“Thousands” of travellers in Lapland have had their pre-departure testing costs covered by Hotelplan UK after the government threw a “curveball” at the travel industry.
The government announced on Saturday afternoon that the requirement of a pre-departure test would come back in at 4am on Tuesday, December 7.
Staff at Hotelplan, – parent of Santa’s Lapland as well as Inghams – scrambled to reassure clients scheduled to return home imminently.
Hotelplan UK chief executive Joe Ponte told a Travel Weekly webcast that “thousands” of customers who had booked through one of the company’s brands were currently in Lapland.
He said: “Within 30 minutes that first BBC [News] blast my executive team were on a call, within half an hour of that we had messages out to all customers departing this coming week.”
The “challenge”, Ponte said, was sourcing tests at scale so Hotelplan customers can fly back to the UK from Finland without disruption.
Hotelplan teams managed to secure two-hour tests by noon on Sunday – just over 12 hours after the government’s press conference, ahead of Finland celebrating its day of independence on Monday (December 6).
“We told everyone ‘Don’t worry, this is what we do’,” he said. “[Tests] are very expensive up there. “They’re €100 a pop compared to the €30 you can get your antigen test for here.
“But we’ve got all that in place for our customers and so all our customers returning on Tuesday will be able to get a test that will take care of, and they’ll be able to get back absolutely fine.”
Ponte added that sorting out testing issues represented a “long-term gain” for the company, adding: “We want people to understand that when things go a little bit south, that we will be there to look after them.”
He said the government had thrown “a curveball” into the mix with the pre-departure requirement, with operators not given advance notice “figure out exactly what we’re going to do”.
While Ponte confirmed Hotelplan will cover testing costs for those who travelled up to Tuesday, he stressed that customers flying to Lapland from Wednesday onwards should be ordering their pre-departure tests themselves because the firm would not be covering everyone’s Covid tests. Tui has opted for a similar approach.
“Our customers should be right now purchasing [PCR tests] because they’re 24-hour delivery, they’ll have them in the hands on Tuesday for those Wednesday departures,” Ponte explained as he reminded customers they could not use NHS antigen tests.
He said Hotelplan has “pretty strong processes” in place to react quickly, adding: “This is what tour operating is all about. Even before Covid it was dealing with ash clouds, too much snow, not enough snow.
“You’ve got 100 people in London and people all over the destinations ready to take this action.”