ABTA welcomes lifting of US ban

The White House has announced the easing of restrictions for fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK from November

ABTA has welcomed the lifting of the US ban on double-jabbed UK travellers from November, hailing the move “great news for holidaymakers”.

The White House has announced an easing of restrictions for passengers from UK and most European Union countries that has been in place since March last year.

The travel restrictions were lifted after lobbying from Brussels and London.

From early November, Brits visiting the US will need to show full proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of departure. Children not yet eligible to be vaccinated will be exempt from the rules.

Fully-vaccinated visitors will not need to quarantine on arrival.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “I’m delighted I can confirm vaccinated Brits can travel into the US from early November, recriprocating policy we introduced in the summer.”

He added: “The past 18 months has been hugely frustrating for anyone wanting to travel abroad. In 2020, our only weapon we had to fight spread of Covid was to keep people apart. However, this year we’ve seen significant progress.”

ABTA hailed the move as “great news for holidaymakers, business travellers and those who have been separated from friends and family for so long”.

A spokesperson added: “The USA is by far our most popular long-haul destination and in a normal year attracts almost five million visitors from the UK.

“The announcement will come in time to allow people to, among other things, take the ever-popular Christmas shopping trips to New York and is a very welcome boost for the winter sports market whose customers love the country’s high quality ski resorts.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson hailed the news as “a fantastic boost for business and trade”.


Read the ABTA Magazine Guide to Greece


Read the ABTA Magazine Guide to Greece


TTC makes vaccinations mandatory

All adult guests travelling with the company’s escorted touring brands must be double-jabbed

The Travel Corporation has introduced a new policy urging travellers under the guided brands to be fully vaccinated

All adult guests travelling with escorted touring brands under the Travel Corporation (TTC) must be fully vaccinated against Covid, under the company’s new policy.

Those travelling with AAT Kings, Contiki, Costsaver, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and Trafalgar must have received both shots of their vaccine 14 days prior to travel, with the policy being put into place until at least December 31.

Meanwhile, G Adventures has introduced a “Vaccinated Tours” programme on which tour guides and travellers must be double-jabbed to join the trips.

The small group adventure travel operator is also introducing Travel-Ready tours where all travellers and guides must have either been fully vaccinated or have a negative PCR test within 96 hours prior to day one of the tour’s departure.

Travel-Ready tours were introduced to provide fair access to tourism employment opportunities for tour guides in destinations with slow vaccine roll-outs.

The operator is also helping tour guides to access vaccines in their home countries.


More cruise lines set sail

River and ocean lines are gradually restarting operations after 18 months

Riviera Travel has completed its first river cruises in 18 months with two eight-day sailings to Porto and Salamanca. 

A total of 120 passengers were on board for the voyages, which featured excursions to a Porto vineyard and the old city of Salamanca, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as guided tours of local landmarks, including Castelo Rodrigo and Mateus Palace gardens.

Riviera will now operate a series of river cruises across Europe until early November.

Katja Hildebrandt, head of product river & ocean cruise at Riviera Travel, said: “Our Douro cruises were the perfect first sailings back, as our guests really did feel they were away from it all as they visited some of Iberia’s most beautiful towns, gardens and vineyards.

“We can’t wait to welcome more people back on board, as our European river cruises return to some of the most beautiful destinations along the likes of the Seine, Rhone and Danube.”

Cruise passenger Sally Harper said: “The organisation that Riviera have put into this has been absolutely second to none; I can’t fault it. This is the second trip we’ve done with Riviera, the first one was Croatia, but this is the first river cruise I’ve ever done and it’s gone beyond my expectations.

“The river is spectacular. Everybody told us to expect a beautiful river and this has just blown me away. The food is great and the staff are so friendly, everywhere is so immaculately clean. We’ve felt really safe and secure at all times.”

Emerald Cruises resumed sailings on the Douro on July 31, while Emerald Destiny is due to set sail from Nuremberg on September 6 for the eight-day Danube Delights river cruise.

Oceania Cruises has also resumed sailing, with Marina becoming the first ship to welcome guests back on board after a pause of 524 days. It was also the first cruise ship to sail from the port of Copenhagen since 2019.

Princess Cruises’ ship Sky Princess became the third in its fleet to resume sailings – after starting a series of UK domestic sailings from Southampton. Crystal River Cruises has also resumed sailing in Europe.

Fred Olsen became the first UK cruise line to complete an international voyage since the resumption of cruising in the UK. Borealis, one of the line’s new vessels, returned to the UK from Iceland with around 800 guests on board.


Meet the tourist board: Mauritius

We chat to Arvind Bundhun, director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority

ABTA Magazine: What are you focusing on within tourism at the moment?
Arvind Bundhun: In line with our sustainable island strategy, Mauritius has a green-focused tourism approach in place to promote the interior of the island, including outdoors soft adventure activities and sports such as golf. We expect to see an increasing demand for wilderness exploration and getting back to nature, so we will further pursue this angle in our marketing and consumer approach. We believe that our wide open spaces, national parks and outdoor activity offerings provide the perfect post-lockdown remedy.

Responsible tourism will be a key focus as travellers have a heightened sense of awareness around preserving both the environment and the local culture for future generations. Our Mauritius Unwavering campaign recognised the importance of nature, and our current Mauritius Now campaign gives recognition to our locals and their talents. Mauritius Now portrays an authentic tourism message that includes ‘live like a local’ activities, thus enabling immersive experiences and allowing visitors to give back to our communities.

Mauritius has a fantastic array of ‘beyond the beach’ experiences which support local businesses and venture deeper into the local life of the island. These experiences are perfectly aligned with travellers who have been re-discovering themselves during the lockdown and are interested in learning a new skill and travelling more slowly to fully immerse themselves in the life of a destination.

What should agents and travellers be aware of when planning a trip to Mauritius over the next 12 months?
Mauritius is an island known for its stunning beaches, wealth of nature and wildlife and diverse range of class-leading hotel resorts. Over the next 12 months the destination will continue to offer a wide range of experiences appealing to all audience demographics and ages, including couples finally taking their overseas honeymoon, solo travellers seeking a serene wellness retreat and multi-generational families looking to reconnect with one another. With a wide range of outdoors experiences, including hiking, water sports and high adrenaline activities, it is a great place for sportspeople, being particularly popular with golfers.  

We can see there is a great desire to travel again, and Mauritius is the perfect destination to visit once restrictions ease. It is a destination known for its high levels of service and quality, so is well-placed to provide British travellers with what they’re looking for in holiday after a challenging time. Mauritius has always been known for its safety and security, so visitors can rest assured that hygiene and health will be the utmost priority on a trip to the island. The UK is one of our most important and valued markets and we are greatly looking forward to working with the UK trade to invite holidaymakers back to our island with a warm welcome.

What safety measures are in place in relation to Covid?
The country’s response to the pandemic has ranked among one of the best in the world. Due to the precautionary measures put in place by our government, we have been successful in containing the spread of the virus. The acceleration of the country’s vaccination campaign and the progress made towards herd immunity by the end of September has enabled a prompt and safe restart of the Mauritius tourism industry. Tourism employees were prioritised during the vaccine rollout, including hotel employees, Air Mauritius staff, airport staff and other frontline tourism workers.

The local community really banded together to respect the rules, follow guidelines and forward plans for the destination to reopen and we are very proud of how we have, and continue to, overcome this challenging period in our history. 

What’s new on the island?
The highly anticipated five-star LUX* Grand Baie Resort & Residences will open on November 1, unveiling a new generation of boutique-style resort in the north of Mauritius, known for its lively beachside cafes, bars and artisanal local crafts. The property will become the flagship for LUX* Resorts & Hotels and the brand’s first greenfield project in Mauritius. We’re also looking forward to welcoming the new four-star adults-only Sunrise Attitude to Belle Mare on the preserved east coast of the island in October 2021.

On the aviation front, Air Mauritius will resume direct flights from London Heathrow to Mauritius from October 2, and British Airways currently offers multiple direct flights each week from London Gatwick.

What are your plans for trade engagement?
Communication with the UK travel trade is key, and we have been engaging closely with the trade through our online strategy over the past year. We are currently confirming plans for our marketing activity to promote travel to Mauritius to UK trade and consumers as we work towards the full reopening of our tourism industry in October. Our trade activity will include joint promotions with key tour operators, educational webinars and incentive promotions on platforms such as Hablo. We invite the trade to sign up to the Mauritius global travel trade community via this link:


France returned to amber list

Seven countries have also been added to the green list, after the government announced updates to the traffic light system

Double-jabbed Brits returning to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from France will no longer need to quarantine, ministers have revealed as they announced updates to the traffic light system.

The holiday hotspot has been moved back from ‘amber plus’ to amber in a boost for holidaymakers. However, arrivals from Spain are advised to take a PCR test before departure because of the risk of importing the B.1.621 and Beta variants.

Newly green-listed countries are Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway. Double vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits can visit green list countries without needing to quarantine on return.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “While we must continue to be cautious, the changes reopen a range of different holiday destinations across the globe, which is good news for both the sector and travelling public.”

Additions to the red list include Mexico, Georgia, Réunion and Mayotte. Health secretary Sajid Javid said that these new countries had been added to the red list “to help protect the success of our vaccine rollout from the threat of new variants”.

India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will be moved from the red list to amber. Double vaccinated holidaymakers can visit amber countries without needing to quarantine on return. Unvaccinated travellers need to self-isolate for 10 days on return from amber destinations, taking two tests on day two and day eight.

The cost of hotel quarantine for a single adult arriving from a red list country will be increased by more than £500 to £2,285, representing a 30 per cent rise. Hotel quarantine costs for children up to the age of 12 will remain the same. The changes come into effect at 4am (BST) on August 8.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, said: “The UK is falling behind our European competitors and the opening up of international travel from the UK is progressing at a snail’s pace – making it extremely difficult for travel agents and tour operators to generate enough income to kickstart a recovery, which is desperately needed to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods.”

“We need to see a greater sense of urgency from this government to both get people travelling again and support the industry through this crisis. With furlough costs increasing for businesses this week, the need for tailored financial support remains critical. Travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies haven’t had access to the same level of grant support as other industries, yet their opportunity to trade their way out of the crisis remains severely restricted by the government. The government also needs to be transparent to the travelling public and the travel industry about the basis on which these decisions are made.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The latest traffic light review shows a true lack of ambition by the government in not opening the green list further. The summer has already been lost and any attempt to save summer is over. The removal of France from the newly created amber-plus list is, of course, a positive step but arguably it should never have been put into its own special category in the first place. Moving the UAE and Qatar – both of which are key international airport hubs particularly important for business travel – to the amber list is welcomed, but it’s important to be mindful of all entry restrictions, too.

“Travellers returning from Spain appear to be given a choice of either taking the more expensive PCR as opposed to the current antigen pre-departure tests seems somewhat bizarre. The cost of hotel quarantine will be increasing for those returning from red list countries; however, for those who have no choice but to travel, perhaps for overseas funerals, are the ones who will continue to be penalised regardless of their vaccination status – let’s not forget that travel is more than just holidays.

“Outbound travel continues to be severely restricted and the government continue to fall behind some of our European counterparts who recognise the importance of opening up international travel and allowing free movement of their vaccinated citizens. We have one of the highest vaccination rollouts in the world and yet the we remain one of the most restricted when it comes to travelling internationally.

“Removing the pre-departure test would create more confidence among travellers. The testing regime needs to be simplified, particularly for those who are double vaccinated.”


Meet the tourist board: Qatar

We sat down with Qatar Tourism chief operating officer, Berthold Trenkel

ABTA Magazine: What are you focusing on within tourism at the moment?
Berthold Trenkel: Our goal at Qatar Tourism and a pillar of the Qatar National Vision 2030 is to establish Qatar as a world-leading destination and welcome more than six million visitors a year by 2030. To achieve this, an extensive tourism development strategy is underway as we work to diversify and build our appeal for residents and visitors.

What should agents and travellers be aware of when planning a trip to Qatar over the next 12 months?
Qatar is a fantastic destination for every type of traveller. It is the safest and one of the most cosmopolitan destinations in the Middle East, rich in art, culture and tradition. With a range of assets including world class hotels, restaurants, stunning beaches and a bustling atmosphere, we offer the best of the Middle East all in one place.

Adventure-seekers can enjoy the thrill of dune bashing across the desert, cultural enthusiasts can explore our world-famous museums and galleries, and there is a variety of fine dining options serving local and international cuisine to suit all tastes.

What safety measures are in place in relation to Covid?
Qatar has been at the forefront of implementing world-leading health and safety measures. Last year Qatar Tourism launched the ‘Qatar Clean’ programme, in partnership with Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), in all hotels and sectors. This June, all Qatar Tourism licensed hotels were certified ‘Qatar Clean’, meaning they carry the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness with rigorous procedures in place.

Passengers arriving at Hamad International Airport (HIA) undergo thermal screening and temperature checks. HIA was the first airport in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a five-star Covid-19 Airport Safety Rating by Skytrax, following an on-site audit.

What can agents expect to see from Qatar ahead of the World Cup? And what else can you tell us?
Qatar reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers on July 12, 2021 with vaccines that are approved for use by the Ministry of Public Health in Qatar. The new arrangements enable fully vaccinated people to bypass quarantine when returning to Qatar but all visitors – vaccinated or non-vaccinated – are required to undertake a PCR test up to 72 hours prior to travel. With over 80 countries on our visa-free list, Qatar is one of the easiest destinations to visit.

Qatar is constantly evolving to ensure visitors have a seamless and unforgettable trip. With a host of new hotels and hotel apartments, activities and attractions, travellers will discover the country’s unique blend of Middle Eastern contemporary luxury and authentic tradition.

Currently there are over 100 hotels and hotel apartments in Qatar’s construction pipeline, on top of an existing 184-plus properties. The country is also evolving its transport facilities including the Metro and taxis that make getting to and around Qatar, easy, safe and convenient.

In advance of the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar has invested in exceptional sports stadiums and facilities such as the new Education City Stadium and Al Rayyan Stadium. The longest distance between stadiums is 75km by road, meaning fans will be able to attend more than one match a day and stay in the same accommodation throughout.

Large fan zones will offer a wide variety of food and beverages and will be situated in locations around the country, including a dedicated fan zone opening as part of the new West Bay North Beach project.

What are your plans for trade engagement?
We have recently appointed a new international markets team to cover 20 key markets, including the UK. This will enhance our communication with visitors, tour operators and online travel agencies.

We have been working closely with the UK travel trade and Qatar Airways to promote Qatar as a must-visit destination. In the short term, we’ve been working on product development and agent-training initiatives to ensure Qatar is front of mind. And now borders are reopening we’ll be launching a flurry of fam trips – inviting key partners from various European countries.


International cruise given green light…

Foreign Office updates advice to end cruise ban, which has been in place since July 2020

International cruise has restarted after the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office changed its advice against “cruise ship travel” that has been in place since July 2020.

A statement from the Department for Transport said: “Following the close monitoring of epidemiological evidence, gained through the restart of the domestic cruise industry earlier this year, the UK government has also confirmed the go ahead for international cruise sailings to restart from England in line with Public Health England guidance.

“International cruise travel advice will be amended to encourage travellers to understand the risks associated with cruise travel and take personal responsibility for their own safety abroad.”

An ABTA spokesperson said: “ABTA welcomes the announcement that international cruising can restart from England, which follows the successful operation of a number of domestic cruises around the UK over recent weeks, and we’re glad the government has produced updated guidance to assist passengers and the industry. We hope each of the devolved nations will adopt the same approach.

“It’s also good to see the government taking positive steps to open up international travel with the US and the EU, and we hope this will be the first step to reciprocal arrangements that will help the travel industry to get back on its feet.

“However, the industry is not out of the woods and there is more that needs to be done to support travel businesses through to recovery. We know the sector is facing a more gradual relaxation of restrictions than the domestic economy, and we need to see a tailored package of support measures to recognise that, including ongoing furlough and income support schemes, full business rates relief and consideration of tailored grants schemes.”

Following a summer of inaugural ‘seacation’ itineraries that focus on cruises around Britain, Saga Cruises has said it will be returning to its international itineraries from October.

Spirit of Adventure will embark on a Taste of the Continent cruise on October 5, marking the first time a Saga ship has returned to international waters since the beginning of the global pandemic in 2020. The five-day itinerary will sail from Dover before taking in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Zeebrugge.

Nick Stace, CEO of Saga Travel, said: “We are pleased that the government has confirmed that restrictions will lift on international cruising. The entire cruise industry has been working closely with government to reach this point and it is a huge boost to receive the news that we will once again be able to welcome guests on non-domestic voyages.

“Ensuring the safety of our guests and crew is our number one priority and we’ve worked tirelessly to create the safest possible environment on board our ships. Our customers have been eagerly awaiting certainty from government so they can plan their cruises beyond UK shores and the news will give them the clarity they need to do that.”

Andy Harmer, Clia managing director for UK & Ireland, said: “The decision to allow the restart of international cruise is very good news for the industry. The success of this summer’s round Britain cruises has led the way.

“The cruise industry has worked intensively during the last 18 months in collaboration with the Government, health authorities, ports, and other industry bodies to develop enhanced protocols that protect guests, crew, and the destinations we visit. The industry looks forward to welcoming guests back onboard to visit international destinations.”



…as shipyards get busy delivering new ships

As cruise restarts, work resumes on new builds and MSC, Saga and Silversea take delivery of new vessels  

Construction work has started on P&O Cruises’ second Excel class ship, Arvia, in Germany.

The floating engine room (FERU) – the first component of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered ship – has arrived in the shed where Arvia will be constructed by Neptun Werft. When complete, it will weigh around 12,000 tons, and will be 140m long and 42m wide. Delivery is scheduled for December 2022.

Arvia, which means ‘from the seashore’, is set to feature a high ropes experience named Altitude Skywalk, plus Altitude Minigolf, a swim-up bar and a new plant and fish-led restaurant.

Viking Cruises’ Polaris, the line’s second expedition ship, has been floated out. The 387-guest vessel made its first contact with the water last month at Fincantieri’s VARD shipyard in Søviknes, Norway. It was then moved to an outfitting dock for further construction and interior build-out.

MSC Cruises took delivery of its new flagship MSC Seashore – the largest cruise ship to be built in Italy.

At 339m, MSC Seashore will also be the longest vessel in MSC’s fleet. The ship is built to carry a weight up to 169,400 tonnes, accommodating 5,632 guests and 1,648 crew members. The new ship, which brings the MSC fleet total to 18, features advanced environmental technologies, continuing the company’s commitment to running more sustainably.

Saga has launched its second boutique shipSpirit of Adventure. The ship was named with a traditional bottle smashing ceremony by Commodore Inga J Kennedy, the recently retired head of the Royal Navy Medical Service, ahead of its inaugural round-Britain voyage from Tilbury on July 26. The ship was due to take to the water last year after being handed over by the shipbuilder in September 2020, but it remained anchored due to Covid-19.

Silversea, part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises group, also launched its latest ship Silver Moon, which was officially named during an evening ceremony in Piraeus, near Athens. The naming of the ship has marked a milestone in the company’s return to global sailing and Silver Moon is the first ultra-luxury ship from the fleet to set sail following the pandemic.