep, views of Helm Crag. The Angel Inn with its Michelin starred restaurant – at Hetton in the Yorkshire Dales – is named Inn of the Year.

    Seaside and island hotels of the year are respectively The Scarlet in Mawgan Pawth, an “eco-friendly Cornish bolthole” and La Sablonnerie on Little Sark in the Channel Islands, a 400 year old farmhouse where dinner might include roasted scallops or lobster thermidor.

    Irish and Scottish winners are Roundwood House, at Mountrath in County Laois and the The Peat Inn near St Andrews in Fife – another property boasting a Michelin starred restaurant.

    The insulation of roofs with sheep’s wool is one of the initiatives that helped the adults only Coes Faen, in the Welsh coastal resort of Barmouth win the Green Hotel of the Year award. And the award for romantic hotel goes to Lewtrenchard Manor, on the northeast edge of Dartmoor. A Jacobean house dating from the early 17th century.

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    Manchester's Cornwall link to be restored

    about 2 months ago

    A new service linking Newquay with Manchester is set to be launched on 23 October. Until the end of winter regional carrier Eastern Airways will fly the route, formerly operated by the collapsed Flybe, four times a week. But it plans to increase the service to at least one daily round trip in time for Cornwall’s summer season. Flights will take one hours. Eastern claims the journey takes nearly seven hours by road or rail. It already operates flights linking Newquay with Teesside and Leeds-Bradford airports and earlier this month launched a service between Teesside and Heathrow.

  • Cider

    Image courtesy Butford Organic Cider & Perry

    Cider routes launched

    about 2 months ago

    October brings cider making and Visit Herefordshire has devised two self guided routes between orchards and production plants – by car for those more interested in observation than instant consumption, by bicycle for those prepared to pedal off the effects. The tourist board has produced two maps – to southern and northern circuits – showing not just stops where major producers including Bulmers and Westons may be visited but the farms of smaller artisan cider makers such as Little Pomona, Oliver’s Gregg’s Pit, Butford Organic and Newton Court. The routes, which startsv and finish in Hereford, are both around 50 miles long and wind through orchard flanked lanes. The southern route can be cut short by 30 miles at Ledbury, where visitors can take a train back to Hereford. To view the route maps as pdfs or accedss via the Strava app, go “Visit Herefordshire”: https://www.visitherefordshire.co.uk/applesforautumn

  • Mitre

    Historic Thames side hotel re-opens

    about 2 months ago

    The Mitre Hotel at Hampton Court, thought to have been built in 1665 for Charles II as “a hostel for visitors to the Palace” has re-opened as a boutique after a major refurbishment. Following more recent reconstruction, the 36 room property is Grade II listed as a mid-18th century building. Now part of a new hotel company, The Signet Collection, it has a large terrace overlooking the Thames, a restaurant seating 60 and a brasserie and bar seating 70. Free wi fi is available throughout, pre-booked valet parking is available and there are two electric vehicle charging points. The hotel has its own jetty a riverboat for hire, grows herbs on the orangery roof and keeps beehives on its main roof – and has its own label beer, brewed in Hampshire. With a nod to the Palace a stone’s throw away it’s called: “The Six Wives”. Whether or not the beer has a head we cannot confirm.