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Foreign Office advice against Maldives travel could hamper late sales

Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel to the Maldives could hamper late sales if it does not change soon, the trade has warned.

The destination’s removal from the red list this week was welcomed by travel agents and tour operators, but many remain frustrated the FCDO had yet to change its advice in line with the traffic light change.

The government announced last week that eight countries would come off the red list on September 22.

Of the eight, the FCDO has only relaxed its travel advice for three destinations: Turkey, Kenya and Oman. Covid advisories against travel remain in place for the other five: the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Agents and operators were hopeful the failure to change travel advice for the Maldives was simply “an oversight”.

Haslemere Travel owner and Aito Specialist Travel Agents chair Gemma Antrobus hoped the lack of alignment would be addressed in the coming days.

She said: “It’s really frustrating. The changes started to filter through [on the FCDO website] except for the Maldives. Is there an issue or has someone not done their job?”

She added: “I have clients travelling to the Maldives in the October half term. In the worst case scenario they will get different insurance cover but some agents will have clients who will not want to do that and will refuse to pay their holiday balance.”

Fred Olsen Travel head of commercial Paul Hardwick also warned the issue could cause more cancellations or rebookings.

He said: “We want to sell the Maldives and we already have clients booked to go so we want to avoid cancellations and people saying they don’t want to rebook.”

He said the lack of alignment between the FCDO and government advice had already become “one of the biggest things to put customers off” travel.

Tour operators were equally frustrated.

Sam Clark, managing director, Experience Travel Group, which sells the Maldives and Sri Lanka, for which FCDO advice also remains unchanged, said there had been an “strong uptick” in enquiries since the traffic light change.

But he called the lack of advice change for the Maldives “peculiar” given a high percentage of the population had now been vaccinated and the fact most holidaymakers stayed on islands where there were not large numbers of people together.  He added: “I’m hoping the Foreign Office has just not got round to doing its risk assessment.”

Exsus head of trade sales Neil Sealy questioned the rationale of the decision. He said: “The FCDO has updated its advice on Oman and Turkey, so why not the Maldives? If the Maldives is not considered a red destination for travel to the UK then why does our government consider there to be a risk to British citizens travelling there? I hope it’s an oversight but I’m not so sure.”

Operators to other affected destinations, such as Egypt, stressed the need for consistency of advice.

Discover Egypt commercial director Philip Breckner said the operator had seen an immediate uplift in bookings to Egypt but admitted cancellations and refunds were likely for existing bookings if the advice did not change.

He added: “We are very frustrated by it. It’s a contradiction and terribly confusing. I just wish it was more co-ordinated.”

Abta advised agents and operators to ensure they checked FCDO advice as travel restrictions for entry to the UK were relaxed as well as entry requirements for destinations, warning “complexities remained” despite a more simplified system being introduced.

It urged members to check its travel guide on the member zone of its website abta.com.

A spokeswoman said: “As ever, it is really important that travel agents and tour operators are aware of the Foreign Office advice for destinations so they can advise and support customers accordingly.

“We have a guide to help members navigate the requirements around travel, which lists all countries, whether there is an FCDO “all but essential travel” restriction due to Covid risks and the traffic light category allocated.

“Where countries do not have an FCDO “all but essential” Covid-19 travel restriction we include details of mandatory destination entry requirements.”

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