Have a burning question you can’t find the answer to? Be it travel trends, a regulatory riddle or destination dilemmas, send us your query for an expert response
I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the constant changes in relation to restrictions on overseas travel because of the pandemic and I really want to make sure that I give accurate information to my customers, is there any help you can give me? Anon
We fully understand that, as a result of the pandemic, keeping up with the host of changes in FCDO travel restrictions, entry requirements for destinations and the inbound rules for travellers returning to the UK is challenging and adds yet another level of difficulty to our members’ businesses. Don’t worry, ABTA is here to help you.
Throughout the pandemic, the ABTA destinations team have been working closely with the Foreign Office (FCDO), destination governments, public health officials, and industry stakeholders to obtain the most up to date information available, to seek clarification on confusing government messaging and to highlight issues that have been identified by members and their customers.
Through our work liaising with the destination tourist offices or authorities and the Foreign Office travel advice team, we’ve managed to have some of the country entry requirements updated and for messaging to be simplified to assist travellers to interpret and understand the measures they need to follow when travelling. We’re also following up queries with the Department of Health or the Department for Transport, on questions relating to vaccination certification or the traffic light system.
To help you keep on top of changes we have a number of resources available. These include our operational bulletins, the Covid-19 situational update and our Covid-19: Country listings, FCDO travel advice and UK inbound border entry rules guide. The guide is updated in response to changes and lists all the countries worldwide, showing if the FCDO is advising against all but essential travel or not. It also includes icons to signify any mandatory entry restrictions and it shows the traffic light listing for each of the four UK nations.
It’s important to emphasise that the Foreign Office travel advice is still the best primary source for detailed information. I would encourage you to check it regularly and make sure you are signed up to email alerts for the destinations you feature so you receive the latest updates. This advice should be then cross-checked with the latest traffic light lists and requirements for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to provide accurate guidance to customers.
It is an ABTA wide team effort to provide clear, accurate and up to date information to assist members and their customers. There is a wealth of information in the member zone on abta.com, from legal guidance, Member advice, through to safety advice and guidance notes. There is also advice for customers on travelling during the pandemic at abta.com/readysteadytravel, which includes a Q&A to help you to answer the most common questions from your customers, a step-by-step guide to help travellers prepare for their next trip, and a blog explaining what customers need to know about amber list countries.
I hope this is of assistance and will help you provide reassurance for your customers as travel slowly begins to start up again.
Angie Hills, head of destinations
In a new series, we’ll be speaking to the chairs of the ABTA Council of Regions. This issue, it’s Sue Foxall, managing director, Kinver Travel Centre
I’m currently the managing director of Kinver Travel Centre Limited, which is a high street travel agency in an upmarket rural village in Staffordshire. Under normal circumstances, we sell everything from culture to around-the-world cruise – I’m on the sales and managerial side of that.
I’ve been involved with ABTA for about 30 years working as part of the Midlands region. My role is acting on behalf of all the agents in my region, being there to help them and guide them through the ABTA system and organising and taking part in the regional business meetings. The biggest part of my role during the 18 months of the pandemic has been doing radio (BBC Radio and BBC Midlands) as well as television, regarding the different stages that we’ve been going through.
Business is still at zero income and, and for us owners, zero salary – things haven’t changed since March 23 last year. We’ve had a few green lights, but they’ve not come to fruition yet – we’re focusing on building customer confidence at the moment.
As ABTA and as independent travel agents, we’ve been fighting strongly for dedicated financial support for our industry during the pandemic – our industry has got the lower rate of support grants. The problem that we’ve had with lobbying government is that MPs don’t understand how our industry works – we don’t get paid until somebody actually flies or floats on a cruise ship. We’ve been working behind closed doors since March 23 sorting out all the 2019 business, either refunding, rebooking or cancelling.
Kinver Travel is fairly upmarket and one of the trends I’ve been noticing is that silver travellers and people who are retired are showing a real desire to actually travel at the moment, but there’s not enough clarity to give them that confidence to travel. We’ve had a few enquiries, but nothing materialises into a booking – it’s a big decision for people at the moment.
I think 2021 is a bit of a write-off for travel. There isn’t the time in the year for it to come back in sufficient numbers and it’s going to be a very slow restart. I think, as an industry, we have to focus on people getting away for winter sun and ski. And then, hopefully, away for summer 2022. Getting back to the booking levels that we’d like to be at is what we hope for right now.
Although, speaking to other agents like myself, we don’t want to do too many bookings at the moment because we’ll either end up cancelling and refunding them or rebooking them and it’s an awful lot of work and we can’t add a service charge for doing it. We need to seriously be looking at that for future bookings – if we ever go through a pandemic again, all of us will go.
I’m certainly looking forward to bringing my excellent staff back off furlough to their normal working hours, and to being able to afford to pay their salaries, as well as the salaries of the two directors out of earnings – let’s hope it’s soon!