LOTUS Coronavirus Update (30.07)
Spain kicked off air corridor list
The UK government decided to end the air corridor with Spain on the afternoon of Saturday 25 July and confirmed that all people arriving from Spain and its islands from Sunday (00:01) have to self-isolate for 14 days after a surge in coronavirus infections on the Iberian peninsula. In addition, ministers changed Foreign & Commonwealth Office Advice to advise against any non-essential travel to mainland Spain. On Monday night this was extended to include the Balearic and Canary Islands.
The transport secretary had to dial into the emergency meeting from his holiday in Spain, which he then cut short to start his 14 days of isolation. He said that failing to act over growing numbers of Covid-19 cases in the country would have been a dereliction of duty. "The figures since have shown why that was required and I'm desperately sad and sorry for people who have lost their holidays.”
The decision was a ‘hammer blow’ for the fragile travel industry, just a fortnight after hopes had been built up to salvage a peak season, said Lucy Huxley from Travel Weekly. “The removal of a country from the list wasn’t unexpected. The government had always insisted it would not hesitate to act promptly to remove any it no longer deemed ‘safe’. But the shambolic piecemeal communications, contradictory off-the-record briefings and lack of consistency have served to give the impression to consumers of an unfolding emergency, rather than a measured decision backed by an effective process.”
Pressure on Government
The move has triggered large-scale lobbying efforts.
1. The Spanish government has lobbied the UK to change its policy and exempt the Canary Islands, Balearics and Andalucia from the new restrictions. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez described the move as ‘unjust’ and said people in most regions of Spain would be safer from coronavirus than they are in the UK. On Thursday Spain released infection rate statistics for Spain. Javier Piñanes, director of the Spanish Tourist Office in the UK revealed that outbreaks are mainly concentrated in two autonomous communities (Aragon and Catalonia) which make up approximately 60% of the total cases.
In the last seven days, ten people have sadly died across the whole of Spain due to Coronavirus however most holiday destinations have not reported any recent deaths and have low incident rates. Likewise, the increase in cases in Spain is not resulting in a significant rise in hospitalisations. In the last week, there have been 25 ICU admissions across the whole country.
Looking specifically at the infection rate over the last seven days (data recorded 30 July 2020), many of Spain’s regions report figures well below accumulated rates in other European countries where travel bans have not been imposed. For example, the rate of accumulated cases in the Canary Islands is just 2.4 per 100,000 people and in the Balearic Islands it is 11.3.
2. Trade association Airlines UK wrote a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 47 airlines, airports and travel groups demanding a “nuanced” policy and alternative ways to lift restrictions. They recommended ‘regional corridors’ and Covid tests on arrivals from at risk countries where there are regions with low coronavirus rates. These could include the Spanish islands, some US states and parts of Canada.
The letter, signed by the heads of British Airways, TUI, EasyJet, Jet2, and Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Luton airports, warned that post-Brexit plans to create an “outward-facing, global trading nation” were at risk. Others who have signed include ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer and association chairman Alistair Rowland (Co-op Midcounties).
3. On Wednesday, Heathrow announced their six-monthly financial results alongside an appeal to the government to shorten quarantine times through a new double testing regime.
CEO of Heathrow Airport John Holland Kaye expands on his plan to cut quarantine and allow holidaymakers to travel.— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) July 29, 2020
He tells Ben Shephard and @CharlotteHawkns about the idea of testing people as they come into the UK and a test 5-8 days later to see if they still need to isolate. pic.twitter.com/Uz5mMQA4Sv
Chief Executive of Heathrow John Holland Kaye outlined the idea to Covid test arrivals at airports, which would then be followed up by a further test five or eight days later to see if they still needed to isolate.
In a media blitz Holland Kaye put the case to trial the tests against a stark financial backdrop which has seen the airport lose £1.1 billion and passenger numbers drop by 96% in the past three months. As cargo also comes in with passenger planes, the UK supply chain and export industry had been impacted significantly.
“We need to keep people safe, and get the economy moving again,” he said.
“Other countries are moving to testing. We will need to live with Covid for many months to come and we know that while blanket quarantine can work for protecting health it has a devastating impact on economy.”
He reported that people were still travelling to Spain, despite the change in FCO advice, but there was also evidence that people were switching bookings to Italy and Greece.
He also acknowledged the impacts to the inbound tourism industry and the manufacturing sectors. “We are losing jobs right now because aviation is not working properly.”
4. A change.org petition urging the Prime Minister to remove the Balearic and Canary islands from quarantine rules attracted more than 74,000 signatures.
5. Under the #SaveTravel campaign banner, TTG has written a letter to the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Since publication, it has attracted 1,000+ signatures.
Government spokespeople including Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary, who was on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, emphasised that consumers need to be “aware of the risks of booking holidays” and warned that testing at borders was not a ‘silver bullet.’
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ministers were, in fact, investigating ways to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for new arrivals to the UK from at-risk countries but more work was needed on the timing of Covid-19 tests to make them effective. But he stressed that the rules will not change in “the next few days”.
The Times reports that Germany, France, Austria, the UAE, Iceland, Hong Kong, Russia, Australia and the Netherlands are all testing international arrivals.
TUI and Jet2, the UK’s biggest travel companies, cancelled Spanish holidays. TUI has suspended flights to the Balearic and Canary Islands until Tuesday and to the mainland until 10 August. However, the company said that it would operate extra flights to Greece and Turkey.
Ryanair has not amended its flight schedule or cancelled any flights to Spain. Ryanair defended its actions by saying that Spain is still open for tourism.
EasyJet has issued guidance to anybody with flights booked to Spain to say that it will continue to operate, despite the new restrictions.
All package holidays offered by the airline have now been cancelled up to 31 July but flights will still be going ahead.
EasyJet has promised to update about holidays after 1 August as soon as it is able to.
British Airways said its flights were continuing to operate, but it was “disappointed” by the rule change.
Most holiday insurance policies are no longer valid if the Foreign Office advises against non-essential travel.
Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary speaking on BBC Breakfast said that consumers should not be penalised for doing the right thing and airlines needed to be flexible with their bookings and provide refund credit notes and refunds where needed.
Ryanair said that it will not be reimbursing anyone who wants to cancel their flights, while those who want to switch destinations must still pay a flight change fee if their bookings were made before 10 June. The Telegraph explains that Ryanair has altered its refund policy several times in recent months.
BBC Breakfast’s consumer reporter reported that Loveholidays and On the Beach trips are still going ahead and that travel companies’ legal teams were ‘catching up with the dynamic and unique’ situation. Similarly, consumer groups are also working out what customers’ rights are.
On BBC Breakfast, Julia Lo Bue Said from travel agent group Advantage said that there was a great deal of confusion amongst consumers. Whilst agents knew the consumer law – it was complex, as rights depended on how customers booked, who they booked with and when they booked it.
She reported that travel companies had not been given any advanced notice/guidance or consultation on the changes and that the travel agent sector was frustrated that they had worked tirelessly throughout lockdown organising refunds for customers and had no new bookings until air bridges were announced, which had provided a degree of consumer confidence. Last week there was a 30 per cent week on week increase. Since the weekend, bookings have “fallen off a cliff”.
She said the government “had a lack of understanding of how the industry operates and how they service customers.”
Richard Singer, CEO of icelolly.com said to Travel Weekly: “This is not just about Spain, it will have an impact on other destinations.”
Singer said the impact of the government’s clampdown on travel to Spain was immediately evident in metasearch figures.
“Sunday is always our biggest day in terms of traffic: we have a lot of activity going out and a lot of advertising happening. And you look at Google Analytics on an hour-by-hour basis and you could see in the morning, it was really pretty good. There was no impact.
“But as the news stories started trickling through, you could really see the activity tail off.”
The FT reported on Monday that the Government’s new restrictions threatened to destroy what was left of the critical summer season and sent shares in airlines and tour operators tumbling. France also warned its citizens over travel to parts of Spain. Consumer confidence in the sector is also threatened as Spain is so popular.
Shares in TUI saw a 11 per cent decline. EasyJet saw shares fall by 8 per cent; IAG lost 6 per cent; Lufthansa shed 5 per cent and Ryanair fell by 4 per cent.
Quarantine changes – where next?
There has been much speculation on whether air corridors will be removed from other countries as infection rates start to rise again in several pockets across Europe. The Health Secretary told media outlets on Thursday that they could see a “second wave rolling across Europe” and he anticipated imminent changes to the air corridor list. Top of the list are Belgium and Luxembourg, but Croatia, France and Germany are all being reconsidered.
Breaking Travel News reports that the CAA – Civil Aviation Authority - has published its findings on an inquiry into the airline refund issue and found airlines have upped their game when it comes to providing refunds in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
A further five international airlines were included due to the level of consumer feedback and concerns that refunds were not being paid during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the start of the process, some airlines were not paying refunds, with others facing potential backlogs of numerous months.
The CAA now has evidence that shows that since it launched its review, and its wide-ranging engagement programme with airlines, all UK airlines are now “paying refunds”.
Call centre wait times have reduced, in some cases significantly, and customer service messaging has provided greater clarity on consumers’ rights to a refund for cancelled flights.
Focus Travel Partnership revealed that whilst airline refunds have begun, on average, its partners are currently owed £56,520 by airlines.
Travel Weekly reported on Thursday 30 July that TUI is to close 166 high street travel agencies in the UK and Ireland.
The move will leave TUI’s retail network at 350 shops. TUI will look at local market data, consumer trends and predictions on the future of travel to confirm which stores will go.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released an updated global passenger forecast, which predicts that air travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, a year later than previously projected.
Passenger traffic worldwide in June 2020 fell by 86.5 per cent compared to the same period last year with 91 per cent contraction in May.
IATA says the more pessimistic forecast is based on:
- Slow virus containment in the US and developing economies
- Reduced corporate travel
- Weak consumer confidence
Ryanair reported a €185 million loss for the three months to June on Monday. The airline resumed flying at the end of June, operated 40% of its normal schedule in July and plans to operate 60% in August and 70% in September.
Michael O’ Leary CEO said: “Our biggest fear is a second wave of Covid across Europe and government restrictions. We have no idea what will happen this winter. The next six to 12 months could be grim.
“At best, we’ll see a return to pre-Covid volumes by summer 2021, but that will be at a lot lower air fares. The volume recovery will be strong but pricing weak. Covid will continue to be challenging.”
Jet2 cancels flights and holidays to Cyprus
Jet2 with has cancelled all trips to Cyprus until 17 August due to strict entry restrictions for British travellers.
A report in the FT reveals that while bookings for private flights dropped by 70 per cent year on year in April, they were down only 28 per cent in June according to aviation business monitoring group WingX.The recovery has continued into the first three weeks of July, with global private aviation down just 19 per cent from its pre-Covid levels.
EU guidance on cruise published
Travel Weekly has reported that cruise body CLIA has welcomed publication of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) guidance on the resumption of cruise ship operations in the European Union.
CLIA said member lines envisage a gradual, ‘phased-in’ approach to resumption.
The EMSA guidance provides recommendations relating to the development of ship and port management plans, and the interaction between cruise operations and ports and terminals.
This week, Travel Weekly has reported that Fred Olsen Travel is ramping up marketing activity for river cruise holidays following the FCO’s updated advice which paved the way for the sector’s return.
Starting this week, Princess Cruises is promoting ‘closer to home’ sailings in 2021 with a British Isles sale. The deals apply to 15 departures from Southampton by 3,080-passenger Crown Princess between April and October next year.
The cancellation of all Scenic Group cruises has been extended until 31 October.
The company said continued government travel restrictions and international border closures have required the temporary suspension of all Scenic Group, including Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises, departures until the end of October.
Further suspensions apply to Egypt, Jordan and Israel land tours until 31 December.
Norwegian Cruise Line and its sister brands Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have extended the suspension of their cruises from 1 October to 31 October.
Saga Cruises has cancelled more sailings by revealing that the ship Spirit of Discovery will not return to service until 16 December.
The decision impacts departures to the Canary Islands on 18 November and 2 December.
In its annual consumer survey, Ski Club of Great Britain has found over 97 per cent of UK skiers intend to return to the slopes next winter.
Merlin Entertainment is opening all five of its London attractions on 1 August. The London Eye, Madam Tussauds, Sea Life Aquarium, London Dungeon and Shrek Adventure are all preparing to open with safety protocols in place.
Before the pandemic, Visit Britain forecast there would be 42.1m inbound visits to the UK in 2020, with tourists spending £30.3bn. Last month it cut those expectations to 16.8m visits with a £10.6bn spend. Domestically, figures from lastminute.com show that the destinations that enjoyed the biggest increases in bookings after lockdown was eased were coastal resorts, suggesting that travellers are shunning cities over safety concerns.
A staycation boom this summer has led to shortages of camping gear, and campsites selling out pitches within hours of release. Regatta, one of the UK’s biggest outdoor retailers, said demand for camping equipment has tripled year-on-year, with tent sales up by almost 750pc. Jonathan Knight, the founder of Cool Camping, a booking platform, said pitch reservations had tripled compared with last summer.
Jobs crises in popular UK tourist towns
Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, was interviewed on Wednesday to highlight a stark jobs crisis is hitting popular tourist towns and is calling on the government to provide targeted support for tourism jobs. He said that the UK had world-class tourism attractions but that unemployment had, on average, gone up 65 per centage points higher than other sectors. He believed that the furlough scheme in these sectors should be extended.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went further than the UK government following the changes to advice to Spain and said that she would not book a foreign holiday right now as concerns grow for a spike in Covid-19 and fast changing quarantine rules. In normal years, Edinburgh would be preparing for the August cultural festival that has attracted 2.7 million visitors annually.
This week the Royal Yacht Britannia opened its doors on Monday for the first time since March. The CEO Bob Downie said that by the end of 2020, Scottish tourism would have experienced three winters, but he was confident about the future.
On Thursday, the Scottish government has pledged a £14m recovery package to support the country's hotels until summer 2021.
It is hoped that the cash injection will protect up to 3,000 jobs as Scottish hotels struggle for survival, with travel bans and quarantine continuing to take their toll on profits.
BBC Breakfast this week reported that the tiny village of San Giovanni in Molise in southern Italy is offering free accommodation for visitors. There are three homes to choose from with a maximum one-week stay any time between July and September.
Greece has introduced new, more stringent rules on wearing masks in public in an attempt to further mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
Holidaymakers are now required to wear masks in indoor public spaces such as shops, food stores, and other municipal buildings, or face a €150 (£135) fine.
Masks are already mandatory in Greece when travelling by all forms of public transport, and in several other scenarios.
Portugal remained off a list of ‘safe’ countries exempt from quarantine rules as part of an update of travel corridors from England on Friday 23 July.
Costa Rica is re-opening its borders to UK travellers from this Saturday 1 August 2020, following its nearly four-month closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK has been included in Costa Rica's list of low-risk countries together with Canada and those nations from the EU and Schengen area.
Brazil reopened international flights on Thursday.
The country is still wrestling with the world's second highest Covid-19 outbreak. The country's borders have been closed since March, but even as it reported a record day for new cases and deaths on Wednesday, the Brazilian government has announced that foreign visitors are to be welcomed back.
Other South American countries, including Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia, are still closed to international travel, with the continent now considered to be at the epicentre of the pandemic by WHO experts.
The FCO currently advises against all but essential travel to Brazil.
The Mexican government has implemented 54 km of cycle routes in Mexico City as part of emergency Covid-19 social distancing measures.
Deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 150,000 in the United States on Wednesday, more than any other country and nearly a quarter of the world’s total. The rising numbers have crushed early hopes the country was past the worst of an economic crisis brought on by stay-at-home orders and business closures that have devastated the economy and thrown millions of Americans out of work.
Florida yesterday became the US state with the second-highest number of infections, leaving it second to only California, the state with the highest population. In New York, meanwhile, hospitalisations are at the lowest level since the pandemic began, as the state reported 10 further coronavirus deaths during the past 24 hours. Across the country, the death toll has surpassed more than 1,000 for four consecutive days, with at least 1,019 fatalities reported on Friday.
Airport officials admitted some 4,500 passengers with temperatures were let onto planes between 15 June and 15 July after going through a thermal test, making up two per cent of the 250,000 people who flew out during the same period. The Telegraph reports that Britain is planning to impose new quarantine restrictions on Belgium
Saudi authorities decided that a symbolic form of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca could go ahead yesterday. Only 1,000 pilgrims were allowed to take part, although some local newspapers reported that the number had been quietly lifted to 10,000.
A consumer research poll published on 24 July found that one in six Britons is planning to go abroad on holiday this year despite the introduction of “air bridges” to promote international travel after the lockdown.
A poll for the i-newspaper by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that nearly half of people had hoped to take a holiday overseas before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now only 17 per cent are expecting to go outside the UK, with another 23 per cent holidaying within Britain and 52 per cent saying they will not go on holiday at all this year.
August is usually the most popular month for those planning foreign getaways, but around a quarter are delaying their break until September and another quarter will take a holiday in October or later.
The policy of air bridges or travel corridors – countries which Britons can visit without having to quarantine on their return – has apparently not had a major effect on the public’s perception of whether or not foreign holidays are safe. Just 18 per cent said the new rules made them more keen to go abroad with 46 per claiming they make no difference at all.
Travelmole reports that WTM’s November's London event will go ahead, with fewer delegates and enhanced social distancing measures.The event’s theme is 'Recover, Rebuild and Innovate'.Social distancing and hygiene rules mean a number of measures have been put in place. Aisles will be wider and a one-way system will operate. There will be no lanyards; electronic payments only and all food will be pre-packaged.Organisers said 200 exhibitors have signed up to attend.There will be a tighter vetting process of the WTM Buyers' Club, while speed networking events have been reformatted for social distance.In addition to the show, which is planned for 2-4 November at ExCeL, London, WTM will also hold a WTM Virtual event the following week.WTM Virtual will take place from 10-11 November 2020 to embrace travel professionals from all over the globe, especially the ones who can't attend the live event due to travel restrictions.In addition, WTM's technology event, the Travel Forward conference, which takes place within WTM London, will be free to attend this year.This year's TF theme is Resilience, Innovation and Response and will focus on helping travel companies, from across the globe, steer a path on the road to a post-Covid recovery.Travel Forward will also be part of WTM Virtual.
A WTM seminar reported that the Minister’s Summit will expand to include private sector entrepreneurs and innovators to drive industry growth. It will have a manifesto: To Create Safer, Greener, Smarter Travel & Tourism as well as featuring a day-long think-tank with 200 ministers and industry leaders.
There will also be a New Investment Summit looking at
Health – to build consumer confidence;
Investment – to help delegates understand the mechanics that allow you to survive and rebuild;
Future proof. How to build-in resilience against future catastrophes.
Social with Media webinar notes – 23 July
- Ben Ross - Deputy Head of Travel at The Telegraph
- Sophie Lam - Travel Editor at the i Paper
- Lyn Hughes - Editor-in-Chief at Wanderlust
- Katie McGonagle - Features & Supplements Editor at Travel Weekly
Ben Ross – Telegraph
During the lockdown period one of the major developments for the paper has been its live blog which is updated with news on a daily basis and has been very popular with readers.
They have been doing a balancing act generally between news and inspiration. Print has been used to maintain the inspiration strand.
They also redesigned the travel section about six weeks ago. The new look has a New York Times-y, class production feel to it. They also have more columnists, a new centre round-up called “as if it’s the first time”, a celeb story called ‘the holiday that changed me”. There are also other new strands ready to launch when the pagination is increased which they’re hoping will be soon. They have 18 pages at moment – the section would usually be 30 pages.
Ben thinks that the silver lining of lockdown is that there will lots of good news stories coming through as places reopen.
He’s confident there will be pent up demand. Only question mark is level of disposable income people will have due to economic downturn.
Sophie Lam – I newspaper
Sophie says it’s exciting that travel is mobilising again.
Her main digital content is essential a daily briefing. Up until 4 July a lot of content shifted to digital-first news, responding to ever-changing requirements. She is now slowly introducing destination features – particularly focusing on France, Spain, Germany and Belgium at moment.
Readers are still apprehensive about travelling – particularly nervous about planes. Sophie’s job is to put their mind’s at rest as much as she can eg. using specialists talking about air filters on planes etc. She feels the paper needs to reassure people and guide them into safe ways of travelling, untangle the confusion and offer clarity to people being overwhelmed with deluge of information. An example was an article on which companies will cover you re. travel insurance.
The I readers are very conscious about environment and not particularly keen on driving to destinations. So it’s important for the paper to keep flying the sustainability flag.
However on a higher level she thinks that all the discussions that were had at the beginning of lockdown around how travel can re-emerge more sustainably seem to have disappeared and people just want to get out there!
Sophie is commissioning freelance writers again and wants to send freelancers on trips to quarantine-free destinations
Lyn Hughes - Wanderlust
The recent reader survey found that there are confidence issues even with the most intrepid travellers.
However in more positive news 58% will be travelling this year and 35% have already booked something.
The website is seeing record traffic – it went over 1 million page views for first time last month.
They have evolved content with a mixture of topical information and entertainment. Quizzes have been very popular. Some PRs for destinations have helped with putting together quizzes.
They found initially that long haul was still of interest but now it’s UK content that’s really trending, particularly outdoor activities. She never thought she’d have a ‘Secret Britain” theme on front cover (which is latest issue)!
They’re constantly analysing content performance on website and adapting content in line with this.
They changed publishing schedule for magazine so it’s currently bi-monthly and a skinnier magazine. They’re hoping to go back to monthly shortly.
They’ve been doing lots of events (including a Guyana event). Going forward they’re looking to work in a 360 degree way. She gave the example of work with Colombia recently – Shafik Meghji previously visited the country to do feature and has subsequently hosted a destination virtual event and will also do more things. So in future it will be rare that they’ll send writer just to do one story for the mag alone.
Sustainability is important to readers but she agree with Sophie that there was an initial appetite to reset and come back with new way of travelling but is finding that main focus is now just when people can travel.
She mentioned that she has a back-up of trips from last year.
Katie Mcgonagle – Travel Weekly
Restart and recovery hub has been set up during lockdown whereby TW is working with partners on their plans to reopen to travel and update agents on latest information. This hub is a one stop shop for all latest regulations
Travel Weekly has gone digital only for the time being.
They’ve been doing a lot of features on how agents can tap into new markets eg. villa holidays, how to sell to millennial travellers, self-drive etc.
They’ve also been doing daily webcasts – video interviews with industry. Then use video content to tie in with print features – the idea is that the videos are complementary to magazine.
They also launched ‘roadmap to recovery’ series whereby they’ve switched messaging to looking ahead and they’ve been hosting agent training webinars
TW are starting to do trips again in order to bring first hand experience to readers.
They are being flexible on features list. She is updating her August features list at moment to have more short haul content.
But they’re still publishing long haul travel as TW readers will be booking travel six months to a year ahead. They’re using an ‘inspiring future travel tag’ so it’s clear the article isn’t suggesting you can go tomorrow but just that it can be sold.
Sophie is currently mostly doing trips for travel in UK. Parent company DMG says now allowed to send staff to destinations that don’t require quarantine.
Lyn has already started doing trips and will be using freelancers more as team is smaller. Same rules apply as before in terms of making press trip pitches relevant.
Telegraph is doing trips again. Ben says there needs to be valid reason for each story rather than just that the destination / hotel is open again. They can’t send anyone to any places that requires quarantine. They’ve been using their destination experts in destinations that UK travellers can’t go to yet.
Both Ben and Sophie say they would still want to want run stories about places that can’t be visited yet eg Australia as readers will be looking at them for next year.
Sophie reiterated what Ben said that she’s looking for interesting stories – not just someone on a mask in destination! Maybe something new that didn’t exist before lockdown.
A question was asked about whether they’d attend a press event in autumn. Lyn would be open to a real press event – but small events. Ben says he can’t imagine the government allowing events for some time so it’s a moot point!