LOTUS CORONAVIRUS UPDATE (25.09)
UK TIGHTENS RESTRICTIONS
On Tuesday 22 September, the Prime Minister announced new measures to curb the spread of the growing number of Covid-19 infections in the UK. Boris Johnson said nothing about international travel, but First Ministers of the devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland encouraged their residents to drop non-essential foreign trips during the October school holidays. Understandably, Scottish travel agents vented frustration at the move.
Mike Tibbert, vice president of the SPAA said: “The First Minister’s comments in the Scottish Parliament today were unnecessary, wholly gratuitous, and extremely damaging for the Scottish travel industry.
“This year has been catastrophic for travel agents and the entire travel sector and today’s comments could well be the final nail in its coffin.”
REFUND ROW UPDATE
- As Foreign Office advice did not change following the new restrictions, there will be no obligations on travel providers to offer refunds to travellers from Scotland and Wales, so said ‘experts’ quoted by The Times, who said that holiday companies and airlines remain “free to ignore” the requests from the devolved administrations and “pocket customers’ money” if they fail to travel.
- The Sun ran a piece at the weekend with stories from consumers on their ongoing battles with OTAs Loveholidays and On The Beach for refunds. The two companies left ABTA after disagreeing with its policies on refunds. Airlines such as Ryanair have accused the companies of screen-scraping and preventing them from letting the airlines provide the refunds directly to the customers.
- The Civil Aviation Authority and trustees of the Air Travel Trust are considering extending ATOL-protection of refund credit notes (RCNs) issued from 1 October amid heightened uncertainty about travel and high cancellation rates. Travel Weekly reported that the 30 September end date for issuing ATOL-protected RCNs could be extended next week after Travlaw senior partner Matt Gatenby warned: “The end of September sees the end of the ability to offer ATOL-protected RCNs.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced a new “Economic Winter Plan” to help the pandemic-ravaged economy with a new jobs support scheme (JSS) to help keep people employed on shorter hours. Although he warned that he could not save every business or role, Rishi Sunak said he would extend support loan repayments for businesses and delay ending a tax cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors.
New treasury measures do not provide sector-specific support
While providing a lukewarm reception to the scheme, tourism and hospitality bosses all called for sector-specific support and a two-tier testing system. This included Advantage Travel Partnership Julia Lo Bue-Said who also said the new measures would not help companies that have already begun, or concluded redundancy consultations.
The measures do not go far enough, says UK Hospitality; a lobby group representing British pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars. CEO Kate Nicholls also said it wanted the Government to pick up the full cost of unworked hours.
Kuoni CEO Derek Jones said: “Support needs to be tailored to the sector. Schemes that are designed for recovering businesses simply don't work for travel right now."
Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said the announcements “while welcome, just don’t cut it”.
ABTA called for more detail of the scheme and repeated its calls for regionalised quarantine and airport testing to restart travel, saying this was “critical” to the survival of businesses.
Clive Wratten of the Business Travel Association warned the policy would “not kick-start” travel. This requires urgent action on quick testing at departure. Only this will ease the burden on an industry ravaged by Covid-19.”
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, which represents 120 travel agencies, said the scheme “provides a better short-term solution for employees than an extension of the furlough scheme” and that it was “gratifying to see that the scheme is to be focused towards supporting SMEs.” However, she said: “It remains to be seen if this scheme will benefit business owners or merely to sustain the status quo.”
Meanwhile, Britain's economic recovery is starting to lose momentum amid fears of a second lockdown, and public borrowing between April and August reached a record of £173.7bn. In August, debt hit £2.024tn, £249.5bn more than the same time in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, a spokesperson for the Institute of Fiscal Studies on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme said that while the economy is still extremely weak and interest rates are at all time lows, taxes won’t rise.
SELF-CATERING SECTOR UPDATE
The Professional Association of Self-Caterers (PASC) reports on how the ‘rule of six’ immediately impacted its members who sell 40,000 cottages and self-catering holidays. Forty-one per cent of future bookings have been cancelled as a result of the ruling. Only 15 per cent have been deferred. Chairman Alistair Handyside said: “We’ve lost October half-term and possibly Christmas and New Year.”
By the end of August, self-catering businesses on average had lost 52 per cent of their total revenue because of Covid-19, but were optimistic of bookings remaining strong into the autumn and winter. A new trend has emerged with families booking separate properties near to each other to stay within the rules. The sector is lobbying Westminster to exclude children.
TOURISM JOBS ON THE LINE
Job consultations were launched this week by the UK’s largest cruise and ski specialist agency Iglu, attractions specialist Attraction World and Menzies Aviation, while Holiday Camp operator Butlin's have asked 1,000 furloughed staff to take paid or unpaid leave when furlough comes to an end.
BUSINESS TRAVEL UPDATE
FCM Travel Solutions
Through a survey of corporate clients, FCM Travel Solutions found that three-quarters will be reducing domestic travel for the year ahead. While almost a third (29%) of respondents from China said they will not be travelling long haul, 22% of respondents in New Zealand, 16% in Australia and 7% in the US indicated the same.
However, half of respondents said they have employees already travelling or booking to travel in the near future, even though resuming travel “will be different for everyone”.
The combined results of research that first started in April showed that the majority (90%) of businesses indicated that they planned to travel domestically and on short haul international flights within three months of governments re-opening borders and lifting restrictions such as quarantine.
Focus Travel Partnership
The SME market, represented by consortia such as Focus Travel Partnership, reports that there are industry sectors, such as marine, engineering, education and TV and film, still travelling, albeit in smaller numbers. Since July, for example, Norwich-based TMC, Destinations, has been managing the return of over 200 Chinese students to the University of East Anglia, despite a distinct lack of direct flights, and increased bureaucracy hoops. Others have been pivoting towards the leisure market, and Online Regional Travel Group (ORTG) has worked with the Guernsey and Isle of Man governments to create a private air corridor, as their international borders remain closed.
Recovery times difficult to predict
Online travel magazine Skift reported from a business travel panel in September that the corporate travel sector will look significantly different when it rebounds from coronavirus.
While the sector is already returning in China, recovery timelines, particularly with new infection flare-ups, are difficult to predict. Some have pinned hopes on the development of a vaccine – others believe business travel will revive in the U.S. sometime ahead of the expected full hotel recovery in 2024.
Travel planners also admit to looking at how business travel will be reimagined through new ways of thinking and new technologies as the ways of doing business change permanently.
Travel at tech companies such as Microsoft is still down 95 per cent and reported that it took a decade for it to return from the 2009 financial collapse — when there was “only” a 40 percent drop in travel.
A TMC, Blue Cube Travel, expects a 70 percent drop in corporate travel extending to September of 2021, whereas Twitter estimates return in the middle of 2021.
Four more countries have been removed from Britain’s list of quarantine-free travel options: Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia and the Caribbean island of Curacao.
From 4am on Saturday 26 September, any arrivals from those destinations, including returning holidaymakers, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that this came as a result of rising Covid-19 cases. He also warned that people returning would face fines starting at £1,000 if they ignored quarantine rules.
Restrictions have been introduced for 34 countries or islands previously deemed “safe” for British holidaymakers over the past two months.
The Telegraph reports that it means Britons now have just nine holiday options that don’t include some form of test or restriction, and in the meantime, demand for autumn holidays in Turkey and Italy have risen dramatically as a result.
Fall-off in US travel “set to cost £11bn”, aviation chiefs warn
Research jointly commissioned by Airlines UK, British Airways owner International Airlines Group, Heathrow and aviation services firm Collinson Group has found that failure to reopen key UK-US airline routes will cost the coronavirus-hit economy £11 billion this year. The number of seats on aircraft between the UK and US dropped by 92% in April compared with a year earlier. Capacity was still down by 85% in September despite a marginal rise in recent months. The group argues that airport-based testing is needed to pave the way for the free movement of people and goods and to kick-start the economy.
Demand for both ocean and river cruises is strong for the second half of 2021, speakers at Future Travel Week reported. They also anticipate a rapid recovery once the sector can fully restart. In a cruise focussed session, Carnival Corporation relayed that the cruise line has enough funding for 12 months of no revenue. The president of Carnival Corporation said he is hopeful of a restart of cruising in the US by Christmas even though he stressed public health will always take priority.
Separately, a 65-plus page report including 74 detailed best practices to protect the public health and safety of guests, crew and the communities where cruise ships call, has been published by a joint Healthy Sail Panel of experts created by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The government has launched a new campaign to inform British citizens about the potential changes to European travel after 31 December 2020, which marks the end of the Brexit transition period.
Launched on 18 September, the public information campaign is designed to “help British travellers prepare for changes when visiting Europe from 1 January 2021.” Consumers are warned about passport checks, driving licences, Ehics, mobile roaming and the possibility of needing more pet documentation. Negotiations, however, have not yet concluded, but The Times reports, there is growing optimism in Whitehall that there will be a deal.
WTTC 100 countries with safe status
One hundred destinations are now using the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)’s Safe Travels stamp.
The Philippines became the 100th destination to be granted the global safety and hygiene stamp, designed to restore confidence in the travel and tourism sector.
Countries are granted the stamp of approval when they have adopted standardised health and hygiene protocols backed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Domestic tourism offers lifeline in UK
BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme ran an item on some of the better news stories for tourism in the UK.
Lloyds Bank’s monthly UK Recovery Tracker found output of UK businesses in 13 of the 14 sectors it monitors increased in August, including tourism and recreation.
International tourism to the UK has fallen by 85% in 2020 and London has dropped out of the top 10 most booked cities. It was top last year.
A million jobs in the UK rely on international tourism. Brexit has combined with bad infection rates and quarantine restrictions to put off international visitors. However, there have been record bookings for domestic trips, including a return to overnight group bookings on coach trips.
“But domestic demand can’t fill a £35 billion sized hole,” said Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA. “It’s good to see domestic tourism perform well, but this is still an industry in deep trouble.”
Japan to re-open in October
With some of the toughest Covid-19 related travel restrictions, Japan is re-opening its borders in October. Shutting down international travel coupled with the discipline of citizens enabled the country to keep the number of cases low, without having to go into full lockdown, reports Travel Daily.
After the historic naming of a new prime minister, sources claimed that the government is allowing about 1,000 foreigners per day to enter the country. However, these travellers must stay in Japan for three months or longer and must test negative from the virus. The government plans to ramp up its testing capacity in its airports or entry points to avoid a resurgence of cases.
Japan is now allowing foreigners with resident status in Japan back in the country. Moreover, Japan has created travel corridors with several Asian countries for business travellers.
Belgium restrictions didn’t work
Belgium has eased its coronavirus measures after local curfews, mandatory facemasks and a "rule of five" social bubble failed to halt infections
Sweden infections rise
Local restrictions such as school closures and mandatory facemasks may be enforced in Stockholm as infection rates start to rise again. Sweden's relatively relaxed approach had led some to hope that it would achieve herd immunity.
Greece’s travel receipts from abroad are expected to reach only three billion euros in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19), Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos said on Tuesday. Greece’s tourism revenues reached 18 billion euros in 2019. Referring to the opening of Greece’s borders on 1 July, the Greek Minister for Tourism, Harry Theoharis said: “We strengthened the brand name of our country and established it internationally as a safe destination.”
British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVIs) will reopen its borders to visitors, including tourists, from 1 December, reports TTG.
The Croatian National Tourist Board has launched a new promotional campaign – entitled ‘Thank you’ - on social networks including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The body said it would like to thank foreign tourists for choosing Croatia and Croatian destinations for their trips this year.
An increasing number of couples are flocking to Gibraltar to get married since Covid-19 brought with it an array of restrictions that thwarted long-held wedding plans.
Lured by the Rock’s lack of bureaucracy, its low Covid rates and the simple, affordable marriage process, they fly in, tie the knot, and enjoy a brief holiday before heading back home.
The numbers are bolstered by the fact that the tiny British territory appears at the top of a Google search for “the easiest place to get married in Europe".
The Caribbean island of Anguilla wants remote workers to come and do their job from its beaches - Anguilla has launched a new visa for remote workers so they can do their job from the Caribbean island.
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