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Find out what's in the latest issue of ABTA Magazine
Editor’s letter; plus, how to get in touch
Plus, right hand story here
Plus, right hand story here
Plus, wit sat down with Qatar tourism chief operating officer, Berthold Trenkel
The latest virtual conferences and training
From Cornwall to Scotland, Tamsin Wressell rounds up 10 of the most scenic cycle trails around the UK
Anthony Pearce, director
020 3865 9360
DJMWeb, The Studio
Nathaniel Cramp, Emily Eastman
Sales and partnerships
Sam Ballard, director
Bryan Johnson, senior sales manager
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Waterfront Publishing is an independent publisher based in central London. It has an in-house magazines, Cruise Adviser, which is aimed at the travel trade. It has also produced magazines on behalf of ABTA; Travelzoo; and Emerald Waterways. Its design agency The Studio by Waterfront offers copywriting, proofreading and design for print, digital, advertising and branding.
Foreign Office updates advice to end cruise ban
International cruise will be able to restart as of August 2 after the Foreign Office changed 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.”
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, also confirmed the easing of quarantine restrictions for fully-vaccinated travellers from the EU and US.
An ABTA spokesperson said: “ABTA welcomes today’s 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.
“We also need to see the government make further progress on making testing more affordable and proportionate, and we need to see more destinations added to the Green list at next week’s review. We are still seeing other countries reopen more quickly than the UK and we need to capitalise on the success of the vaccine rollout by getting our international travel industry moving again.”
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 today’s 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.”
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 5-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 re-opened 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+ 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 re-open we’ll be launching a flurry of FAM trips – inviting key partners from various European countries.
Sapporo is a city like no other – the wild frontier of Japan. The capital of Hokkaido is known for its marriage of modernity with the great outdoors. Here you can spend a morning in downtown museums and cafes, and an afternoon hiking in the mountains that surround the city. The perfect blend for body and mind.
Take a walk around downtown Sapporo and you’ll discover one of Japan’s most accessible cities. The old Sapporo Clock Tower and TV Tower (with its iconic observation deck) are just a couple of minutes from each other. Climb up the latter to be given one of the best views that the city can offer. Round the corner you’ll find beautiful Hokkaido University with its avenue of Ginko trees – which turn bright shades of yellow and orange come autumn.
Once you’re finished sight-seeing why not spend some time in one of the city’s many green spaces? Nakajima Park is a green oasis in the heart of Sapporo’s downtown. Verdant scenery in the spring and summer give way to fiery fall colours in October, with trees surrounding a large pond and benches for relaxing. Easily accessible by public transport or on foot from the city centre, a visit is a worthwhile stop on any Sapporo itinerary.
If you want to really stretch your legs then get out of the city for a hike on Mount Maruyama, which is a short 3km subway, or streetcar, ride away. At 225 metres high, the mountain is perfect for all experience levels – with climbers rewarded with an incredible view of the city from its summit – highlighting just how close the city is to nature. At the mountain’s base you’ll find the vast Maruyama Park, stretching across 70-hectares and containing more than 100 species of birds and 330 different plant varieties. It is also home to the Hokkaido Shrine, the prefecture’s tutelary shrine which is rich with the spiritual history of the region.
During this summer’s Olympic Games, Sapporo will host the marathon – which will snake its way through many of the downtown sites mentioned above, as well as Susukino, the largest entertainment district in Northern Japan; Toyohira River, famous for its salmon; and Soseigawa-dori Avenue, a 1km promenade of artwork. It will be a unique opportunity to see why Sapporo has captured the hearts of so many travellers.
To find out more about Sapporo check out ABTA’s Guide to Sapporo
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
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 life 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 really is acting on behalf of all the agents in my region, being there to help them and guide them through the ABTA system, organising and taking part in the regional business meetings. The biggest part of my role during the 18 months of the pandemic is 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 MPs do not 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 with silver travellers and people who are retired — they’re 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 inquiries, but nothing materialises into a booking — it’s a big decision for people at the moment.
As we near the end of July, 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.
Though, speaking to agents like myself at the moment, we don’t want to do too many bookings at the moment because we’ll either end up cancelling them and refunding them or rebooking them. And actually, 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 for their salary, as well as the salary for the two directors out of earnings — let’s hope it’s soon!
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ABTA has postponed its normal events schedule and is running a series of free webinars, new practical training events and one-day conferences virtually. These virtual events are designed to help travel businesses navigate the challenges of the coronavirus crisis and be prepared for the restart of travel.
Visit abta.com/abtaevents to find out more and register.
ABTA has launched a series of new virtual training days offering practical guidance in key areas for travel businesses of all sizes. ABTA members and partners benefit from discounted rates.
ABTA’s popular complaints handling training will give you the crucial skills to help you deal with complaints effectively across a variety of channels including email, phone and social media. As travel starts to unlock, attend to refresh your skills and ensure you are prepared for the restart. Find out more
This virtual training day offers practical guidance for tour operators and travel agents. Understand the impact of Covid-19 on your legal obligations and how to prepare for the restart of travel. This interactive training will equip you with the tools you need to understand the key legal issues and protect your business and customers as travel unlocks. Find out more
ABTA’s webinars are delivered in collaboration with trusted ABTA Partners and offer business support, advice and guidance to help travel businesses through the coronavirus crisis. They are free for ABTA members and partners.
Join this webinar to get the latest practical advice on the funding solutions available to travel businesses. Understand the options available to you and what’s best for your business including Government support and strategies for approaching lenders. Get advice and solutions on the practical steps you can take to remain financially resilient as travel restarts, including preparing your business for M&A activity, restructuring options and working capital optimisation. Find out more
Webinars on demand: You can access recordings of our previous webinars here.
From Cornwall to Scotland, Tamsin Wressell rounds up 10 of the most scenic cycle trails around the UK
Two Tunnels Circuit, Bath
12 miles / easy
This route has its own light installations and explores the viaducts, aqueducts and tunnels of Bath, with one stretching for more than a mile. It’s a nice flat path that goes through some beautiful countryside, too.
Box Hill Olympic Circuit, Surrey Hills
11 miles / medium
A popular challenge for cyclists, the circuit goes along country roads, used during the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s no easy feat to reach the top of Box Hill, but the views from the top overlooking the River Mole are rewarding.
Cromer Ridge, Norfolk
14 miles / medium
Taking in the highest point in Norfolk on the Beacon Hill, this route goes up to 103 metres above ground. It’s a circular route that follows Sustrans’ Cycle Route with some parts being off-road.
Camel Trail, Cornwall
17 miles / easy
A flat trail, following a disused railway. The route goes through the Cornish countryside, taking in views of the Camel Estuary, with part of the region designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Settle Circular, Yorkshire
18 miles / medium
This loop goes through the Yorkshire Dales with rivers, stone walls and rolling hills surrounding the trail. There’s some light climbs, but also some more challenging, sharper ones along the way.
Keswick Loop, Lake District
26 miles / hard
This anti-clockwise loop starting in the market town of Keswick takes in some of the best scenery of the Lake District, stretching over two mountain passes through forests and lakes.
Slieve Croob, Northern Ireland
25 miles / hard
The Slieve Croob and Mourne mountain ranges just south of Belfast can give cyclists views out to the Isle of Man on a clear day. The circular route goes through a forest park, nature reserve and mountain range, rising to over 500 metres above sea level.
Merthyr Tydfil to Brecon, Wales
25 miles / hard
This route starts in an unassuming industrial landscape before unwinding into one of the most beautiful trails. It’s riverside, crossing over viaducts, three reservoirs, waterfalls and mountain landscapes along Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
32 miles / medium
In its entirety, the coast-to-coast route goes for 174 miles from Ravenglass to South Shields. For a taste, the section from Anthorn to Carlisle is mainly flat and takes in incredible views over Scotland.
Applecross Peninsula, Scotland
44 miles / medium
A wild, single-track mountain pass through Bealach Na Bà is how this route winds through the Northwest Scottish Highlands. It’s one of the longest climbs in Britain, gaining heights of 626 metres with the shortest loop of 44 miles starting from Shieldaig.
Get in touch and let us know your favourite cycle trails in the UK
The Basque Country is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering France — here, the locals have their own language, culture, traditions and food. Here’s a quick guide to the three provinces: Bizkai, Guipúzcoa and Álava. By Tamsin Wressell.
In the westernmost part of the region, this province lies on the shores of the Bay of Biscay and is the most populated of the three provinces in the Basque Country. It has a mix of built-up cities (Bilbao is its biggest), towns and remote villages. The coastline stretches for 93 miles with beaches, cliffs and small fishing villages dotted throughout. The Unesco site of the Hanging Bridge of Vizcaya, covering the mouth of the Ibaizabal estuary, can also be found along the coast as well as the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve and the wild peninsula of San Juan de Gaztelugaxte.
The capital, Bilbao, is best known for its modern architecture, being home to Frank Gehry’s avant-garde creation, the Guggenheim Museum. The titanium building is an incredible feat, with a giant flower-covered dog statue outside and over 250 works of contemporary art inside. The museum sits on the banks of the Estuary of Bilbao — walking along the river also takes in other galleries and museums. Elsewhere in the city, there’s a great design and gastronomy scene. Much like the rest of the Basque Country, the food in this province is strongly centred around seafood, given its proximity to the sea, with popular dishes including grilled sea bream and bacalao a la vizcaína (cod with olive oil, onions and red peppers).
In the province’s interior, the towns of Durango, Elorrio, Balmeseda, Otxandio and Orduña are also worth visiting to get a real feel of the area.
In the eastern part, this province borders the region of Navarra to the south and France to the east. Like Bikzai, it’s also along the coastline of the Cantabrian Sea, with its main city Donostia-San Sebastian being along these shores. As well as having beautiful beaches (the crescent-shaped La Concha being the most popular), San Sebastian is renowned for its food. Pintxos, the small plates of ‘haute cuisine’ that are native to the Basque Country, were invented here and the city has more Michelin-star restaurants per square kilometre than any other place in the world, bar Kyoto in Japan.
Further along the coast from San Sebastian, the coastal towns of Getaria, Zarautz, Hondarribia and Mutriku also have some beautiful beaches and attractions. There’s also unusual geological formations of the cliffs of Deba and Zumaia in Geoparkea, which has heralded UNESCO Global Geopark status. It’s scenically wedged between the mountains and coast, covering 90 kilometres. The layers of rock formation in the cliffs here show more than 60 millions years of history on Earth, dating back to the extinction of dinosaurs.
More inland, there’s valleys, mountains and nature reserves, like Aioko Harria and Aralar which are worth visiting. Throughout the province is a mix of architecture, too, mostly showing examples of Romanesque and Baroque styles. The shrine of La Antigua in Zumarraga and the Loiola basilica in Azpeitia are worth checking out for their architectural styles that are typical of the region.
The most southern province of the Basque Country is Álava — unlike the other two, it doesn’t border the sea. It’s predominantly a hilly region, with chalk and limestone mounds that are in between Ebro River and the Cantabria mountains. Álava borders La Rioja and its landscape makes it ideal for supporting wine-making. Rioja Alavesa in the province has a number of vineyards producing the infamous Tempranillo wines (some of which are aged in medieval caves) and bodegas (wineries) which can be visited.
Given its scenery, this province is great for mountain hiking — the medieval town of Laguardia, which sits atop a hill in the middle of the valley — is great for panoramic views of the area. It’s also an important place for Paleolithic and archaeological remains, as well as medieval and Roman artefacts, with the whole town being enclosed in walls built in the 13th century.
There’s four national parks and nature reserves to explore as well as several reservoirs, which offer a range of adventure activities and outdoor sports to visitors.
Elsewhere, the main city of Vitoria (which is also the capital of the Basque Country) is best known for its Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria de Vitoria, its well-preserved Old Town and its surrounding green grounds, plus its art galleries and history museums.
Like the rest of the region, Álava is a great spot for its gastronomic culture, also serving up local pintxos, with its towns and cities holding regular food festivals throughout the summer.