Travel agents stress on Portugal changes
The decision by the NI Executive to remove Portugal from the green list of travel destinations has caused significant stress to NI travel agents.
It appears that the change has not caused major disruption to tourists already out there, as many will have no issues in self isolating on their return as they are retired or on furlough.
But the unexpected shift in policy has caused a major loss of confidence in further overseas travel, causing some travel agents to reflect that government subsidies may be required to keep them afloat.
It has also added a significant level of administration for travel agents, who are nowing filling in extra forms for cleitns and sending test kits to them overseas.
Last week the NI Executive announced that holidaymakers travelling to Portugal will have to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to Northern Ireland - taking it off the green travel list and demoting it to amber. Tourists returning from Portugal must now provide proof of a negative Covid test, taken up to three days before departure, and book post-arrival testing.
Scott Parker of Feherty Travel in Bangor said it was “just another set-back”.
He told the News Letter that the emergence of a green travel list early in the season had been a welcome start. He hoped that a further review at the end of June would have seen more countries added to the green list.
“The disappointing thing is that there does not seem to be much logic or explanation as to why these decisions on Portugal have been made.”
He has just returned from a four day trip there, where he felt “perfectly safe”.
“Their transmission rates are low and vaccination rates are high. Every time the resumption of travel is pushed back we have to refund and re-book. We are just working for free because we only start earning any commission when we get our clients into the airplanes.”
While most of his clients have not rushed back to NI from Portugal, the big problem is for those who have booked to in the weeks ahead.Many of them are parents of young families who cannot afford ten days off work to self-isolate, he said.
Lorraine McConville, proprietor of Bangor Travel, said the authorities would have been better keeping Portugal on the amber list rather than “teasing people with a bit of green”.
She said: “Last Thursday we were expecting a number of other destinations to go green. But to take Portugal away spoke volumes - it is not just about Portugal it is a false dawn.”
This will seriously undermine the confidence in many clients in trying to book any further trips abroad, she said, because the travel status of countries can be changed so quickly.
It has also added a substantial layer of extra administration into travel agents, who are now filling in official health forms for clients already overseas and managing the logistics of sending them test kits.
She says many travel agents around NI are now saying they need government subsidies to survive the dramatic change in policy and blow to confidence of clients.
Sandra Corkin of Oasis Travel, which has six branches across NI, reported a similar response from her clients already in Portugal.
“The clients that we had abroad when the amber corridor was announced stayed on in Portugal and others that were due to travel imminently have delayed their departure date,” she said.