The criteria used by the government to decide which destinations to include on its “safe list” are “opaque” and almost impossible to understand, according to experts on a Travel Weekly webcast.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Der Touristik UK, parent company of Kuoni and Carrier, said: “The challenge we all have now is understanding by what criteria the government have made these decisions. It’s all very opaque and I don’t think we’re ever going to really understand what basis these decisions were being made.
“We’re obviously really close to the Maldivian Tourism Authority, for example. We understand the work that they’ve done to make their destination safe. You look at the island resorts in the Maldives, which have been pretty much clear of Covid for weeks and weeks and weeks. Male has had some cases, but no more than the Seychelles have had or Mauritius had in the early days.”
He continued: “We really would want to engage with our colleagues in the Maldives and the Maldivian government to help them to understand what it is that they need to do in order to get themselves onto this list, but that in itself is quite a challenge, because we don’t have visibility of what exactly they need to do to get themselves onto it.
“In reality, the Maldives not being on [the list] today is not the biggest issue, because most of the Maldivian hotels weren’t planning to open until October or November anyway. But that means we do we really need to be able to work now with the government to make sure that from that point, when the Maldivian resorts are ready to welcome visitors, British people can travel there.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency and co-ordinator of the Quash Quarantine campaign, added his surprise at the Maldives’ omission from the list.
“It’s surprising that the Maldives is not on the list, given the Seychelles is. To be honest, I don’t think they’ve had huge discrepancies in case numbers. So it’s an interesting one that’s missing. And obviously there are a huge number of British travellers to the Maldives,” he said.
He added that Portugal was another omission that left him “baffled”.
“About 3.2 million British people go to Portugal every year. It’s hugely popular. There have been no deaths in the Algarve. Lisbon’s had a spike but so has Leicester. I don’t understand how we as a country can turn round and say Portugal should be totally off this list. It’s bizarre,” he said.
“I know the list is going to be reviewed on a very constant basis, although with government, constant isn’t really a word that factors into their thinking; it normally takes two or three weeks to change something.
“So I’m really amazed and I think Portugal will be very concerned that they’ve been missed off. Who knows, it may consider legal action as a country. I don’t think the story’s over on that yet.”
Charles argued confidence in destinations would be hit if they didn’t make the first cut.
“The issue here is confidence. This is the problem of being missed off the list; the typical consumer who has a Maldives holiday booked, will be thinking: ‘Oh, I won’t be able to go then – even if it’s November or December’; they might be thinking I want my money back. I’m concerned. And this is going to put further pressure on the customer call and contact centres and customer care teams,” he said.
Jones said the publication of the list was unlikely to change Kuoni’s thinking on restarting operations.
“For the key European destinations, potentially for August and September departures, I think it does give us some confidence.
“But for our long-haul destinations, I don’t think this substantially changes our position. Most of our long-haul destinations already made the decision that they weren’t really going to restart their tourism infrastructure for a point in time beyond the end of the key summer months,” he said.
“There may be some; Mauritius is an interesting addition to the list. They have, for quite a long time, managed the pandemic very well and have it completely under control, so while we were thinking of maybe October or November to restart, that could be one that we now need to go back and reconsider.”
Jones added: “But for a business like ours, we’ve pretty much created a business plan that gets us over that point anyway. And for us, this is about the long-term sustainability of the business to make sure that going forward, we can get those volumes in place for next year, and that really comes back to consumer confidence and that’s driven by clarity of message.”
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