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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
BA to trial "health passport"about 1 month ago
British Airways is to trial a mobile “health passport” that enables travellers to store test certificates on their phones. Called VeriFLY, the software will confirm that a passenger’s coronavirus test matches the destination country’s requirements with a “pass” or “fail” message. There will be special check in desks for certified customers, who will be fast tracked through the airport. It was not clear, at the time of writing, whether the app would allow people to store details of vaccination. The trial will begin on 4 February and will involve passengers flying from eleven US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago. A later phase of the trial will include customers of BA’s partner American Airlines, which already allows all its US bound international customers to use VeriFly.
Inghams suspends ski holidays until Aprilabout 1 month ago
Ski holiday operator Inghams has further suspended departures until 2 April. The move also applies to Ski Total and Flexiski, two other brands in the Hotelplan UK group. Customers are being offered replacement holidays later – or refunds. The group’s chief executive Joe Ponte said: “We absolutely want to help skiers return to the mountains as soon as it is safe to do so, but as the Covid-19 crisis continues to worsen, we are facing the reality that it is sadly looking less and less likely. We understand that many skiers are very keen to get skiing again this winter. With this in mind, while we think there is still a possibility that ski holidays could go ahead this season, we will continue to monitor the everchanging situation closely and keep our customers informed of any updates regarding the remainder of this winter, as soon as we can. For those customers concerned about their booking for this April, they can feel confident that we will continue to look to do the right thing by them – and we have already delayed taking final balance payments until 4 weeks prior to departure. They are also able to move their holiday to next winter with zero amendment fee if they wish.” He said had already sold 45% of its ski holidays for next winter.
Pre-flight tests: will hotel chains lead way?about 1 month ago
Signs are growing that international resort and hotel chains may emerge from the COVID-19 crisis earlier than independents. For example, Sandals is offering offer tests to all guests at its all inclusive Caribbean resorts. And Hyatt has announced that 19 of its resort properties in Latin America and the Caribbean will provide free tests until 31 May for guests due to return to the US. The UK and US are among countries demanding that incoming travellers show evidence of negative tests besides self isolating after arrival. Unless the use of a vaccine passport is agreed – either globally or bilaterally between nations – hotels around the world providing similar facilities may enjoy a major head start in the race to revive tourism.
Southampton to get new France flightsabout 1 month ago
Eastern Airways plans to launch flights from Southampton to two French destinations this spring. Though no lifting of the current lockdown is in sight the airline will start flying to the cities of Rennes and Nantes on 29 and 30 April respectively. Services to the former will be on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Those to the latter will depart on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Both routes were operated by Flybe before its collapse last year and will be operated by 72 seat ATR72-600 twin engine turboprops. Eastern already flies to Belfast-City, Manchester, Leeds-Bradford and Teesside from Southampton with Dublin services planned.
Holiday credit protection extendedabout 1 month ago
The Civil Aviation Authority has further extended its guarantee that travellers accepting refund credit notes for cancelled package holidays will not lose their money if the tour firm that issued them goes bust. The guarantee, which had been due to expire on 31 January, will now run until 31 March. The move will relieve immediate pressure on tour operators who might otherwise have been faced with significant demands for cash refunds with no sign of an imminent thaw in the current holiday freeze.
As things stand, customers will need to use their credit notes by 30 September – either by booking a holiday or exercising their right to demand cash refunds. That is when Government backing for consumer bail outs will end. But, with the likelihood some people may be unable to redeem their notes by then, top level discussions are under way about how best to tackle the problem.
The extension applies to people who have booked holidays protected by the Authority’s ATOL protection scheme. Amid repeated lockdowns and travel corridor closures, holiday companies have been offering the notes to stave off the immediate financial impact of the pandemic. But legal doubt arose over whether the scheme covered customers accepting the notes. It is believed the Government was loath to provide an open ended assurance that it did protect them, lest a huge crop of tour operators should collapse, overwhelming the CAA’s back up reimbursement fund and leaving the taxpayer with a big bill.
The Authority repeated its conditions for the issue of the notes: They must be issued for a cancelled ATOL protected booking. The booking must have been cancelled by the tour operator due to the coronavirus pandemic – and the refund credit note must be able to be exchanged for cash at a later date.
Paul Smith, Consumer Director at the UK Civil Aviation Authority said “We recognise that changes to government restrictions on travel have an unprecedented effect on ATOL holders and on consumers with ATOL protected bookings. In light of these circumstances, we have extended ATOL protection for refund credit notes.
“This will allow for travel companies to offer their customers refund credit notes in good faith and mean that consumers will not be at financial risk if they choose to accept a refund credit note rather than a cash refund.”
Spectacular Latin America cruise plannedabout 1 month ago
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is betting the Brazilian variant will be under control by this time next year with the launch of a spectacular Central and South American itinerary. Its new ship Bolette will sail from Southampton on a 79 night cruise with calls at ports in countries including Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil itself. Among the highlights will be a transit of the Panama Canal, an exploration of the Chilean fjords, and the rounding of Cape Horn. The ship will depart on 4 January. Prices start at £8299 per person, with a £400 bonus to spend on board.
Angry tour firms slam holiday scare tacticsabout 1 month ago
Travel companies reacted in fury at warnings from Government that it is far too early to consider booking summer holidays. AITO, which represents over 100 specialist tour operators, accused Ministers of scaring people unnecessarily, arguing its customers – many over 50 – knew vaccination was on the way and understood they would still need to exercise caution.
The association’s patience snapped following the latest warning yesterday. Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was far too soon to speculate about future border restricitons and “whether people should be booking a holiday”. It came amid reports that tough new measures -such as closing the UK border and isolating arriving travellers in hotels – could be taken to prevent new coronavirus variants entering the country. Government concerns may have been prompted partly by travel industry claims that bookings have surged as millions are vaccinated.
Derek Moore, AITO’s deputy chair, urged Ministers to “think before they speak” instead of causing damage through “daft, off the cuff remarks” such as “I certainly wouldn’t book a holiday now”. And he called for affordable, coordinated testing centres to replace quarantine
He said: "At present, vaccination is well underway and seems to be very successful. What Ministers have said today didn’t take that into account. Our customers seem to understand better than Ministers; our customers -many over 50 – know that they will soon be vaccinated for self-protection. Our customers understand that remembering “face, space and hands” and the wearing of face masks whenever in public will need to continue, whether they are at home or abroad on holiday, and they accept, can cope with that. Having been cooped up at home for months, unable to meet family and friends, they want something to plan and to look forward to – a decent holiday is an essential this year, for our customers and for the survival of the entire travel industry.
“Government needs to make it crystal clear that the new measures talked about today will be reviewed – that they are not set in stone. People planning on travelling from June onwards will now think, incorrectly, that they will be subject to these latest restrictions. But, by June, a huge proportion of the UK population will have been vaccinated. Why frighten people and put them off booking holidays totally unnecessarily?”
Mr Moore pleaded with Ministers to remember holidays were important to mental health as well as the economy. " Yes, holidays must be safe too, of course – but, with vaccination, testing, the wearing of face masks and the constant mantra of face, space and hands, that is perfectly achievable. Panic and fear is certainly not the way forward."
Few Brits expect normal summer holsabout 1 month ago
Despite reports from the travel industry of soaring bookings and pent up demand, a new YouGov survey has found few Britons are confident of getting “a normal summer holiday abroad this year”. Only nine per cent said they were, while nearly three quarters (74%) said they were not. The remaining 17% didn’t know. The results raise the possibility that many people are prepared to fly in the face of abnormality. Earlier this week budget airline easyJet reported its bookings up by 250% on the same time last year. And yesterday Jet2 and its package holiday arm announced it was further expanding its summer programme with the addition of “thousands of additional seats” from Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Stansted. The move including new flights to Malaga and Larnaca from Birmingham and to the French Atlantic port of La Rochelle from Bristol.
Clifftop hotel to open in Algarveabout 1 month ago
The international W hotel brand is to make its debut in Portugal with the much delayed opening of a property in the Algarve. Scheduled to welcome its first guests this spring the hotel overlooks the Atlantic from cliffs just outside Albufeira, with its old centre and lively nightlife. It promises 134 rooms and suites and 83 residences, all with ocean views and spacious balconies. Some suites will have rooftop terraces with private plunge pools. There will also be larger outdoor pools. The hotel will incorporate a fitness centre and a spa with seven treatment rooms. Dining options will include regional Portuguese and Italian cooking.
Saga says customers must be vaccinatedabout 1 month ago
Over-50s specialist Saga will require all its customers to have been vaccinated at least 14 days before departure. To give them more time to receive the necessary double dose it has delayed the planned restart of its holiday operations from April to May. Its escorted tours, hotel breaks and river cruises will begin on 1 May. The first of its ocean cruises will sail on 4 May, as previously intended.
A spokesperson said: " “The health and safety of our customers has always been our number one priority at Saga, so we have taken the decision to require everyone travelling with us to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Our customers want the reassurance of the vaccine and to know others travelling with them will be vaccinated too. To allow our customers time to get vaccinated, we are moving the restart date for our travel businesses to May. Our new vaccination policy will be in addition to the detailed arrangements we have already put in place for when cruises and other holidays restart.”
Cruises: Norwegian lines extend suspensionsabout 1 month ago
Norwegian Cruise Line has joined the list of operators extending the suspension of all sailings. As the pandemic rages on it has now delayed the restart of voyages until 30 April. The move also applies to two other Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ two other brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Customers affected were advised to contact their travel agents or the cruise lines themselves. The company said it will “continue to work in tandem with global government and public health authorities and its Healthy Sail Panel expert advisors to take all necessary measures to protect its guests, crew and the communities visited”.
Jabs key to summer travel surgeabout 2 months ago
If easyJet’s summer bookings claim is anything to go by, travellers are ignoring Dominic Raab’s warning that it is too early to book foreign holidays abroad. The budget airline says they are up by 250% on this time last year. Chief executive Johan Lundgren told the BBC May was currently proving the most popular month for getaways. ""We know there is pent up demand – we have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed – and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,“.” By then most silver travellers should have had their second dose of vaccine and will be raring to go. Mr Lundgren said vaccination programmes here and across the Channel were “undoubtedly the key to unlocking travel again”. However, much will still depend on the extent to which destinations have the virus under control, assessments of the risk people who have been vaccinated might still pass on the infection, and the lifting of the current requirement that travellers arriving in the UK must show evidence of negative tests taken 72 hours previously.
Skiers' hope springs eternalabout 2 months ago
Almost half (49%) of the UK’s skiers are still clinging to the hope that they may hit the slopes this season despite huge uncertainty over the pandemic, new research suggests. And 64% have already booked holidays, according to the latest survey from the Ski Club of Great Britain. But 36% will leave booking until the week before departure, indicating a likely scramble for accommodation if travel does take off again.
The club originally sent the survey in December but decided to resend it this month in light of new restrictions. In the meantime the number still planning to get away dropped by ten percentage points. Just under one in three (32%) said they had no intention of skiing this season, while the 19% who were undecided said vaccination would be their highest priority.
Teesside to get new Heathrow flightsabout 2 months ago
Travellers in the northeast of England are to get a new air link with London, opening the way for connections to the wider world. Scottish airline Loganair has confirmed plans to launch services between Teesside International Airport and Heathrow. It has interline agreements with airlines including British Airways, KLM, Air France, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines and Qatar Airways which will allow passengers to make one booking to a huge range of international destinations. The airport is between Middlesbrough and Darlington. From 8 March the airline will operate two round trips a day from Monday to Friday with one on Sundays. And starting on 28 March it will fly once on Saturdays and twice on Sundays. Weekday flights to London will depart at 6.50am and 5.55pm, returning from Heathrow at 8.50am and 7.50pm.
Shearings' new refund promiseabout 2 months ago
Coach holiday specialist Shearings is to place advance payments by customers in a trust account, promising them their money will not be touched until they return from their trips. The move follows controversy over delays in refunds during the pandemic. Tour operators have complained that they had themselves paid in advance for flight tickets but that airlines had declined to return those payments. This has led to suggestions that all holiday payments should be similarly protected. However operators have protested that this would raise their costs. And it is common knowledge in the industry says some of those using trust funds have used them to pay suppliers in any case.
Shearings has long been popular with visitors to this website. After its parent company was forced in administration by the COVID-19 crisis the brand was rescued last June by Leger Holidays – another leading coach holiday operator. Leger acquired its name, website and customer base for an undisclosed sum. Its customers were formerly protected under a Confederation of Passenger Transport scheme. Its new owners are adamant that its customers will be “100% covered for every penny they spend on their holidays”. The money will be held by PTT Trustees, who are approved by the Civil Aviation Authority as part of its ATOL financial protection umbrella for air package holidaymakers.
Liam Race, commercial manager for Shearings and Leger, said: "In the current environment we want Shearings’ customers to be confident that if for any reason our tours do not go ahead, for example due to tier restrictions or lockdowns, then the customer can choose a refund, which they will receive within seven days. Travel Agents can assure customers that Shearings has chosen the most robust financial protection for their holiday payments. By switching to a Secure Trust Account we cannot touch our customers’ money until after their holiday – we can’t use it, for example, to prepay suppliers.
Rotherham based Leger will not take the same route, however. It’s land only holidays are bonded through ABTA, while those incorporating flights are covered under ATOL scheme. Mr Race said its participation in both schemes was renewed at the start of October, before the Shearings move was decided. It will be reviewed before renewal s again due this autumn.
All travel corridors now shut offabout 2 months ago
All travel corridors are to be closed from 4am on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this afternoon. This means means all passengers coming by air and sea will have to take a test within 72 hours of arriving, followed by 10 days of self isolation – and not just those from countries off the corridor list. The quarantine period can be cut to five days if the traveller pays privately for another test. The move t comes amid concern about new variants of the COVID-19 virus and follows the ban on visitors from 14 South American countries – plus Portugal and Cape Verde – which came into force this morning. It spells more grim news for the travel industry with no indication of when the new restrictions might be eased.
South American travel plans hitabout 2 months ago
The emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in Brazil threatens to scupper any hopes of South American holidays raised by the vaccination roll out. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has banned arrivals from 14 countries there. Apart from Brazil itself the ban, which came into force at 4am today, applies to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Arrivals from Cape Verde are also banned and – with an exemption for hauliers – travel from Portugal has been suspended. Mr Shapps said the measure excluded British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residence rights – but they must self isolate for ten days after arriving. With no information on the likely duration of the ban the move will limit options for silver travellers now being vaccinated and hoping to make up for lost time with a major long haul trip this year
Norwegian abandons long haul flyingabout 2 months ago
Low cost airline Norwegian has finally thrown in the towel and axed its long haul services. The move means the end of its transatlantic flights from Gatwick with the expected loss of over 1000 jobs. Its entire Boeing 7887 Dreamliner fleet has been ground throughout the pandemic. Norwegian will now concentrate on its European route network, creating a quandary for passengers who had accepted loyalty points to be used against future long haul flights and raising the question whether they will be obliged to cash them in for trips closer to home.
Norwegian had been struggling for some time before the onset of COVID-19. But before the pandemic took hold its seemed the airline might survive. Now it has joined the dismal procession of carriers which have tried – and failed – to make an economic success of low cost, long haul travel. Expert observers have noted in the past, that fact that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary – perhaps the shrewdest of operators – has never entered the fray.
The airline’s CEO Jacob Schramm said customers with bookings affected by the changes would be contacted and refunded". The company’s aim was to operate around 50 narrow bodied aircraft this year and up that to some 70 in 2022, while reducing its debt and raising fresh capital. " Future demand remains highly uncertain. Under these circumstances a long haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will not continue."
Vaccination sparks silver traveller booking surgeabout 2 months ago
Vaccination is prompting a surge of holiday bookings by the over-50s, reports from the travel industry suggest. The Government’s promise that all over-70s wil have received the jab by mid-February has clearly stirred a new feeling of confidence. The news backs up Saga’s prediction, reported here earlier this week, that silver travellers would be first to take off as the danger of infection recedes.
Among the beneficiaries is coach operator National Express. Its package holiday division, which includes Lucketts Travel and Woods Tours, has seen a 185% increase in spring and summer bookings compared with pre-COVID business. Jit Desai, its head of holidays and travel, says the vast majority of spring and summer bookings so far have been for UK trips, as uncertainty remains over travel across the Channel and the need to quarantine. However “98% of our customer base is over 65 and we’ve seen an increased appetite for travel in the last week or two with an uplift in enquiries and bookings every time there’s been an announcement about new vaccine approvals and the roll out programme. Some of this is postponed travel carried over from last year. But there’s definitely a trend of customers being comfortable that they will have had their vaccination and be protected from Spring onwards, so can start to make travel plans. Some are telling us that they’ve already had their jab and can’t wait to go on holiday once guidance allows again.”
“Many we’ve spoken to have had the first jab. They know in 12 weeks they’ll get a second jab. It gives them certainty that they can enjoy and look forward to their 2021 holiday. It is something to look forward to, to being with people, with friends, like minded and from the same generation.”
“We launched the brochure for spring-summer 2021 just this weekend gone, and on Monday we took a week’s worth of bookings in a day and that’s continued so far. What the vaccine does is give certainty and confidence. That then allows the customer and ourselves the ability to plan ahead.”
And since the end of last year 50% of online bookings taken by leading tour operator TUI UK were from over-50s – a higher than usual proportion. Managing director Andrew Flintham said the company assumed this was “on the back of the vaccine news”. One trend TUI has noticed is a rise of multigenerational bookings, after months in which families have often been separated by restrictions. But customers still appear to be cautious, tending to book for mid to late summer and early autumn, when vaccination should have reached the majority of the population.
Meanwhile Kerry Golds, managing director of luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent, said: “We’ve seen enquiries from the over-50 bracket double week on week. Africa, Europe, Egypt and Indian Ocean have been fueling the demand.”
New test rule raises questions for travellersabout 2 months ago
Further questions over the revival of travel abroad were raised today by the imminent requirement that people arriving in the UK must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 72 hours. The rule, now scheduled to take effect from 4am on Monday (18) January), will apply whether or not the country they travel from is on the Governments travel corridor list.
The first question was: how long will the requirement remain in place? While there was clearly no immediate answer to that it was equally obvious that holiday bookings would be hard to come until there was news it would be lifted. Airlines immediately demanded it should be a short term, emergency measure. An additional concern, should rule linger on as travel picks up, was how easy it would be for holiday travellers to get tests before returning.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry organisation Airlines UK, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open. However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery. This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad. Ultimately, cheaper and quicker testing is required to ensure travel can be accessible while testing is required but then needs to be unwound once vaccinations and the overall threat of Covid recedes.”
Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, said: “We have long been an advocate of pre-departure testing and today’s Government announcement brings us in line with many other countries and closer to having a consistent, internationally coordinated pre-departure testing regime. When current lockdown restrictions are eased, and infection rates decrease, pre-departure testing could ultimately encourage frequent international travel to restart by eliminating the need for arriving passengers to quarantine. It remains important however that any tests are affordable for passengers and that these arrangements are temporary and are withdrawn at the earliest opportunity when public health conditions permit.”