Northern Ireland travel boss ‘optimistic’ summer holidays abroad could happen

Should we leave the suitcases in the attic? Or will travel to foreign climes be an option this summer? HELEN MCGURK talks to those in the travel industry

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 7:00 am
Portugal was on the green list, but is now on the amber list
Portugal was on the green list, but is now on the amber list

It’s been the worst of times. But no matter how bleak, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and for many of us that manifested as a summer holiday abroad.

After months cooped up in our homes, we could imagine ourselves on a beach, the smell on sun cream on our skin, a sundowner on the verandah, poolside banter with other holidaymakers, crickets chirruping and cicadas humming, daytrips to pretty sun-bleached villages...I could go on.

But I won’t, because with the rigmarole of testing, quarantines, expense and the amberfication of Portugal (that one quarantine-free glimmer of hope extinguished all too quickly), there remains much uncertainty over foreign travel.

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Oasis Travel boss Sandra Corkin

Sandra Corkin, managing director of Oasis Travel, which has six branches in Northern Ireland said much of her business at the moment is for much later on this year and 2022.

“A lot of the business that we have for travel from July onwards are people who have moved their holidays from last year to this year. At the minute, with the traffic light system and the quarantine measures that are in place for most places, it’s making it impossible for anyone to travel without quarantining - and most people don’t won’t to do that.

“We are just hoping that more countries will move into green as the weeks go on and as July gets closer.”

Earlier this week it was revealed government officials are reportedly considering plans that will allow fully vaccinated people to avoid quarantine on their return from amber list countries. This could mean the return of holidays to popular summer hotspots such as Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, which are all currently on the UK’s amber list.

People arriving from the limited number of holiday destinations on the green list are not required to self-isolate, while amber arrivals must quarantine at home for 10 days.

Steve Heapy, ceo of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said: “This is very welcome news and should represent a meaningful restart to international travel in the very near future. The vaccination programme was designed to protect people from coronavirus so that they can enjoy their freedoms once again. If people have received two doses of the vaccine and are still not allowed to travel overseas to enjoy their holidays, what is the purpose of the vaccination programme? The rollout has been a huge success, so it is time for us all to enjoy the benefits of that.

“As well as vaccination rates, the UK Government has said that they are making decisions about international travel based on infection rates too. If this data is driving these decisions, then we believe that destinations such as Malta, the Balearic Islands and many islands in Greece should be open to holidaymakers from the UK.

“At present, the UK remains largely grounded and our customers are left to look on with envy whilst the rest of Europe opens up. We look forward to flying again soon and will continue to work with the UK Government to achieve that.”

Sandra Corkin is also optimistic.

“We certainly haven’t given up hope of some European places still opening this year, but at the minute the way things are, in terms of new bookings, people can’t plan, because most people can’t quarantine (due to work commitments, etc), so it means we are in a very difficult situation for this summer.

“We still have a lot of business from last year to this year and people hanging on to see what’s going to happen, but a lot of people have moved holidays on to next year.”

This sentiment was echoed by Jo Migom, Thomas Cook, who said: “There are many factors that will come into play this year, such as safety and government guidelines, that will determine travel plans. We are, however, very excited for 2022, which is shaping up to be the year that makes up for lost time. Many people are booking incredible holidays to exciting locations, and also upgrading to enjoy their time away to the fullest extent. We see people wanting to enjoy experiences with family and friends more than ever and having exciting trips booked is giving people something to look forward to.”

Mr Heapy believes there is a lot of “pent-up demand” for holidays.

“Throughout the pandemic, whenever people have been able to travel, they have been quick to take advantage of the opportunity. People work hard and save hard for their holidays, and they view their break in the sun as an essential right, not a ‘nice to have’.

“We have seen strong demand for our ATOL protected package holidays and leisure flights.

“At one point, after the government announced its clear ambition to get people travelling again, our Summer 21 bookings surged by more than 1,000 per cent. As customers look to book that all-important holiday in for this summer, we’re seeing demand for package holidays increasing from July and continuing through the rest of the school holidays and Summer 21.

“As well as this summer, more customers are also looking ahead and booking an ATOL protected package holiday for next summer too.”

But Sandra Corkin believes that compared to 2020 the travel situation this year is “much worse”.

“Travel was more open. Last year I was in Spain, Greece and Germany.”

She added: “It’s so frustrating. I just feel that travel’s at a standstill.

“There’s nowhere on the green list that’s a holiday destination. For us, the traffic light system is just a nonsense. Half of the places on it won’t let us in and then the other places, you would hardly know where they are.

“Europe looks to be a much safer bet to be in than the UK at minute. Look at pictures of the packed beaches in England, compared to Spain and Portugal with the social distancing and all the measures that they are taking to welcome holidaymakers, and in my opinion you are probably a lot safer there than on a packed beach in England.”

Her advice to anyone planning a trip is this: “You need to make sure that there is flexibility that allows you to change and cancel it if restrictions are put in place that make it difficult for you to go.

“You should be booking a package holiday with an ATOL-protected operator.

“Even though countries are in red that doesn’t mean that the flights aren’t operating and if you have booked flights separately and that flight is still operating, you are not entitled to get your money back.

“A proper ATOL-bonded package holiday with flexibility is definitely the way to go.”

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