Operators and cruise lines monitor European restrictions impact

Tour operators and river cruise lines with holidays planned for Austria and Germany are closely assessing the impact of tightening Covid-19 restrictions on their clients.

Austria will start a nationwide lockdown on Monday (November 22) – and Munich’s Christmas market has been cancelled for a second year in a row just days before it was due to begin, also on Monday.

Coming amid rising levels of Covid-19 cases, the announcements will be a blow to agents and operators with clients on winter sports and Christmas market holidays in the affected regions.

The Guardian reported that more than £3 billion was wiped off the value of UK airlines and travel-related companies on Friday (November 19).

G Adventures has been forced to axe two European Christmas market tours because of the cancellation of Munich’s event.

The operator said: “We made the difficult decision to cancel our two Christmas market itineraries that were due to depart from November 28. The health and safety of our travellers, and being able to deliver an exceptional tour experience, are of the utmost importance to us.

“While we understand how disappointing this will be, with the cancellation of itinerary highlights such as iconic Christmas markets in Berlin and Munich, and additional protocols that have been put in place in Austria and Germany, we do not believe we can deliver the full travel experience our travellers expect.

“All affected travellers have been given the option of a full refund or 110% future travel credit to book a future tour with G Adventures.”

However, ski specialist Inghams said it was “monitoring the situation closely” as the Austrian lockdown is set to be for a maximum of 20 days, until December 12.

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“Our first ski departures to Austria commence after this date, and at this time we remain optimistic that our holidays will go ahead as planned,” said Inghams.

“If the lockdown is extended and we are not able to travel to Austria, our customers will be offered the option to move to another date or destination, or have a full refund.”

Customers also have the option to move their holiday to a later date or different destination.

“The vast majority of our customers remain optimistic about their upcoming ski holiday and are looking forward to getting back on the slopes again – with booking volumes continuing to surpass pre-pandemic levels,” added the statement.

Joe Ponte, chief executive of Ingham’s parent, Hotelplan UK, commented: “The news of the lockdown in Austria is of course concerning, being so close to the start of the winter ski season, but we remain optimistic about the winter ahead.

“We’ve planned for countless eventualities and are arguably better prepared than ever before. And with one of the best, most experienced teams in the business, I’m confident that we can deal with whatever comes our way.”

Tui, which operates ski holidays with its Crystal Ski brand and river cruises, said: “We are monitoring the situation and what it might mean for our customers closely.”

Leger Holidays and sister brand Shearings also have a range of Christmas market tours which feature Germany and Austria.

Liam Race, Leger Shearings Group chief executive, said: “Where we have an issue with a market cancellation or lockdown we will try to adapt our itineraries to still enable our customers to take their planned break, if they so wish.

“We will, for example, offer a Munich city tour in place of the Christmas market and we are looking to add extra capacity in France as an alternative destination.

“If, however, customers no longer wish to travel we will provide them with a full refund, which they will receive in a maximum of seven days.”

Richard Forde, head of trade sales at Newmarket Holidays, said: “As our customers have to be double-vaccinated to travel with us, this typically helps us be able to meet local minimum requirements.

“We are monitoring, reviewing local advice, prepping for all scenarios and contacting passengers quickly with choices when we are aware of issues.

“With the news of Austria going into lockdown from Monday, we have contacted all customers [on Friday] to give them their options regarding moving to 2022 at the same price or waiting to see what Austria’s 10-day review looks like.”

A spokesperson for Avalon Waterways said the river cruise specialist is assessing how customers booked on sailings in Germany and Austria will be affected.

Elsewhere, the Scenic Group, which includes Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises, said it is monitoring the situation in Europe “closely”.

Emerald Cruises has four European Christmas market departures, starting on November 28, while the first of Scenic’s four river cruises will depart on November 29.

It said Munich Christmas markets are not part of its current seasonal river cruise programme, adding: “There is no change to our scheduled itineraries and the cruises will be operating as normal at this time. We continue to monitor the situation in Europe closely.”

AmaWaterways is operating modified itineraries on the Danube, with changes such as more time to explore Budapest and new ports of call in Hungary. Guests have the option to cruise on its ships on the Rhine and Rhône rivers or postpone for a later date.

Ted Wake, director at Kirker Holidays, said: “All destinations…are facing on-going adjustments to their Covid rules – and our responsibility as a specialist tour operator is to keep on top of all factors.

“Any agent booking their client with Kirker will have the reassurance that we will take immense care to ensure we react quickly with practical advice to enable a client to go ahead with their holiday.

“We achieved this with great success recently when we were obliged to move a client’s holiday to a new, tailor-made itinerary in Andalucia…within 90 minutes of the withdrawal of direct flights to Morocco. Stay positive – there is always a solution.”

Picture of Salzburg, Austria, by Nok Lek/Shutterstock

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