Trade insists customers still want to travel despite testing rules

Travel agents and tour operators say consumer confidence had taken a hit amid tightening restrictions on international travel, but reported few cancellations after a second weekend of extra measures being announced by the government.

All those travelling to the UK must now take a pre-departure test before travelling to the UK, a rule that came a week after the government mandated the use of PCR tests within two days for all arrivals.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haslemere and chair of Aito Agents, said only one of her customers had cancelled a Christmas trip to recently red-listed South Africa.

Antrobus expects cancellations to remain low even though despite the “heart-breaking” upheaval the restrictions have caused for the industry.

“I understand all of my other clients who are traveling to some wonderful destinations for Christmas, and either hot or cold, long or near to home, all still want to go,” she said.

Joe Ponte, chief executive of Inghams and Santa’s Lapland parent Hotelplan, was upbeat but admitted it was going to be a “bumpy” early winter season.

Ponte, who took over as chief executive just over a year ago, said: “What I’ve learned about skiers since I’ve been in this role is that skiers absolutely love to ski.

“Come hell or high water, if skiers can get away, they’re going to go skiing. We haven’t seen people cancelling when they can go to destinations.”

But Mark Swords, co-owner of Swords Travel, predicted “some” ski cancellations in the coming weeks but agreed with Ponte that there were people who “really want that ski holiday”.

He expects clients to “stick with France” rather than travel further east in Europe. Austria has imposed a lockdown on around two million unvaccinated people, due to end on December 12.

Ponte admitted the Austrian lockdown has caused “some headaches” and there were also issues to contend with in France, Switzerland and Italy.

But he added: “The reality is there are challenges across the board.  We’re just doing our very best as a business to stay on top of all those challenges.”

Despite few numbers of cancellations, Antrobus admitted that consumer confidence had been hit by recent rule changes.

“We were starting to see that recovery,” she said. “We were inundated with bookings and enquiries. [The demand] has not petered off naturally.”

Antrobus added that the beefed-up testing requirements had made people delay booking their holidays until after Christmas.

“It’s certainly not the speed that we’ve seen in the last six weeks,” she explained. “We need to get that confidence back.

“This hammer has come from the government with absolutely no regard for the industry at all.”

She urged people to get used to Covid testing. “It could go away for a year and come back in. We can’t say it will ever go away,” she said, adding: “Consumers are a little more realistic about [testing] now.”

Swords, though, called for a pricing cap to be introduced to keep test costs down as well as more “clarity” from the government for customers about where to go for testing.

Meanwhile, Swords and Ponte agreed that recruitment had been “a massive issue” due to the “volatile” nature of working in the travel industry.

“People want financial security at the end of the day,” Swords explained. “And there’s not that in the industry at the moment.”

Ponte said technical and financial positions had been “really tough” to fill.

“Why would I be a junior developer coming to work in the travel industry? I can potentially get paid more doing something in an industry that’s really safe,” he added.

Hotelplan has completely reviewed its benefits and rewards packages to make sure the company is attractive across a broad range of industries.

More: Hotelplan moves to cover Lapland customers’ test costs

Trade asks government for ‘direct line’ for travel rule changes

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