The government’s “safe list” of countries is “not nirvana”, according to industry leaders.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Der Touristik UK chief executive Derek Jones said: “It is great news. But it’s not nirvana. This is not the solution right now to all of our challenges.”
He said the list was still limited and subject to change, while new restrictions on travel would inevitably lead to greater operational challenges for airlines, tour operators and travel agents.
“Like everybody else, I welcome the progress that we’ve made, but remember that three weeks ago, the number of countries that we had quarantine for was zero,” he said. “Now we have a smaller number than we did have, but we still have a large number of countries where we still have quarantine for people coming back to the UK.
“So we have come forward, but we haven’t gone forwards as far as we went backwards in the first place. We still need to be aware of all of the countries where it’s still not possible to travel without coming back into quarantine when you come to the UK.”
Jones added: “We need to be careful that the default assumption is just that this list is going to get bigger. Because this list could shrink quite as easily as it’s expanded.
“Of course, when you book a holiday, all you can take advice from is the current list. So it could well be the case that today, tomorrow, over the weekend, you take your list in to your travel agent, you book your holiday in good faith, following Foreign Office advice and current quarantine measures.
“And then in four weeks’ time when you’re due to travel, there’s a spike in the destination, the government changes the advice with 24 hours’ notice and you suddenly can’t travel to that destination. And that opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to insurance cover, when it comes to cancellation policies, airline cancellation policies and puts us right back where we were only now at a destination level.”
Kelly Cookes, leisure director at The Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “We all agree that it’s a great step in the right direction. We’ve got a list which we’ve all been striving for since the start of this, and it’s great to see some of those top-selling summer destinations on there. That will definitely help.
“However, it’s incredibly complex, and probably more complex than we thought in terms of what we were expecting the list to look like. We were all planning for three sets of guidance, a green, amber and red, yet that guidance system has changed again.”
Cookes added: “We represent agents across the whole of the UK and this is only, at the moment, applicable to those businesses that are based in England. So we’re also still fighting the fight for those that aren’t. And I’m trying to get some real tangible, helpful guidance for our members that they can use when talking to customers. We’ve still got a lot to work through at the moment.”
Cookes said that the presence of countries on the list did not necessarily mean that selling holidays to those destinations would be straightforward.
“There are some countries that feature on the list, but that doesn’t mean operators are going to operate a full programme there. So we’ll still see consolidation on some of those routes potentially. We’ve already seen airlines pulling out a different departure airports, all of those things mean changes to current bookings. So that’s still going on, it will continue to go on,” she said.
And she pointed out that regional lockdowns, such as the one imposed in Leicester, compounded the confusion.
“There are concerns about regional lockdowns here and whether an airport is included in any of those. I live on the outskirts of Leicestershire, so this has never been more real than it is at the moment,” she said.
“I’m not in quarantine, but it could have very easily been us. And also it could have been East Midlands Airport. So then what do you do when you’ve got customers that are due to fly out, but also potentially customers that are already out in resort and are due to fly back, you’ve got a whole heap of other issues then as well.”
Cookes said Advantage had issued its members with a 10-step checklist of things that it is advising them to go through with customers who are interested in traveling in the imminent future, as well as assets to help talk about destinations which are currently on the ‘safe list’.
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