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Agents caught off guard by government’s amber advice

Agents admit they were caught off guard by the government’s advice against leisure travel to ‘amber’ destinations but insist the countries remain a sales opportunity for peak summer.

During the announcement on which countries would be on the ‘green list’ for international travel from May 1, transport secretary Grant Shapps said countries graded amber should not be visited for holidays for now.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, travel agents admitted they had not anticipated the “do not travel” message for amber listed destinations, which make up the biggest number of countries and require travellers to quarantine at home as well as being tested on their return.

Advantage Travel Partnership leisure director Kelly Cookes admitted she had had “a few panicked phone calls” from the consortium’s agents following Shapps’ announcement in terms of what advice to give clients booked to travel to amber listed destinations.

She said: “The messaging around amber was not what we expected it to be and what we’d prepared our communications for so we had to do a bit of a backtrack to make people comfortable with what they were advising in terms of amber.

“We were expecting that to be a slightly softer message around ‘you can go’ to amber destinations and for leisure travel they’re open but there are extra precautions in place.

“We had to reword quite a lot of the information that went out [to members].”

Despite the guidance, Blue Bay Travel chief executive Alistair Rowland insisted amber destinations remained an “opportunity” for trade sales for this summer because of their price advantage against more expensive green destinations.

The government will review its traffic light system every three weeks – which could mean some amber destinations switch to green in June – but Rowland stressed his agency would follow “Foreign Office advice rather than government narrative”.

He said: “Really savvy consumers will take advantage of amber because they’re likely to get sensibly-priced flights and provided they’re working at home the difference [in price] is really the cost of the second PCR test.

“I look at our portfolio and right now Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Sri Lanka, Phuket, are all opportunities for current summer, whereas before the announcement the earliest fight we were putting volume into was probably November.

“Consumers will be able to take a choice. The soft government line of ‘you shouldn’t really [travel]’ is very weak and very poor” and the fact the Foreign Office advice hasn’t been linked up to the traffic lights is actually very telling.

“Agents and operators will be giving consumers the choice, and those consumers that want to go current summer will get a great deal where advice allows.”

Triangle Travel managing director Rob Kenton said his agency was advising clients booked to amber destinations such as Greece, Spain and Italy this summer to “hold tight” in the hope they are moved to the government’s green list.

He believes the next traffic light review could be more telling in terms of which countries agents can comfortably sell for this summer.

He said: “I really do believe that this is all about after a gradual release, it makes sense. The next round will be the telling tale, the countries that are listed.”

He added that the government’s initial green list, while disappointing, was sensible with the school’s half term holiday approaching. “A mass exodus over half term would be a nightmare for us. It eases us back in gradually,” he added.

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