August 2021

A world to explore

August 2021

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Editor’s letter

The lights are changing

Hello and welcome to the latest issue of ABTA Magazine.

In this edition, we bring you all the latest news – including the latest update to the traffic light system. France has joined destinations such as Spain and Greece on the list of countries that fully vaccinated individuals and their families can travel to without the need to quarantine on return, but, as ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer says, the government is still failing to capitalise fully on the success of the vaccine rollout with a very cautious approach to the green list and failure to relax restrictions on travel. As a result “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”.

Elsewhere, we take you on tours of the Basque Country, the scenic cycle trails of the UK and the greener, less well known side of Tokyo, plus we pick 10 quarantine-free destinations.

We hope you enjoy reading.


Get in touch with the team

ABTA Magazine is produced by Waterfront Publishing on behalf of ABTA, The Travel Association.


Anthony Pearce, director
020 3865 9360

DJMWeb, The Studio

Nathaniel Cramp, Emily Eastman

Sales and partnerships

Sam Ballard, director

Bryan Johnson, senior sales manager
0203 865 9338
075 3270 9734

About ABTA

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 ABTATravelzoo; and Emerald Waterways. Its design agency The Studio by Waterfront offers copywriting, proofreading and design for print, digital, advertising and branding.

Get in touch

Waterfront Publishing
Hop Exchange,
Southwark Street,
London, SE1 1TY
020 3865 9360

10 no quarantine destinations

Double-jabbed Brits can travel to these holiday hotspots without the need to quarantine











Packed with treasures, British holiday favourite Malta is a sun-soaked archipelago brimming with UNESCO World Heritage sites, historical gems and glittering beaches.

Just a three-hour flight from the UK and boasting 300 sunny days a year, Malta’s year-round warmth is a big draw, along with the fact that you’re never more than a 15-minute drive from the sea.

Entry requirements for Malta
Only fully vaccinated travellers can travel to green-listed Malta from the UK and they must have been jabbed more than 14 days before travel.

Acceptable proof of vaccination status includes the NHS Covid Pass letter and digital Covid passes, including the NHS app and the vaccination certificate in digital or downloaded PDF form.

Children aged from five to 11 can travel to Malta if they are accompanied by vaccinated adults with proof of a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours from arrival in Malta. Children under five are not required to be tested. Anyone aged 12 and over will need proof of vaccination.

Everyone must complete a Public Health Travel Declaration Form and a Passenger Locator Form before departure.

Find out more here.


Antigua and Barbuda

Boasting 365 heavenly beaches – one for each day of the year – Antigua is famed for its year-round sunshine and world-class sailing.

Don’t overlook under-the-radar sister island Barbuda: it’s a paradise for wildlife with the largest colony of frigate birds in the world.

Entry requirements for Antigua and Barbuda
Currently on the UK’s green list, the following entry rules apply to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status. No-one is permitted to enter the country who has spent the past 14 days in Brazil or South Africa.

All arriving passengers aged 12 years and older must show evidence of a negative RT-PCR test taken within seven days of their flight. Holidaymakers need to complete a Health Declaration Form upon arrival.

Visitors will receive medical screenings and have their temperature taken at the airport and may be asked to take a test on arrival or at their hotel as determined by the health authorities. This test costs $100 (£72). The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office warns of “long waiting times on arrival” at the airport.

Regardless of vaccination status, tourists can normally travel straight to certified tourism accommodation after screening and be allowed to move around the country freely.

Find out more here.


Balearic Islands












Located off Spain’s east coast, the popular Balearic Islands include Majorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Menorca.

Majorca is the largest island with a clutch of hedonistic resorts in the south and luxury boutique resorts in the north. Hidden gem Formentera is known for its Caribbean-like beaches and hippy vibe, while Menorca is a hit with families who favour its quiet beaches and megalithic sites. Ibiza’s main resort San Antonio is famed for its club scene, but the island’s pretty north coast is awash with secluded beaches.

Entry requirements for the Balearic Islands
British travellers entering the Balearics will need to present a negative PCR or antigen test result taken within 48 hours of travel or show proof of vaccination (an NHS Covid Pass or NHS letter). Anyone using vaccination status needs to have received their second jab at least 14 days before travel. These rules apply to all Brits aged 12 and over.

A health check form also needs to be completed by all visitors before travel.

Find out more here.


Madeira and Porto Santo

The tiny volcanic island of Madeira is popular with Brits thanks to its perennial sunshine, tropical landscape and scenic mountains.

Must-do activities include hiking past waterfalls on the Levada do Caldeirão Verde trail; admiring Portuguese architecture in cosmopolitan capital Funchal; and taking the cable car to Monte Palace Madeira.

Entry requirements for Madeira and Porto Santo
Regardless of vaccination status, Brits don’t need to quarantine when visiting Madeira, which is on the UK’s green watchlist.

All travellers aged 12 and over need to complete a traveller questionnaire before visiting the Portuguese archipelago.

On arrival, visitors must either show proof of vaccination status or present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival (if not uploaded to their passenger questionnaire). Anyone unable to show either of these certificates can take a Covid-19 test at the airport and remain in their accommodation for about 12 hours until the results are known.

Find out more here



Greece’s mainland and islands are a magnet for Brits seeking sun-kissed beaches and mouth-watering cuisine.

Steeped in history, Greece is bursting with ancient treasures, including the Acropolis citadel in Athens and the spectacular mountaintop monasteries of Meteora.

Entry requirements for Greece
All visitors need to have completed a Passenger Locator Form no later than 11.56pm (local time Greece) the day before arriving in Greece.

Travellers over the age of 12 also need to show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival, or proof of a negative rapid antigen test from an authorised laboratory taken within a 48-hour period before your arrival or Greece, or proof of being fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel.

Greece will also accept proof of recovery from Covid-19; evidence of a positive Covid-19 PCR test result taken 30 to 180 days before your travel dates can be used.

Find out more here.




Portugal is awash with golden beaches, labyrinthine cities, fresh cuisine and ancient history that can be experienced in its medieval town centres.

Year-round sunshine ensures the country’s enduring popularity with visitors from around the world, drawn by its heavenly beaches, expansive golf courses, gastronomy and wine.

Entry requirements for Portugal
To avoid quarantining on arrival in Portugal, travellers need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel.

Anyone aged from 12 to 17 travelling with fully vaccinated parents do not need to quarantine, but must provide a negative test result.

Everyone aged 12 and over will need to complete a passenger locator card and have their temperature taken on arrival.

Kids aged 11 and under do not need to quarantine or take a test.

Find out more here.


Canary Islands

The sun-baked Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa has seven islands, with top draws including Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote.

Just a four-hour flight from the UK, the volcanic islands have a winning formula for Brits with their comely beaches and year-round sunshine.

Tenerife attracts holidaymakers with its sandy beaches, luxury resorts, water parks and party scene; Lanzarote packs a punch with its dramatic lunar landscape; and Gran Canaria is famous for its charming mountain villages and sensational sand dunes.

Entry requirements for the Canary Islands
British travellers entering the Canary Islands will need to present a negative PCR or antigen test result taken within 48 hours of travel, show proof of vaccination (an NHS Covid Pass or NHS letter), or show a certificate stating the holder has recovered from Covid-19 issued at least 11 days after your first positive test. The certificate is valid for 180 days.

Anyone using vaccination status needs to have received their second jab at least 14 days before travel. These rules apply to all Brits aged 12 and over.

A health check form also needs to be completed by all visitors before travel.

Find out more here.



Ticking all the boxes for sun-starved Brits, balmy Cyprus is blessed with heavenly beaches, a rich history, awe-inspiring vistas and culinary treats.

As the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, Cyprus provides the ideal setting for weddings thanks to its short flight and guaranteed sunshine.

Away from the coast, visitors can play golf on first-class courses, explore the wine routes, bliss out in a luxury spa, or trek one of the island’s numerous walking trails through shady pine forests and rugged mountains.

Entry requirements for Cyprus
All visitors to Cyprus complete a Cyprus Flight Pass before their journey.

Travellers who can prove their double vaccination status do not need to take a PCR test before departure or on arrival.

Unvaccinated travellers must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure. They must then do another PCR test upon arrival at the airport. Test results should be available online within three hours. Unvaccinated visitors then need to take a PCR test every seven days following arrival.

Children under the age of 12 are exempt from testing.

Find out more here.



The tiny nation state of Gibraltar is only 10 square kilometres in size, but packs a lot of personality into the small town and 426m high rock it calls home.

A British Overseas Territory since 1713, Gibraltar offers classic full English breakfasts, red post boxes, afternoon tea and pints of London Pride, all with a side helping of sun, sea and sangria.

Brits can feel at home while getting a taste of the exotic – boisterous macaque monkeys jostle for space on the famous rock, which also boasts views across the water to Morocco.

Entry requirements for Gibraltar
All fully vaccinated visitors to Gibraltar must upload their vaccination certificate onto the Passenger Locator Form. You must also book a lateral flow test before arriving in Gibraltar and this must be taken within 24 hours of arrival. If you’re staying for more than seven days, you must also take a second test on day five.

If you are unvaccinated, you must have a lateral flow test taken no more than 48 hours before your flight to Gibraltar. You must also book a lateral flow test to be taken within 24 hours of your arrival. If you’re staying for more than seven days, you must also take a second test on day five.

Find out more here.



Otherworldly Iceland is a hit with travellers seeking to revel in nature’s raw power.

Explore spurting geysers, luminous glaciers and steaming hot springs, before wallowing in one of the country’s many soothing thermal pools.

Topping the list of bucket-list experiences is snorkelling between tectonic plates at Silfra in Thingvellir National Park.

Aside from its photogenic scenery, the volcanic island is known for its friendliness and some of the freshest seafood on earth.

Entry rules for Iceland
Brits are only allowed to enter green-listed Iceland if they have been fully vaccinated or have previously recovered from Covid-19. All travellers must pre-register here before visiting.

Travellers will also need to present a negative PCR or antigen (rapid) test no more than 72 hours before departing to Iceland. Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from testing and quarantine.

Find out more here.


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.


Travel sector pushes for financial support

The Save Future Travel Coalition warns that jobs, livelihoods and businesses are at risk

As furlough costs increased from August 1 and with overseas travel subject to continuing restrictions, the travel sector is urging the Chancellor and Business Secretary to provide financial support for the industry

The Save Future Travel Coalition has said that the travel industry is facing unique circumstances and warned that jobs, livelihoods and businesses are at risk following the rise in furlough contribution costs. 

With the return to international travel continuing to be unpredictable, the group says the pace we’re moving at is too slow for businesses to be able to capitalise on travel from the peak summer months. 

Fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber list countries no longer have to quarantine, however other restrictions remain in place and the lifting of such rules has come late in the summer season.

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The Coalition, made up of 16 leading travel associations which represent inbound and outbound travel, is urging chancellor Rishi Sunak and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to provide ongoing financial support for the UK travel industry by: providing full furlough support, plus other income support schemes; introducing a grant scheme dedicated to help international travel businesses through the coming weeks and months; and providing 100 per cent business rates relief for the financial year, following suit from other Devolved Administrations. 

Chief executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said: “International travel hasn’t returned to the extent that all businesses feel confident they’ll make it through the pandemic and the government has done nothing in terms of providing tailored financial support for travel agents and tour operators.

“There are still a lot of very worried companies out there, particularly the smaller, independent agents and operators, who aren’t seeing anywhere near the level of bookings they need to cover their costs – let alone return any sort of profit. At the same time, general business support from government is being reduced, adding even more financial pressure. Government needs to wake up to the crisis in the industry – without action, jobs will be lost, businesses will fold and the UK’s wider recovery will be at risk.”

The latest figures from ABTA suggest that some 200,000 jobs in the sector have been lost or are at risk of redundancy. With the school summer holidays usually being the busiest trading period for international travel – accounting for two thirds of annual income for many agencies and tour operators – the loss of this period, combined with rising furlough contribution costs, continues to put these jobs at risk. 

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Business travel is not expected to return at scale until at least 2022. We urge the government to produce tailored financial support for our industry to save jobs and retain talent so that safe and secure international travel can return.

“Without further support, we face a future where there are not the people in the sector to facilitate British businesses’ return to the international trading stage.”

Danny Callaghan, CEO of Latin American Travel Association (LATA), added: “Despite some good news for travel to the EU and USA, tourism to Latin America still looks to be some way off, so LATA members still have many months of difficulty ahead. Tourism to Latin America has increased in recent years, and the businesses that sell the region are successful, growing businesses that contribute to employment and economic growth in the UK. Like the whole tourism sector, they are just about hanging on, but the coming months, with the end of furlough, repayments on CBILS loans, and the effective end of business support, will be very challenging.”


ABTA launches new Single Payment Scheme

The new system will use technology for fast, accurate and secure payments

ABTA has announced a new scheme that will work faster, more accurately and securely for money transferred between travel agents and tour operators.

Set to launch in late summer 2021 to ABTA members, the new scheme will be replacing the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) and will further financial support provided for ABTA members

The new system has been developed by technology company Travel Ledger as ABTA’s new direct debit system. Faster payments will be available online through the new scheme and transactions will be consolidated by the payment scheme, giving members more control over their payments.

Members will be able to facilitate deposits and balance payments from travel agents and tour operators, as well as refunds. The scheme is set out so that, over time, members will be able to process payments more frequently than the current system, which works on a once-a-week payment cycle. 

John de Vial, special adviser at ABTA, said: “The new scheme will use the latest technology to allow fast, accurate and secure consolidated payments and refunds. We’re confident that it will greatly support users’ businesses and make payments easier.”

ABTA decided to partner with Travel Ledger to create the scheme as the company is known for its understanding of technology and the travel industry. The system has been tested over the last few months through ABTA member focus groups, allowing real members to review and refine the scheme in a way that meets their requirements. To avoid disruption, the new system will be rolled out using the same process as the older platform. 

Travel Ledger is an electronic invoice and remittance system, connected to UK and European banking, for easy and secure payments between travel buyers and suppliers. When the system is live, it will provide user and technical support to members, who can review their own data and identify any potential problems with transactions in advance. During 2019, ABTA members settled more than 600,000 bookings, to a value of more than £900 million.  

Travel Ledger founder, Roberto De Ra, said: “Having tested the Travel Ledger system successfully with a large focus group of ABTA members, we’re delighted to offer the system across the entire ABTA membership in the coming weeks and look forward to fruitful collaboration with them.”

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Discover Sapporo: a green and pleasant land

The capital of Hokkaido, which is hosting the Olympic marathon, is a city where nature is never very far away 

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 sightseeing 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 225m, 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


Ask the experts

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 EnglandScotlandWales 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, from legal guidance, Member advice, through to safety advice and guidance notes.  There is also advice for customers on travelling during the pandemic at, 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


Meet the Council of Regions

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!

ABTA’s virtual conferences, training and webinars

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ABTA has postponed its normal events schedule and is running a series of free webinars and new practical training days 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 to find out more and register.


Virtual training days

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.

An Essential Guide to Restarting Travel

September 8

This introductory level training allows you to take a deeper dive into the legal issues travel businesses are facing as travel unlocks. Whether you are new to your role, preparing for the restart of operations or require a recap on your obligations, attend to get comprehensive guidance on areas spanning health and safety requirements, traffic light and FCDO advice implications, terms and conditions, claims and contracting principles. Find out more

Digital Marketing Training for Travel

September 28

This new training day will provide the latest guidance on digital marketing strategies including SEO, paid advertising, social media, email marketing and online content strategies for travel businesses of all sizes. Hear from marketing experts and other travel businesses about how to maximise your spend and increase the effectiveness of your campaigns. Get practical guidance on paid search and PPC campaigns, video, website optimisation and tracking and measuring your online impact. Find out more


Free webinars

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.

Consumer Sentiment Towards Travel

August 11

Get the latest update on holidaymakers’ attitudes towards planning and booking their next trips, traveller priorities and trends, plus practical advice on your brand marketing strategies. Learn how other travel brands have adapted their messaging throughout the pandemic and get top tips from travel marketing experts on how to adapt your marketing strategies to keep your communications agile. Find out more

Business Travel Recovery and Trends

August 26

This webinar will provide an essential update on the business travel landscape and insight into the latest trends. Designed for TMCs, explore how attitudes towards corporate travel have changed due to the pandemic and how you can help clients navigate the changing landscape as travel recovers. Hear how other TMCs have survived the pandemic and strategies for business and financial resilience. Find out more

Managing Travel Workforces

September 1

This extended webinar will provide an essential employment law update from experts in travel law, including guidance around the end of furlough, your duty of care for staff returning to the office, changes to contracts and staff working in the EU. You’ll also hear guidance on staff wellbeing and mental health, new ways of working, future talent in travel (including training and apprenticeships) and diversity and inclusion. Find out more

Webinars on demand: You can access recordings of our previous webinars here.



Top 10: UK’s most scenic cycle trails

cycle trails

From Cornwall to Scotland, Tamsin Wressell rounds up the best bike rides around the UK

Two Tunnels Circuit, Bath
19.7km / 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
16km / medium
A popular challenge for cyclists, the circuit goes along country roads and was 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
22.5km / medium
Taking in the highest point in Norfolk on the Beacon Hill, this route goes up to 103m above sea level. It’s a circular trail that follows Sustrans’ Cycle Network, with some parts being off-road. 

cycle trails

Camel Trail, Cornwall
27.4km miles / easy
A flat trail following a disused railway, this route winds through the Cornish countryside taking in views of the Camel Estuary. Part of the region is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

The Settle Circular, Yorkshire
29km / medium
This loop goes through the Yorkshire Dales with rivers, stone walls and rolling hills surrounding the trail. There are some light climbs, but also some more challenging, sharper ones along the way.

Keswick Loop, Lake District
41.8km / 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 and through forests and lakes. 

Slieve Croob, Northern Ireland
40.2km / 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 500m above sea level. 

Merthyr Tydfil to Brecon, Wales
40.2km / hard 
This route starts in an unassuming industrial landscape before unwinding into one of the most beautiful trails. It takes in a canal towpath and an old railway line, crossing over viaducts and passing reservoirs, waterfalls and mountain landscapes. 




Hadrian’s Cycleway, Cumbria
51.4km / medium
In its entirety, the coast-to-coast route goes for 280km 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
70.8km / 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 626m, with the shortest loop of 70.8km starting from Shieldaig. 

Get in touch and let us know your favourite cycle trails in the UK


Simply the Basque

The Basque Country is an autonomous community in northern Spain where locals have their own language, culture, traditions and food. Here’s a quick guide to its three provinces, 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 that make up the Basque Country. It has a mix of built-up cities (Bilbao is its biggest), towns and remote villages. The coastline stretches for 150km, with beaches, cliffs and small fishing villages dotted throughout. The UNESCO site of the ‘hanging bridge’ of Vizcaya, crossing 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 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 and a walk 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 Bikzaia, it’s also along the coastline of the Cantabrian Sea, with its main city San Sebastián (known as Donostia in Basque) being along these shores. As well as having beautiful beaches (the crescent-shaped La Concha being the most popular), San Sebastián 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-starred restaurants per square kilometre than any other place in the world, bar Kyoto in Japan. 

Further along the coast from San Sebastián, the coastal towns of Getaria, Zarautz, Hondarribia and Mutriku also have some beautiful beaches and attractions. There are also the unusual geological formations of the cliffs of Deba and Zumaia, which make up the Geoparkea, awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status in 2015. It’s scenically wedged between the mountains and coast and the layers of rock show more than 60 million years of history, dating back to the extinction of dinosaurs. 

Further inland, there are valleys, mountains and nature reserves such as Aioko Harria and Aralar. Throughout the province there is a mix of architecture, mostly in Romanesque and Baroque styles. The shrine of La Antigua in Zumarraga and the Loiola basilica in Azpeitia are good examples of each that are worth visiting. 

The southernmost province of the Basque Country is Araba. Unlike the other two it doesn’t border the sea, being a predominantly hilly region between Ebro River and the Cantabria mountains. Araba borders La Rioja and its landscape makes it ideal for wine-making. Rioja Alavesa has a number of vineyards producing the infamous Tempranillo wines, some of which are aged in medieval caves, and there are bodegas (wineries) that you can visit. 

Given its scenery, this province is great for mountain hiking; the medieval town of Laguardia, which sits atop a hill in the middle of a 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 are four national parks and nature reserves to explore, as well as several reservoirs, which offer a range of adventure activities and outdoor sports for visitors. 

Elsewhere, the main city of Vitoria – known as Gasteiz in Basque and also the capital of the Basque Country – is best known for its Gothic cathedral of Santa María de Vitoria, its well-preserved Old Town, plus its art galleries and museums. 

Like the rest of the region, Araba 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. 


Discover a different side of Tokyo

As the Olympics come to a close, Rob Goss explains why the Japanese capital is a city of incredible contrasts that defies all the stereotypes

Think of Tokyo and you conjure up images of a busy and ultra-modern city, where neon-lit futuristic skylines seem copied and pasted straight out of Blade Runner. It is all of these things, but there’s so much more to Japan’s capital. In the 23 special wards that make up the city’s urban core – that among them are home to nine million Tokyoites (there are 14 million including the wider area) – visitors also find traditional gardens and quiet temples. For every busy main street, there’s a warren of becalmed side streets waiting to be explored. For every skyscraper, there’s a low-rise and low-key residential area, where even elementary schoolers can safely walk to school without their parents.

Tokyo is known for its incredible food scene (© TCVB)


Go beyond the city centre into the Tama region and you’ll find more differences between real Tokyo and the capital’s stereotypes – it is nothing like the world of Lost In Translation. There are mountain ranges for a start, with trails for all levels of hiker. There are ancient temples deep in nature. There are sprawling parks and laidback suburbs. Farmland as well. Look south and Tokyo has an island chain, too, stretching hundreds of kilometres into the Pacific and offering travellers the chance to dive, surf and even trek around active volcanoes. In Tokyo.

One thing often said about Tokyo that is true: the trains do tend to run on time. And they are clean. Another that holds up is that the food is on a different level. It’s not just that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world – 212 at the latest count, including 12 with three stars – it’s the dedication chefs from every culinary walk of life seem to give their craft, whether they are perfecting a ramen stock or crafting kaiseki-ryori, the artistically arranged haute cuisine of Japan with its focus on seasonal produce and techniques that enhance natural flavours. And just as there’s far more to Tokyo than concrete and crowds, there’s also an incredible depth and breadth of flavours on menus to discover – not only sushi, noodles, tempura and wagyu.

Hama-rikyu Gardens (© TCVB)

It’s become a cliché to say that old meets new, but that’s true at times, too. Sometimes its striking – such as the skyscrapers of Shiodome rising above the traditional garden of Hama-rikyu Gardens. Sometimes its subtle – such as the traditional approach to hospitality even in the most contemporary of galleries, bars or restaurants. The takeaway is that, with Tokyo, there’s always something new to learn, something that will surprise and go beyond expectations. First visit or fifteenth, it’s a city that keeps on blowing minds.

Originally published in the ABTA Magazine Guide to Tokyo

Main image © TCVB