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Trade asks government for ‘direct line’ for travel rule changes

The trade has called for a “direct line” from government to industry when changes to UK entry restrictions are announced so they can effectively communicate to their customers.

Agents and operators speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast held after the government announced pre-departure tests for all those entering the UK talked of the “unworkable” situation they face updating customers when responding to new rules at short notice.

The pre-departure test update, which will come into force from Tuesday, December 7, was the second government announcement in two weekends that blindsided many in the industry left trying to update their customers with little information

Meanwhile, entry restrictions continue to change in overseas destinations, such as Switzerland – which dropped its quarantine requirement following prior confusion over whether travellers could transit to France via Geneva Airport or not.

‘Embarrassed’

Mark Swords, co-owner of Wimbledon-based Swords Travel said he felt “embarrassed” after the latest Covid measures were announced by different countries with staff struggling to inform customers quickly and accurately as they were scrambling to find information.

He said poor messaging around changes – including quarantine measures in Switzerland – were a “big problem”.

He said: “You feel a bit embarrassed because we’re supposed to be the experts giving clients advice, but actually we can’t give them confidence.

“Some of the tour operators don’t even know until they get [information] from the government.”

Swords called for a “direct line” of communication between the government and the travel industry so the sector can plan and communicate to customers when rules are introduced.

“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “You can never relax because it just seems there’s one announcement after another. It comes totally unexpectedly and you start to hear things on the grapevine before it comes out.”

‘Unworkable’ situation

Swords said agents and increasingly their customers were becoming “resilient” to the changes but admitted it could get to the point where the trade is left in an “unworkable” situation.

Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haslemere Travel and chair of Aito Agents, urged the government to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” when introducing new Covid measures while offering no financial support for the industry.

She said the government had shown a “lack of regard” for the trade and caused the trade “trauma” comparable to March 2020 when the country first national lockdown was announced.

Antrobus said the timing of the announcements on Saturday night was “shocking” or “like a kick in the guts” and made agents catching up with the news look “unprofessional”.

Industry ‘ignored’

Joe Ponte, chief executive of Inghams and Santa’s Lapland parent Hotelplan, said the travel industry had been “ignored”.

He said Saturday evenings were “the absolute toughest time for our industry to be able to respond”, because “things are shut” while “we’ve got customers calling us saying ‘what’s happened?’.”

Ponte said it was “very challenging” for operators and agents to respond and appealed to the government to give at least five hours’ notice before announcing new measures.

Ponte said the travel sector had not been given a chance to recover like other industries and expressed concerns about the trade’s mental well-being before calling for financial help to ease the strain on agents and operators.


More: Hotelplan moves to cover Lapland customers’ test costs

Trade calls for government support as travel curbs return

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