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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Holiday giant offers £20 testsabout 14 hours ago
The cheapest COVID tests for travellers to emerge so far were announced today by Britain’s biggest tour operator, TUI UK. For £20, customers travelling to destinations on the Government’s green traffic light list will be provided with lateral flow kist for taking a test before heading home and PCR tests when they get back. A negative pre-departure check will include test certification. Those visiting amber light destinations will pay £50 for a package which includes two PCR tests – on the second and eighth days of their self isolation period. The company’s announcement makes no mention of the official option to take the second test on day five in order to escape isolation early. If a destination turns from amber to green after the customer has ordered, the difference will be refunded.
Tests can be ordered via a booking hub set up with bio infrastructure company Chronomics that goes live on Monday (10 May).
Two more expensive packages are also available: green and amber light packages will include outbound PCR tests with courier costs will cost £60 and £90 respectively.
Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI UK & Ireland said: “We have always believed that cost-effective testing solutions, as well as maximum flexibility, will make travel a possibility this summer and beyond. Our research has shown that customers are looking forward to their much needed holiday overseas, but affordable and asy testing solutions was imperative to make this a reality. The four new exclusive testing packages have been developed with our customers in mind; they’re offered at greatly reduced prices, include certification to travel and will be a simple process from start to finish. Also, should testing requirements change between purchase and travel, for example if an amber package is purchased and the destination moves onto the green list, we’ll simply refund the difference.”
New cruise line to sail Norway coastabout 14 hours ago
A new cruise line will begin sailing along the Norwegian coast in August. Havila Voyages will operate two ships equipped with what it claims are then world’s largest batteries, enabling them to move quietly through the fjords. Its first vessels – Havila Capella and Castor – will undergo sea trials this month. Two more –Polaris and Pollux – are scheduled to join the fleet next year. The ships will have 179 cabins. The Norwegian, family owned line has a ten year contract with the Norwegian Government to operate between Bergen and Kirkenes, close to the Finnish and Russian borders in the Arctic Circle and a prime location for viewing the Northern Lights. The 12 day round trip takes in 34 different ports.
Low risk prompts Foreign Office to drop advice against some holiday destinations1 day ago
The Foreign Office has dropped its advice to avoid destinations including the Canaries, some Greek islands and – with the exception of the Azores – Portugal. Mainland Spain and the Balearics remain off limits. But based on current risk assessments the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) is no longer advising against all but essential travel to the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu or Crete. It has similarly changed its advice against visiting Malta and Israel. The moves have come with the Government on the point of revealing its initial traffic light lists of destinations, which will take effect from 17 May. It has been expected that Portugal, Malta and Gibraltar will qualify for the the green light category. But the Foreign Office revisions raise the question whether the five Greek islands and the Canaries could also be on it. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has hinted he might support separate decisions on islands with very low COVID infection rates. The travel industry has complained that the FCDO has not always moved in step with other Government destination approvals. In normal times its advice is exactly that. Travellers can ignore it if they wish but it usually renders their travel insurance invalid and results in package tour companies – and sometimes airlines – suspending holidays and flights.
Holiday optimism grows as European infections fall3 days ago
Infections in major European holiday destination countries have fallen dramatically as EU member states consider Brussels’ plan to kickstart international tourism. Though most are still suffering rates too high to make the UK’s initial traffic light list – to be unveiled imminently – there are signs that could change within a few weeks. Optimism will be further boosted by a report that the Government may review its lists every three weeks, and by rising numbers of vaccinations across Europe.
The seven day infection rate in France has dropped from 415.3 per 100,000 of its population a month ago to 229.9 yesterday. Greece is down from 200.7 to 123.9 over the same period. Italy whose rate has been heading downward since mid March, is now recording 136.3. Cyprus has passed its peak, though case rates are still way too high to be considered for a green light. The same, though to a lesser extent, is true for Croatia and Turkey.
France. Spain and Greece may get an amber light, meaning you will be able to go but will need to self isolate for ten days on return – besides taking a test before departing, a PCR test on your second day back in the UK and day eight, with then option to test and release on day five in the hope of ending isolation early.
Destinations at the bottom of the league table, where Britons may be able to take an early break with the least restrictions, include Gibraltar, with no cases in the past seven days, Portugal’s (27.6) and Malta (29.4), while Finland and Iceland recorded 25.8 and 22,5 respectively.
EU hopes for tourism restart within weeks4 days ago
Tourists who have been vaccinated fully, have immunity after recovering from COVID or have been tested negative may be allowed into EU countries as soon as the end of this month. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Twitter that those from “countries with a good health situation” would also be admitted. Asked about UK residents, a commission official was reported to have said reciprocity could be a factor. The move must be agreed by the 27 member states, each of which will be able to apply an emergency break if variants lead to a dangerous rise in infections. The Commission is planning a “green” certificate which will show the bearer has been vaccinated, has immunity or can show evidence of a recent negative test. Ms von der Leyen said it was “time to revive EU tourism and for cross border friendships to rekindle safely”. An EU wide ban on all non essential travel from most countries , introduced last year, has already been relaxed by some countries over a year. Under the proposal, member states would be obliged to accept evidence of jabs with vaccines including those of Pfizer BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
EasyJet urges green light for much of Europe7 days ago
EasyJet is urging the Government to put much of Europe on its green traffic light list when holiday travel abroad gets the go ahead. The low cost airline commissioned a study by epidemiologists at the Yale School of Public Health which suggested that as of 12 April the impact on hospitalisation in the UK would be minimal. It argued that travel to and from Spain, for example, would result in only four additional people a week being treated in hospital – a figure likely to fall further as the number of people vaccinated increased. Yesterday a total of 134 people were admitted with the disease, though figures are not updated daily by all four nations. It remains open to question whether ministers will be persuaded, however. The seven day rate of new infections in Spain has increased slightly since 12 April and they may want to see evidence that it is falling again before moving the country from likely amber light status. At the time of writing, Portugal, and Malta – among the most popular sunshine destinations – looked most likely to get a safe rating, with Iceland, Finland, Norway and Ireland in the frame elsewhere.
Menorca: Jet2 plans earlier summer start7 days ago
Anticipating strong demand for early sunshine holidays next year, Jet2 and its holiday arm have brought forward their summer operation to Menorca. The addition of April departures means customers will be able to book for the Easter period. Extra flights will depart from Birmingham between 8 and 22 April and from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted on Saturdays from 9-23 April.
CAA takes fresh look at holiday protection8 days ago
Package holiday operators may no longer be allowed to use customers’ advance payments to fund their businesses under plans being considered by the Civil Aviation Authority. The practice has been a factor in the collapse of some firms. And it has come under fresh scrutiny during the pandemic, with companies having problems refunding customers for cancelled holidays.
In a consultation document sent to the industry the Authority says it is " considering moving to a framework which has the aim of reducing reliance on customer monies as a source of funding working capital".
The consultation deals with reforms to the ATOL (Air Travel Organsers Licence) scheme that protects package customers flying abroad from losing their money, or being left stranded, when operators go bust. The Authority says it is “now of the view that the current framework has not done enough to restrict the use of customer monies as a source of low-cost financing.” This view has been reinforced by the experience of the travel industry during the Covid-19 pandemic “and has further been exacerbated by the recent challenges faced with customer refunds”. Though travel companies posing a bigger risk to consumers face higher costs getting licences, “this has failed to sufficiently incentivise ATOL holders to put in place more robust financing structures and protection of advance customer monies”.
The Authority is looking at two options: the total segregation of customers’ money so companies are forbidden from touching payments until the holiday is over; or limiting the use of such funds to payments due to suppliers such as airlines or hotels.
France: new cycle routes open8 days ago
A clutch of new signposted routes for e-bikers and e-mountain bikers have been opened in the French Alpine department of Isère. The itineraries are suitable for beginners or multi generation groups. Ranging from 8.3kms to 30.6kms, they run through an area between the Rhône and the mountains. Among them is a 25.7km route along the Vénéon river to the ski village of Vewnosc, while the longest runs from Saint-Hilaire-du-Rosier through the hills of Chambaran to the photogenic village of Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye. The village lies on a pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. It has half timbered houses, a medieval market square plus an abbey and a Gothic church, both dating from the 13th century. Elsewhere, in the Chartreuse Regional Nature Park, a 12km new “greenway” has opened between St Joseph de Rivière to Entre Deux Guiers.
Vaccine passport to be part of NHS app9 days ago
The Government is working on integrating a travel passport into the NHS appointment booking app, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this morning. It would show whether travellers had been vaccinated or tested. Mr Shapps told Sky News he was working with other administrations round the world to ensure the system would be recognised internationally. He said there would be a paper version for people who did not use smart phones. But he remained cautious about the restart of non essential overseas trips on or after 17 May, noting that “we don’t want to throw away our remarkable rollout in this country of vaccination”. – confirming that lists of countries with their traffic light status, including those rated green, would be unveiled around the beginning of May.
Meanwhile cut price PCR vaccinations for returning travellers are looking increasingly likely to be widely available when, or if, overseas holidays become a reality. The huge Travel Network Group, which supports over 900 independent agents, including those in the Worldchoice consortium, is reported to have done a deal with two providers for home testing kits costing £44.90 in one case and £60 in the other.
BA launches new Europe routes9 days ago
Wroclaw and Gdansk in Poland are two of four new destinations added by British Airways to its route network from Heathrow. The former, with its islands and bridges on the Oder river, its medieval market square and Gothic cathedral (rebuilt after World War 2) is one of the country’s oldest and loveliest cities. The latter, with its Baltic shipyard where Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement was born, claims to be the world’s amber capital – and has a fascinating museum on the subject. The airline will fly to the former from 1 July, on Thursdays and Sundays. It will start operating to the latter the following day, with departures on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It will also start flying on 2 July –with flights on the same three days – to the Latvian capital, Riga and Cluj-Naponica in Romania. All four services will run until 26 September. Meanwhile BA will have started flying to the Italian city of Perugia on 28 June, a route which should have started last year but which was delayed by the pandemic.
UK holiday surge prompts coach tour expansion10 days ago
Increased interest in UK holidays could be here to stay for some time, suggests coach tour specialist Leger. The operator has added 20 to its programme for this year – and says they can be booked for departures as far ahead as November 2023. Until now Leger, which acquired the Shearings brand last year, was best known for escorted coach tours in other European countries, with perhaps around a dozen domestic holidays. Now it is offering 3,4,5, 7 and 8 day trips, plus a 14 day “Best of UK & Ireland” tour. Its new itineraries cover destinations including the English Riviera, Cornwall, Chatsworth and the Peak District, Northumberland – with Hadrian’s Wall – the Lake District, Edinburgh and Loch Lomond.
Meanwhile Shearings has launched a “Bridgerton and the Regency Royals” on location tour in response to the popularity of the Netflix series. The itinerary will take in some of the filming locations in Kent, including the historic dockyard at Chatham, Hatfield House, Ranger’s House and Greenwich Park. The tours will last five days and there will be two departures, on 9 and 23 August.
Derby set to open new Museum of Making10 days ago
With exhibits including the Rolls Royce Eagle engine that helped power the first transatlantic flight over 100 years ago, Derby’s Museum of the Making is set to open on 21 May. Formerly the city’s Industrial Museum, it has been undergoing a major re-vamp for nearly five years to create an introduction to Derby as one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. It will house some 30,000 objects, including the world’s smallest engine, run using a human hair. The museum stands on the site of the 300 years old Silk Mill on the River Derwent, regarded as the world’s first full mechanised factory, designs for whose silk throwing machines are said to have been smuggled in from Italy. Though much of the mill was destroyed in a fire its restored tower, foundation arches and entrance gates remain as part of the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Museum Entry is free but COVID restrictions mean visitors will need to book in advance. Bookings will be available from 10am on 4 May.
Desert domes will come with stargazing at Arizona resort11 days ago
Guests at new resort in Arizona will stay in geodesic domes with telescopes for viewing the desert night stars through skylights at a new place to stay near the Grand Canyon National Park. Scheduled for its grand opening in June, the Clear Skies Resort is 20 minutes from the park’s South Rim entrance. Its 45 individual domes have swing chairs suspended from their 26ft high ceilings, huge panoramic windows with spectacular view across Arizona’s high desert – and deck hammocks. A separate Projection Dome showing a 360 degree short movie. The operator already has a 16 dome property with extensive hiking options, in Montana’s Flathead National Forest, just outside Glacier National Park. It has plans for up to 15 more close to other UK parks.
Hope of travel take off sparks clutch of new flights14 days ago
New flights between London and Cornwall are planned by easyJet, boosting travel options for people planning to holiday in the UK. The budget fare airline is to launch summer services from Gatwick to Newquay. From 8 June until 30 October it will operate three flights a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Low cost rival Ryanair will launch three new routes in July. Hoping Greek islands will make it on to the Government’s green traffic light list, the airline will operate two round trips a week from Manchester and one each from Liverpool to Kos and Teesside to Corfu.
Ukrainian low cost airline SkyUp will to start flying between Luton Airport and Kiev this summer, if COVID restrictions allow. From 24 June it will operate three times a week – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – to Kiev Boryspil airport. The airport is a 40 minute express train ride from the Ukrainian capital’s main railway station. This the third new low fare service from Luton to be announce this week. On Tuesday Wizz unveiled plans for flights to Rzeszow, about 100 miles east of Krakow in Poland, and Antalya in Turkey.
Travel agencies to offer cut price tests14 days ago
Prospects for summer holidays abroad have brightened significantly. Cut price PCR tests are to be offered by more than 450 High Street travel agencies belonging to the Advantage* partnership.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps has in any case indicated that travellers may – at a later stage – be able to take cheaper, rapid lateral flow test kits away with them, to use before setting off for home.
And the Government is reported to be considering the launch of paper and electronic COVID passports by 17 May, to people who have been vaccinated.
The Advantage consortium has done a deal with provider Randox, which is charging international travellers £60 for Government approved tests – half the usual rate – for people with an exclusive code. Holidaymakers booking through its members will enter the code on the Randox website and a kit will be sent to their homes. They will then take the swabs to one of 120 drop boxes or partner clinic across the UK. The results will be sent back to customers within 24 hours. The move is excellent news for those hoping to take advantage of the hoped for resumption of non essential overseas travel, which could take place less than four weeks from today. While it will obviously up the cost of holidays, £120 per couple, for example, looks unlikely to deter silver travellers who have been saving money usually spent on trips.
*Use this link to find a local Advantage agency
Hurtigruten adds more UK cruises15 days ago
The number of cruises around Britain continues to grow as frustrated travellers lok for holidays they can book with a high degree of confidence. Latest to increase capacity is Norwegian line Hurtigruten, which has widened availability on its 15 day “British Isles – Picturesque Ports, Isolated Islands and Wonderful Wildlife” itinerary with two extra sailings on its expedition ship Maud. The cruises depart from Dover, taking in destinations including Iona, Holyhead, the Isles of Scilly and Fowey. The ship carries a hi-tech Science Centre where passengers can learn about locations visited. And on board lectures by a experts in areas such as marine biology, oceanography and photography can be streamed to all cabins and suites as well as being attended live.
New Shropshire walking packages launched15 days ago
The reported surge in demand for UK breaks has prompted HF Holidays to launch a new guided walking holiday on the Shropshire Way. Customers will cover and average of around 12 miles a day, returning after each section to Longmynd House, the firm’s hillside property above Church Stretton, on the border between England and Wales. The linear route will start in Snailbeach, home to old lead mine buildings, taking in the Stiperstones ridge, and finish in Ludlow. There will be five day’s of walking, with one free day. The seven night, full board holiday costs from £909 per person. There are three departures – in May, August and September.
Over-50s specialist woos post lockdown big spenders16 days ago
Guyana is perhaps the most unusual destination in an ambitious looking selection of long haul holidays for next year from over-50s specialist Saga. The operator’s plans are in step with its survey – published two weeks ago – which showed one in five silver travellers aimed to splash out on a more lavish than usual trip – using money saved during the pandemic to help fund it.
The firm is offering holidays in Guyana – in South America’s northeast – for the first time. Customers will stay in the vast Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve, looking for some of the country’s 835 bird species from the Canopy Walkway. They will spend time exploring the capital, Georgetown, do more bird watching in the savannah, in the foothills of the Pakaraima Mountains, visit the 741ft Kaieteur Falls, and cruise the Mahaica River.
An Indonesian package will take in Bali, Flores Island – home of the Komodo Dragon – and Java. A 15 night trip to Ecuador will take customers to the Andes and the capital, Quito, to the Amazon rainforest, and to the Galapagos Islands. Other destinations include South Africa, with safaris and a tours of Kwazulu-Natal province, north India, with a cruise on the Ganges and – also in India – Darjeeeling and the Himalayua foothills.
Travellers will be required to have received both vaccine doses, as on the operator’s other holidays. Chief executive Chris Simmonds said: “We know our customers are looking to book once-in-a-lifetime holidays after more than a year at home and trips to destinations such as Guyana, Ecuador and the Himalayas are sure to be just that.”
JetBlue gets go ahead for US-London flights16 days ago
US airline JetBlue has moved a step closer to launching transatlantic flights from London with regulatory approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The airline plans to fly to New York and Boston, starting some time between the start of July and the end of September. It has take off and landing slots at Gatwick and Stansted but has yet to decide which it will serve. Since Brexit all non-UK airlines seeking to operate commercial flights to, from or within this country UK must hold a foreign carrier permit. JetBlue is the first to receive one since the UK left the EU.