UK and Ireland Travel policies
The UK has one of the highest Covid death rates in the world (600 deaths per million, compared with Albania 11, Bulgaria 22, Croatia 24, Serbia 35, Bosnia 47, Slovenia,53, etc). Consequently only essential overseas and inbound travel is allowed currently.
From 08 June, the UK Government is implementing a 14 day quarantine period for all new arrivals into the country, with some exceptions, such as freight deliveries. There is considerable opposition to this policy, including from around 50 members of parliament on the government side, but the Minister responsible has introduced the legislation without a parliamentary vote, so it cannot be voted down. 217 high profile travel companies have this week written to the government opposing the quarantine measures, and have proposed the concept of ‘Air Bridges’ instead. This would allow bilateral agreements for travel between countries deemed safe to travel, without the need for quarantine. The Balkans and SE Europe, with some of the lowest Covid rates in the World would most likely be in the first wave of countries considered for ‘Air Bridges’. The quarantine measures are due for review, week commencing 29 June, and it is widely expected that they will be relaxed at this time.
Airlines are already anticipating a relaxation in travel and quarantine rules and have announced a resumption of some services from 01 July, including to many holiday destinations. However, there is no guarantee that the UK Government will sanction overseas travel, particularly as they have targeted 04 July as the day for starting the reboot of domestic tourism, with the reopening of campsites in the first phase.
An IATA study released this week found that 48% of Britons would be willing to travel within a month or two of the Covid-19 threat being controlled, so the demand is there.
Travel Agencies are currently closed, although some are working from home. They are allowed to reopen on 15 June, although not all will until the overseas travel situation and demand becomes clearer. Tour operators have placed many staff on furlough as revenues have plummeted. The ones we have spoken to all tell a similar story of spending time processing refunds, issuing vouchers for rebooking for next year, and discussing options with clients for bookings from July onwards. There are a few new bookings coming in for 2021.
The travel industry thinking is that short haul will be back quicker than long haul and countries which have been least affected will come back first. Places with amazing landscapes where people can ‘self isolate’ in nature will be in high demand, all of which should provide an opportunity for Central and South East Europe.
Ireland has taken a much more cautious approach to relaxing the lockdown. Currently Irish people are only allowed to travel up to a maximum of 20km from their home, and from 29 June travel nationwide will be allowed. Travel overseas will be allowed from 10 August, although airlines are putting pressure on the government to bring this forward by starting flights out of Ireland from 01 July.
The Tourism Recovery Task Force has just submitted its report to the Government and has recommended the opening of domestic tourism from 29 June, allowing hotels and bars to open, with a proposed 1 metre social distancing policy (currently it is 2 metres). They have also suggested the removal of quarantine for countries deemed safe due to low infection rates. The Irish Prime Minister has said that the concept of Air Bridges is a possibility, but some weeks away and that the plan to re-open the country can be accelerated if it is safe to do so.
Written by Robert Dee, cofounder of New Deal Europe, a travel forum and marketplace that brings together tour operators, tourist boards, and suppliers with a focus on the Balkan region of Europe, www.newdealeurope.com.