Holiday plans back on the menu – the view from a local travel expert

Travel updates from Veronica Bailey at Fare Wise Travel on Hungerford High Street

April 2021

Lots of round UK cruises on offer including the Disney cruise line for those who would like to try 3 or 4 nights from Southampton as a family treat.

All plans however depend on government announcement on Monday and the report of the Global Travel Taskforce on 12/4/21. In theory international travel can resume 17/5/21 but all quarantine and testing restrictions remain in place for returning to the UK and many countries remain closed such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Airlines have many new routes from regional airports in particular such as Wizz Air to Larnaca in Cyprus from Birmingham and there is a much greater concentration on using bio fuels and super-efficient aircraft to reduce carbon footprint.

For more advice and information, listen to Veronica’s interview with Penny from 26 March 2021 on 4LEGS Radio (from 5 min 50 sec).

 

February 2021 – Veronica talks to Brian Quinn about holiday prospects for 2021/22

The UK isn’t a bad old place, all things considered, but we don’t half like to get away from it. In the 12 months ending 31 July 2019, nearly two-thirds of us took a holiday abroad. Since then, of course, things have changed a bit. Covid has locked down on almost all foreign travel and both this and the consequences of Brexit will make travel a different experience in the future. None the less, after the best part of year spent under effective house arrest, many of us are yearning for sun, sand, snow, surf, Sangria and all the other delights which have long been denied us.

And it’s not just foreign travel. Domestic tourism is one of the major ways that, like nutrients on an ocean current, wealth is distributed around the country. That too has been switched off. In 2019, Statistica reports that over 60 million internal trips involving an overnight stay were taken, but this is almost certainly an under-estimate as many such visits would not be recorded in any statistics. Simple pleasures like a jaunt to the seaside or a weekend visiting friends have been off the menu for the best part of a year, an unprecedented restriction. I was watching a film the other night in which a family suddenly decided to go somewhere else for the weekend. It speaks volumes for my current state of mind when my first reaction was “how could they do that?”

The government’s announcement on 22 February, however, produced some grounds for optimism. Barring disasters, things should start getting back to something that looks more like normal from 12 April with – again if all goes well – most Covid regulations being removed in time for mid-summer’s day. Few sectors will have been watched the PM’s broadcast, and the daily Covid stats, with greater attention than the beleaguered British travel industry.

The following day, the BBC website ran a story with the headline Holiday bookings surge after lockdown exit plans. This reported some eye-catching statistics about what does indeed seem to be a surge in both domestic and international bookings. We decided that the best thing was to have a word with a local expert and so had a chat with Veronica Bailey from Fare Wise Travel in Hungerford. Are the prospects as good as they seem?

“In general, yes” she said. “For the first time, all industries have a timetable to work to. Given the decline in cases and the success of the vaccine in the UK, it seems probable that this will be adhered to. However, it’s still early days.”

I suggested that the real problem is that every country is at a very different stage in its management of the pandemic and has different ways of dealing with it. “That’s true,” she agreed. “With 220-odd countries in the world, any travel itinerary, some of which may involve more than one foreign destination, is at the mercy of what regulations apply for those entering them and which might apply to those returning to the UK. No one wants to have a 10-day quarantine period as a non-optional extra on their weekend break. A travel agent will be able to help advise which places are likely to be lower-risk. For example, Greece, Cyprus and Israel have all created bubbles to accept vaccinated travellers with no need to quarantine. Mauritius and the Seychelles are opening up to tourists. Canada, Australia, Tahiti and New Zealand, on the other hand, will not be open until 2022/23 the way things are looking. Most cruise lines will expect evidence of vaccination well before travel. If the situation or advice changes in any of these countries or sectors, we’ll know about it and be able to advise accordingly.”

One of the benefits of dealing with a specialist travel agent is the personal attention you receive. “That’s what we’re always stressing,” Veronica agreed. “As we’ve discussed the options and preferences with the client beforehand, this gives us extra insights into what options are likely to be acceptable if plans need to change – which, sadly, that have done a lot in the last year or so. Refunds are sometimes required, and we stay on the case of those as well. For example, we’ve finally had refunds from Avianca and Kenya Airways for passengers who should have travelled in April 2020 and September 2020. Our message is “do not despair” but be prepared for a long wait if you’re owed money. And a new part of travel is now covid insurance which we can also advise on.”

I asked if flexibility was now an even more important consideration. “It certainly is,” Veronica told me. “The last year has told us that plans often need to be changed at short notice and this won’t vanish for some time. There’s also a huge disparity in prices as some routes, or the accommodation at the end of it, are now over-subscribed with the prices rising accordingly, while elsewhere there are some excellent deals to be done. Destinations such as the Canaries and Madeira, for instance, are pinning their hopes on a revival of travel corridors to enable visitors from their traditionally strong British markets to visit again. It’s all slightly like a game of bridge where a number of the rules have suddenly changed – but, if you’ve played it for a long time, you can see the way through the differences bit more clearly. That’s the main advantages we can offer our clients.” The Travel Trade Gazette on 23 February (registration required) echoed this point, saying that there was “a real and present need for trusted travel advice.”

Brexit is, of course, another wild card in this. “It’s slipped up on us almost unnoticed, hasn’t it?” Veronica suggested. “A number of previous certainties about things like driving licences and heath insurance have vanished. Again, we can advise on this. Also, all foreign trips from the UK, except from Northern Ireland, require booking in advance. We can, for example, help navigate the complexities of a ferry or Eurostar reservation.”

Domestic holidays have for a long time been something that people have organised for themselves: is this likely to change? “Possibly not,” Veronica conceded. “However, the internal market is volatile and, particularly where train journeys or multiple overnight stays are involved, the costs can quickly rise to what you might pay for a European break. Once again, we can help make recommendations and advise on the best ticketing options.”

Finally, there’s the the question of the third big game-changer, that of climate change. The travel industry has been in the firing line on this: how has it reacted? “This is obviously a massive issue,” Veronica said. “We’re aware that many people are now wanting to explore more low-impact forms of travel or are willing to participate in carbon-offsetting measure for air trips they take. It’s possible to visit some amazing destinations which are only a reasonable train journey from St Pancras’ Eurostar terminal in London and many people are requesting these. Spectacular offers and new destinations are constantly emerging which have a low carbon footprint. Get in touch and we can tell you all about them!”

Covid, Brexit and climate change have certainly presented what amounts to a perfect storm for the travel business but it seems unlikely it will not be able to meet them. It survived 9/11 and a host of recessions. These latest changes have, perhaps more than any before, changes previous certainties and assumptions. Now than ever before, you need an expert to help you through the maze of ethical, logistical and financial options. One thing that seems unlikely to change, however, is our desire, now and again, to be somewhere else. This is, after all, the week in which the latest landing on Mars took place, showing that our curiosity about new horizons remains unaltered. Travel to Mars isn’t likely to form a vacation trip any time soon: but when it does, you might want to take some expert advice before committing.

Click here for more information about contacting Fare Wise Travel in Hungerford for any travel plans or dreams that you have.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale