This week has been a tumultuous one for British potential holidaymakers who want to try and travel abroad this Summer. There has been both good and bad news for those wanted to cross borders later this year as COVID-19 encapsulates the industry. British holidaymakers could be allowed to fly to countries with low coronavirus infection rates via “air bridges” that negate the need for quarantine, the transport secretary has said. The UK Foreign Office is currently advising against all but essential international travel, placing the holiday plans of hundreds of thousands on ice. But this week, Grant Shapps said flights to some destinations could operate outside of the restrictions.
Appearing in front of the Transport Committee on Tuesday, Shapps was asked by Huw Merriman, Conservative chairman of the Transport Committee, if he would “consider air bridges so that those entering the UK from countries where the infection rate is below the rate of one would not be subject to quarantine.”
Shapps replied: “Final details of the quarantine scheme will be released soon, come in early next month. It is the case we should consider further improvements – for example, things like air bridges enabling people from other countries who have themselves achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country.” He also said the government’s two-week quarantine plan for all arrivals into the UK will come into force in June.
The air bridge scheme could make foreign travel to some destinations more palatable for tourists this summer by negating the two-week quarantine period. This could mean that travel providers, hotels and hospitality workers both in the UK and abroad who rely on tourism can capitalise on the summer period.
Leisure travel is seasonal and getting the travel industry moving again will mean trying to restart foreign travel in summer 2020. If the government can work with its counterparts in France, Spain and beyond as suggested, Brits can try and make the most of foreign travel this year and the industry can begin to get back to normal. In fact, this collaboration may be closer than we initially thought as on Wednesday, EasyJet said it will resume some flights on 15 June, with all passengers and cabin crew told to wear face masks to protect against the coronavirus. The airline announced that it would restart a “small number” of routes where there is enough customer demand. The initial schedule will include domestic routes across the UK and France.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said that “these are small and carefully planned steps”. From June, EasyJet will fly out of Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast. The only international service from the UK will fly from Gatwick to Nice. Later, the company also announced that it open routes between Portugal, Spain and Switzerland as well.
This move by one of the UK’s largest carriers is a small but hugely significant step for the industry. Travel and tourism have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and its only positive action like this that will help us rebuild to pre-Coronavirus levels.
TRAVEL BEYOND 2020
Keeping customers safe will be at the heart of any travel in 2020 and beyond, so the offering of hand sanitiser, extended cleaning practices and the suspension of food offerings will be the steps required to restart the industry. Hopefully, others will follow suit and tourism can begin again in a safe and secure manner.
Despite these moves by carriers and the transport departments, at the end of last week and reaffirmed this week by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that all travellers arriving in the UK will be quarantined for 14 days. In his address to the nation, Mr Johnson said that in order to prevent re-infection from abroad he was “serving notice”. However, Rajeev Shaunak, head of travel and tourism at accountancy firm MHA MacIntyre Hudson, stated today that the newly announced inbound quarantine measures could cost package holiday operators up to £5 billion this year.
This period is the travel industry’s busiest time usually, but the COVID-19 crisis has brought the entire sector to a standstill. However, as businesses looked towards the light at the end of the tunnel in the Prime Minister’s speech, the amount of money the new measures could cost may potentially be crippling.
As we look to regaining some normality, businesses, especially in the travel arena and those with seasonal business models, must have more support from the government. These new measures will help keep people safe and the industry has tried to do all it can to protect the safety of our staff and our customers, but the government also needs to protect the businesses on the frontline.
Despite this news, Greek authorities also stated that Britons may be able to holiday in Greece from the 1st June without facing quarantine rules. The Greek government is now looking to ease its lockdown restrictions and revive the country’s usually booming tourism industry. However, Britons will still have to be put in quarantine on their return to the UK from Greece, in line with the UK Government’s latest measures.
Other countries across the world have spoken out on when they believe holidaymakers will be allowed to visit. Cyprus, Italy, Turkey and other countries have issued their latest advice to holidaymakers.
Cyprus has extended a ban on all inbound and outbound flights for another two weeks until May 28. The government first imposed a flight ban on March 21 as part of a strict lockdown. Authorities have said that airports could reopen in June – depending on the situation.
Giorgio Palmucci, president of the Italian National Tourist Board, ENIT, told local media that European tourists will be the first international group to be allowed to visit. He said: “I am ready to sign bilateral treaties between European countries to encourage the arrival of foreigners as well while waiting for the emergency to be definitively behind us. We will only start (with tourists) from the European Union, and at the earliest, in July or August.”
Turkey had previously said that they hoped they will be able to see travellers back by July. But whilst life for residents is slowly returning to normal as measures are relaxed during May, tourists are not yet allowed back in. And they will need a certificate stating they don’t have the virus in order to be allowed into the country, the government has said. Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said that European tourists won’t be able to enter the country until the end of July at the latest.
QUARANTINE. A NEW NORM FOR TRAVEL
The news that Brits may be able to travel to the Greek islands from the 1st June is welcome news to many who have had their travel disrupted this year. However, Brits will need to accept that they face 14-days of quarantine upon their return, but it is a sign that things are at least beginning to get back to normal.
Italy, a country that has been hit hard by the crisis is looking at a July to August opening date, so there may be signs that others could follow suit. Ryanair is looking to resume 40% of its flights in July if passengers observe new PPE rules, so travel this summer could look different. However, so long as your holiday is protected and you don’t mind waiting to receive compensation if it is delayed, postponed or cancelled, booking now could mean taking advantage of the 2020 Summer. If you can wait until winter, it is likely that more destinations will be available with more deals as well. It is too early to know exactly which date to look to travel on, but hopefully, this news is a positive step for getting the travel industry back up and running again.
This has been a confusing time for travellers with a degree of one step forward, two steps back at times, however, it is important to realise that this was always going to be a long period of adjustment and the industry will need to be patient to ensure that travel can resume once again safely.
Matt Crate, Managing Director of WeSwap