LOTUS CORONAVIRUS UPDATE (20.11)
There have now been encouraging preliminary data for a number of different vaccines. These include:
In addition, a Covid-19 vaccine developed in China has shown success in mid-stage trials, reports the BBC. There are several vaccines being developed in China, some of which are already being administered. According to the researchers, the Sinovac Biotech vaccine led to a quick immune response during trials with around 700 people.
Multiple vaccines will be needed to protect people worldwide and are seen to be an important stepping stone to safely opening borders and lift travel restrictions, ‘hopefully in time for the spring and summer seasons next year, said Nick Trend from The Daily Telegraph after news from Pfizer-BioNtech.
AIR CORRIDOR UPDATES
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary announced on Thursday eight new air corridors for:
Israel (not currently open to overseas tourists)
Namibia and Rwanda. These are the first African countries to be placed on the travel corridors and the only destinations this week that are open to UK tourists. A tour operator and African specialist, said the move would be a game changer for the industry and would put pressure on other African governments to open up with safety restrictions such as tests in place.
Uruguay, the second South American country to be put on the corridor list but it has a minimum seven-day quarantine on arrival requirement – even with evidence of a negative Covid test prior to departure – and its borders are only open to Uruguayan citizens and residents.
Bonaire, Sri Lanka, St Eustatius & Saba, The Northern Mariana Islands and The US Virgin Islands have also been added to the travel corridor list but all also remain closed to tourists.
However, arrivals into the UK from these countries from 4 am on 21 November, do not need to self-isolate. No other countries were removed from the travel corridor list. Also, current restrictions for people the UK is that travel outside of the home, with the exception of a limited number of reasons including work or education, is not permitted.
TESTING REGIME COULD START FROM MIDDLE OF DECEMBER
While the Government’s UK Travel Taskforce has yet to report, Travel Weekly believes the government is planning to implement the scheme of test and release which will reduce quarantine for arriving passengers from at risk destinations down to seven days from 14 by the middle of December – lockdown permitting. That would unlock some demand for Christmas, but not trigger a large-scale recovery. A senior industry source told Travel Weekly: “Travel at Christmas is absolutely feasible if we come out of lockdown. We still have the travel corridors….But we don’t know how release from quarantine after seven days will impact demand. No one has ever modelled this.”
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday (18 November), several MPs raised doubts about whether the taskforce had yet fed back to the PM, and warned the delay could impact Christmas travel plans.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION RECOMMENDS USE OF RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS
In a non-binding recommendation, the European Commission, on Wednesday, encouraged the 27 EU countries to use a common set of COVID-19 tests as winter approaches. It is a move aimed at slowing infections while facilitating cross-border travel during the pandemic, reports The Independent.
Antigen tests are less reliable than the standard PCR coronavirus tests, but they cost less and are quicker and so help track-and-tracing efforts.
The aviation industry has been pushing for the implementation of rapid tests for air passengers to reduce the need for post-arrival quarantines and to give airlines a boost.
Airlines such as Alitalia and Lufthansa have been spearheading rapid antigen tests to kickstart the aviation industry, but many European governments were thought not to be keen on agreeing to a common approach.
British Airways' CEO Sean Doyle and Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss have called for a system whereby air passengers take a PCR test 72 hours prior to boarding their flight, then another rapid test at the airport, rather than endure a 14-day quarantine on arrival back in the UK.
British Airways and American Airlines are to launch a voluntary Covid-19 test for passengers travelling to the UK from three US airports – LA; Dallas and New York from 25 November.
The airlines want to persuade governments that testing travellers will make quarantining unnecessary.
TEST DELAYS AROUND CHRISTMAS
Travel companies have warned clients about travelling immediately after Christmas to destinations that require arrivals to provide evidence of a recent negative PCR test, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Fears have been raised that UK passengers departing on Boxing Day and the days following may not receive the results of their Covid tests in time for travel, due to potential delays in processing results over the Christmas holiday. There is concern it could lead to holidaymakers having to pay hundreds of pounds for quick turnaround tests.
A scientist advising the UK government has warned that households socialising at Christmas poses "substantial risks", particularly for older people who are more vulnerable to coronavirus. Prof Andrew Hayward said there would be a "cost" to families getting together. As ministers look at how to relax restrictions so families can celebrate Christmas together, scientists say that for every day measures are eased, five days of tighter restrictions would be needed.
CEO of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson said that people should accept a socialising ban over the winter as vaccines and mass testing would allow life to start to return to normal in the spring.
Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister will set out a new tier system next week and Hopson advised that Tier 1 and Tier 2 simply weren’t effective enough and that ‘Tier 3 should be the new baseline.’
Northern Ireland is set to face a further two-week period of tougher Covid-19 lockdown measures from Friday 27 November. Close contact services, which reopen this Friday after five weeks of closure will have to close again on 27 November. Business leaders have reacted with anger as plans for re-opening before the peak Christmas season were shelved.
As COVID-19 death tolls continue to rise, Scotland’s First Minister announced that central Scotland will be placed back into lockdown. Level 4 restrictions will be imposed from 6pm on Friday 20 November until Monday 11 December. The restrictions will impact more than two million people and should be lifted before Christmas and residents are not allowed to cross the border into England.
It also emerged that people who are banned from travelling to an airport because of the rules are unlikely to receive compensation if their flight goes ahead.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the region is “once again at the epicentre of the pandemic” but fresh lockdowns are avoidable. Hans Kluge said that if mask wearing reached 95%, then further lockdowns would not be needed. He also said existing lockdowns should be lifted “safely and gradually”. Despite encouraging news about vaccines, they are “not a silver bullet” because initial supplies will be limited, he added.
FRANCE became the first European country to record more than two million cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, but its health minister said that the country’s second national lockdown was “paying off” and that it had “passed an epidemic peak.” However, on Wednesday 18 November, the government said it was unlikely to lift their lockdown on 1 December as planned.
SPAIN has also seen a rise in cases to 1.5 million, but has reported that there are signs the spread is easing. A survey in Spain for El Paisrevealed that citizens have mixed feelings about COVID-19 vaccinations with only 24.1% wanting to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
SWEDEN continues to see cases surge and the government started to implement restrictions. Public gatherings will be limited to eight people, down from a previous upper limit of 300.
GERMANY’S government has said that Coronavirus restrictions may continue for four to five more months.
Austria was placed under full lockdown from midnight on Monday 16 November after the closure of bars and restaurants failed to halt the exponential growth of infection rates, which is the highest in Europe after Luxembourg and Switzerland. Schools were closed and only supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices were allowed to stay open.
ITALY has opened Covid hotels for patients with mild symptoms as hospitals became overwhelmed. The number of tourists has fallen by 77 per cent nationwide.
Portugal is considering an extension of a state of emergency for an additional 15 days from next week. The nationwide measures include an evening curfew and half-day lockdowns at the weekend, reports Reuters.
REST OF THE WORLD
Following the increase to travel corridors last week in the long-haul market, travel companies reported a dramatic surge in booking and searches to destinations including Africa.
The UK has travel corridors with 13 Caribbean countries – with five imposing no major obstacles to British citizens, reports The Daily Telegraph. The Caribbean is by far the most "open" of any of the regions around the world, with many of the islands simply requesting a negative PCR test certificate, taken before arrival.
Havana airport opened to regular commercial flights on 15 November after being closed for seven and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Indian Ocean island of Maurtius has launched a new long-stay visa to meet the growing demand from international visitors looking to relocate to the COVID-safe island for work, leisure or retirement. The country’s new Premium Visa is valid for one year, with an option to renew, and is open to those who want to relocate to allow them to work remotely, have a long-term second home on the islands or to retire, reports Travel Daily.
Having reported the lowest increase in cases earlier in the week, India saw the number of new daily Covid-19 cases rise by almost 50 per cent in two days, in the week following the major Hindu festival of Diwali, with a record number of fatalities in the capital of New Delhi.
Covid-19 infections in Japan are continuing to hit record levels just five months after nearly suppressing the virus, The Telegraph travel blog reveals.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged citizens to exercise caution in their daily lives, but indicated no plans for new restrictions on travel. South Korea is also considering tightening social distancing.
The United States has announced that is land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to all but non-essential travel until 21 December as coronavirus cases in North America continue to rise.
The Canadian and Mexican governments have both agreed to continue the restrictions, which have been in place since March.
Donald Trump’s defeat has led to a spike in searches for travel to the US, according to Teletext Holidays. Teletext compared the nine-day post-election period to the nine-day pre-election period, and found a 197% hike in searches for Florida State.
KENYA & DUBAI
Luxury tour operator Scott Dun has said that enquiries for the country ‘skyrocketed’ by 600% since the news of vaccine trials and more travel corridors. Similarly several operators reported that bookings to Dubai had increased overnight by 150%.
The Times has reported that economists and epidemiologists are challenging official COVID-19 case numbers.
ECONOMIC OUTLOOK HEADLINES
On Friday 20 November, The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak warned public finances must be 'put on a sustainable path' after public sector net debt hit £2.08trillion - or 100.8% of GDP, reported mirror.co.uk.
The GfK consumer confidence index dropped to minus 33 in November, two points lower than in the previous month and the lowest reading since May, reports The Financial Times. One in three businesses in the hospitality sector have low or no confidence that they will survive.
Consumers were particularly pessimistic about their financial situation, reflecting high uncertainty over jobs and business survival, which analysts said could point to weakening spending.
BANK OF ENGLAND
The governor of the Bank of England has said the shock of the Covid-19 crisis has caused permanent change to the UK economy and could be the catalyst for ending a long period of low investment and weak productivity growth. Andrew Bailey told a conference in London the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and Brexit meant investment decisions had been put on hold but that recent vaccine announcements signalled “light at the end of the tunnel”.
Consumer prices rose by 0.7% on an annualised basis in October, following a 0.5% rise in September, according to the Office for National Statistics. Food prices rose as consumers stocked up on supplies in anticipation of further coronavirus restrictions. Recreation and culture represented the biggest drag on inflation, as prices of package holidays and cinema outings fell. By contrast, prices of computer games and clothing rose.
The government has given banks guarantees on £65.48bn of lending to businesses hit by the coronavirus via the Bounce Back Loan scheme. According to the latest Treasury data, the biggest part of the lending was to small businesses, for which banks received a 100% state guarantee on £42.18bn of loans that have been made. The new total represents around a £2.5bn increase on last month, when nearly £62bn had been handed out in loans.
Budget airline Norwegian has asked an Irish court to carry out a process of examinership. The scheme is equivalent to the USA’s Chapter 11 or bankruptcy protection. This should protect the group’s assets while it tries to slash debt levels and find new funding as part of a restructuring. It is expected to take as long as five months.
Trading of its shares on the Oslo stock exchange was suspended on Wednesday lunchtime ahead of the confirmation, reports TTG.
Norwegian will continue to operate its flight schedule, which is reduced owing to Covid-19, during the process.
The airline said: “Norwegian is therefore confident that it will successfully emerge as a stronger and leaner airline ready to meet renewed airline travel demand in 2021 after the Covid pandemic subsides.”
In its full year results report, no-frills airline easyJet posted a £1.3 billion loss in the 12 months to September, compared to a £430 million profit in the previous year. The first time that the airline had posted a loss in its 25-year history, reports Travel Weekly.Despite vaccine news, mass testing promises and strong demand, as evidenced when travel restrictions were lifted for the Canaries in October, easyJet expects demand to be low even over the traditionally busy Christmas period and recovery hopes are delayed until next year at the earliest. The EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren again called for more government support.
The airline expects to fly no more than 20pc of its planned capacity between now and March, and, reports The Financial Times.
Emirates confirmed a boost in UK flying with more Airbus A380 flights to Dubai this winter from Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, reports Travel Weekly.
KOREAN AIR AND ASIANA AIRLINES
Korean Air has agreed the takeover of rival Asiana Airlines in a £1.15 billion deal, reports TTG. The move was prompted by the COVID crisis and supported by the Korean Development Bank, which said: “We realised that without restructuring in the aviation industry it is unclear whether the flag carriers would survive even after the coronavirus pandemic ends. “With the deal, the integrated flag carrier will be one of the top 10 global airlines.”
At the start of the year, two months before the pandemic was declared, there were 24,400 international and domestic ‘airport pairs’ (directly connected by flights) worldwide, according to data compiled by travel analytics firm OAG.
This amounted to almost 48,800 direct flight routes spanning the globe, but nearly a year on that number has shrunk to 32,250 – a 33 per cent drop in 10 months.
The UK, meanwhile, started the year with 1,396 airport pairs both at home and abroad, but this has since dropped by two thirds to 448 in mid-November.
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways has dropped Gatwick Airport from its network as bosses strive to rescue its ailing business.
The airline will continue flying to Heathrow Airport. Cathay announce six further cuts to its airports roster: Dublin, Brussels and the Maldives were all removed, as were three US airports in Seattle, Newark and Washington DC
MPs have been told that rail passenger numbers will only return to 75% of pre-pandemic levels in the future. Dominic Booth, the managing director of Abellio Group, told the Transport Select Committee that rail firms were “very confident about winning the majority of passengers back” when the crisis ends. Fellow rail executives from Go-Ahead Group and First Group agreed with the target, pointing to the increase in passenger numbers on buses between lockdowns.
Government funds to keep largely empty trains running during the pandemic has increased by a third to more than £4 billion, it emerged this week. Chris Heaton-Harris, the transport minister, said the government was spending up to £600 million a month to subsidise UK rail, reports The Times.
TRAVEL COMPANIES UPDATE
Concerns that the ATOL scheme’s resources were emptied by the Thomas Cook failure were addressed this week reports TTG. The Air Travel Trust fund, which is used by the CAA to pay out on travel company failures reported that the trust’s resources primarily include £35 million of cash reserves and £75 million of commercial borrowing facilities. At the end of the accounting period (to 31 March 2019), the ATT’s net assets were £221 million. The cost of the Thomas Cook collapse, including repatriation and refunds is expected to cost £250 million net of proceeds from the insurance policy, and this has been funded from existing cash resources. The insurance policy expired in March 2020 and was not renewed due to "unavailable capacity in the insurance market".
Mergers and acquisitions activity in the travel and tourism sector rose by 14% last month, according to GlobalData, reports TTG. A total of 116 deals were announced during October – compared with 102 the previous month.
Expedia’s third-quarter earnings report shows revenue of $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) in quarterly revenue. Though this technically represents $221 million in losses, this figure far exceeds mid-pandemic expectations, reports The Telegraph.
The positive position has been credited to the success of parts of the business like rental home platform VRBO, which has proved popular in spite of the onset of coronavirus this year.
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays have announced the launch of four new Greek routes for Summer 2021, providing more choice from Newcastle and East Midlands.
This week, ski operator, Hotelplan UK, which owns brands such as Inghams, Ski Total, Esprit Ski and Flexiski are cutting their winter chalet programmes for the winter. VIP Ski ceased trading and one of Scotland’s leading ski resorts, The Nevis Range closed its doors this season to protect the business. Balkan Holidays has also announced it has cancelled all ski holidays to Bulgaria due to depart from December 19 to January 16, as options for an early-season ski holiday drastically diminish.
The Telegraph reported that 27 ATOL holders have failed since the start of the pandemic.
APS Select Ltd (VIP Ski) - ATOL 3556
Horncastle Executive Travel Ltd - ATOL 75244
Courtney Airsavers Ltd - ATOL 5711
Strandtown Travel (NI) Limited - ATOL 11029
The Flash Pack Ltd - ATOL 11200
The Independent Traveller Ltd - ATOL 5912
Go Travel Limited - ATOL 6928
E Thornton and Son Ltd - ATOL 3452
Gendai Travel Ltd - ATOL 4192
Cities Direct Ltd - ATOL 5501
STA Travel Limited - ATOL 3206
Harris Holidays Ltd - ATOL 6624
Pollard C J trading as Christopher Pollard Tours - ATOL 10256
Viceroy Ltd - ATOL 11018
South Quay Travel & Leisure Ltd - ATOL 4619
David Urquhart Sky Travel Ltd - ATOL 3701
Fleetway Travel Ltd - ATOL 2748
Pan Express Business Travel Ltd - ATOL 5682
Jacada Travel Ltd - ATOL 9761
Shearings Holidays Ltd - ATOL 1666
On Tour Travel Ltd - ATOL 9217
Enjoy Travel Limited - ATOL 6227
Colouricious Limited - ATOL 10830
Paragon Sports Management Ltd - ATOL 6724
Chaka Travel Ltd - ATOL 9422
Westeast Travel Limited - ATOL 3619
Can Be Done Ltd - ATOL 9330
The Brexit negotiations were suspended on Thursday 19 November after an EU negotiator tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday 19 November. Previously to that, there had been optimism of an imminent breakthrough on a deal.
ETOA’s Brexit webinar on Thursday 19 October reported that there are still a number of travel industry issues that need to be concluded by the negotiations. Some of the more concerning ones for the industry included the need for clarity on the status of highly qualified specialist tour guides from the UK working in countries that heavily regulate guides such as France and Italy. Other issues such as reciprocal health agreements are still dependent on successful deal negotiations for clarity.
Separately, Transport minister Grant Shapps has signed a deal with the US to ensure that transatlantic flights to and from the UK will continue from 1 January when Britain's transition agreement with the EU comes to an end, reports Travelmole.
Popular UK hotels have been failing hygiene standards during the pandemic, a research study by Which? has found. They visited five hotels run by four different chains. Some were spotless while others were not, reported The Times.
TRENDS & CUSTOMER SENTIMENT
Selling Travel’s first edition since April outlined the various green shoots of recovery and reported some overriding travel trends and forward booking behaviours including:
- Consumers are either booking very late or a long time out
- Consumers want and can now secure flexibility for date changes
- Travel agents now regularly have video appointments with clients
- Holiday durations have become flexible
- A number of tour operators have pivoted to offer high-end domestic holidays
- Helicopter transfers can maintain social distancing for HNIs
- Destination preferences change according to travel corridors and quarantine requirements with consumers booking on the Friday after the travel corridor announcement has been made for travel within the week
- Winter sun has concentrated on the Caribbean, Seychelles and Maldives while destinations like Thailand and Bali are popular for later in 2021 and 2022
- Greece is popular for summer 2021 and the USA and Canada are trending for later next year
- Many tour operators have noticed searches and enquiries rising for South Africa, Vietnam and Costa Rica and Australia, New Zealand and Africa are being booked for winter 2021/2022
- With some consumers able to saving on holidays this year, there has been a trend for those rebooking and upgrading
- Retirees and those who can work remotely are the keenest to travel
- Self-guided trips are also popular
- Secluded resorts, villas and lesser known destinations are attracting more attention.
- Promoting extra safety considerations has also been popular.
Nick Trend, from The Daily Telegraph has been advising early bookers to:
- Book with an operator offering low or zero deposit
- Flexible cancellation policies
- Ensure that your booking is financially protected either by booking with a credit card or with an operator with ATOL protection.
A study by consultant Arup has said research suggests an effective rollout of a coronavirus vaccine would inject £41bn into London’s economy and save tens of thousands of jobs. It said a “best case scenario” would see workers return to their offices four days a week, which in turn would save around 57,000 jobs in hospitality, retail and entertainment and revitalise the “ghost town” of central London.
According to ForwardKeys findings, year-on-year (y-o-y) variations per region showed that Europe was down by 74.7% compared to a 94.5% decline in Asia-Pacific. Heraklion in Crete, Thessaloniki and Palma de Mallorca were the top three most resilient destination cities.
SOCIAL WITH MEDIA: WINTER SUN
Content Editor for The Irish Sun, the Travel editor for Stylist and Editor of Citizen Femme told a webinar this week that honeymooners will be keen to get away to destinations such as the Maldives, and long haul experience holidays such as safaris once restrictions are lifted. UK staycations are still very much on the cards for 2021 and there is a big focus on wellness trips and island destinations and uptake on private jets. Trends also include:
- Multigenerational travel
- Wild luxury
- Indigenous and community-led tourism
- Working holidays
- Aspirational, new UK accommodation with a theme on nature and wellness
- News bite opportunities for the CF loves section
- In November, the theme is ‘Like a local’ staycation theme and December, the theme is ‘Escapist’
- Focus on women and luxury and podcast highlights women in business and founders of hotels etc.
SKYSCANNER ON BLACK FRIDAY
A new survey of 1,600 consumers by Skyscanner revealed:
- 91% of travellers who are looking to book travel on Black Friday this year did not buy any as part of the deals day in 2019
- 34% are looking to spend between £201-£500 per person
- 20% will consider spending £501-£1,000pp.
- 89% do not have a particular travel provider in mind for any Black Friday offers on November 27 and they are seeking value for money.
- More than 80% are looking for international travel, split between short-haul (44%) and long-haul (38%).
- As many as 52% said they would still like to get away before the end of year, with 39% looking for to travel in the first half of 2021.
LOTUS has been working with its clients to provide maximum exposure on new deals which will drive recovery.
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