February 2021

February 2021
Editor’s letter

This too shall pass

To say that it’s a strange time for the travel industry is the understatement of the century. A dystopian poster that states that it is now illegal to go on holiday has been doing the rounds on social media, prompting a mix of disbelief and wry amusement from those in the travel industry. As Derek Jones, the boss of Kuoni, quipped on Twitter: “In 50 years time people will have ironic framed copies of this FCDO poster on their kitchen walls in much the same way that we have Keep Calm and Carry On ones today.” It’s true that it looks more like something from Children of Men than the real world – it’s often hard to come to terms with the fact that this is the current reality. 

Although we have to contend with the residual impact that this and the various, overlapping restrictions are having on consumer confidence, it’s important during these dark months to remember that a world in which we can travel freely will return soon. “The whole experience of lockdown has reminded people of how important travel is,” Mark Tanzer, CEO of ABTA tells us in this issue. “Their desire is still very strong – to go to places they might not have gone to before, or return to places that they’re familiar with. What gives me confidence is there is a lot of demand for when things are eased and the industry is able to move again.”

In this issue, we have all the latest industry news, plus a look at one destination that is finally turning a corner in its battle to control Covid: the United States. As well as asking when British tourists might return there, we look at some of our favourite places in the country – from the dusty wilderness of Arizona to the theme parks of Florida.

Better times are around the corner. We hope you enjoy reading.

Digital first

The February issue is the third in a new interactive digital format. Since (the first) lockdown began and offices shut, we dropped our print edition, leaving us with a digital version that didn’t quite bring our editorial to life. So, we went back to the drawing board. This new technology allows us to create something that combines the best of print with the best of online – that is, a sleek and minimalist design with interactivity and functionality. We are now able to utilise copy, images, video, audio and animations within the frame of individual issues, allowing us to present information in an easy-to-read, enjoyable and quite unique way. Take a look around – we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can get in touch with us at info@abtamag.com.

Contact

Get in touch with the team

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


Contacts

Editorial
Anthony Pearce, director
anthony@waterfront-publishing.com

info@abtamag.com
020 3865 9360

Design
DJMWeb, The Studio

Sub-editor
Nathaniel Cramp

Sales and partnerships

Sam Ballard, director
sam@waterfront-publishing.com

Bryan Johnson, senior sales manager
bryan@waterfront-publishing.com
0203 865 9338
075 3270 9734


About ABTA

Waterfront Publishing is an independent publisher based in central London. It has two in-house magazines, Cruise Adviser and Solus, both 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
info@waterfront-publishing.com
020 3865 9360
News

Older travellers lead recovery of travel

The Covid-19 vaccines have restored confidence in older travellers to book and travel again in the next six months


Seventy-seven per cent of older travellers say that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine will provide them with the confidence to book and travel again within the next six months, according to a new survey.

The Advantage Travel Partnership and Silver Travel Advisor found that 46 per cent of respondents said that they planned to make the most of their re-established freedom and travel as much as possible once they have been vaccinated.

The companies said the response demonstrated that it’s clearly this demographic which will be leading the recovery of travel this year.

The research, which was completed by respondents over the age of 50 from across the UK, found that 94 per cent of people planned to have the Covid-19 vaccine once they have been contacted by the NHS for their appointment.

The survey also examined spending habits for future trips, to see what impact the pandemic may have had on travellers’ budgets.

Sixty per cent of respondents said that their budget would remain unchanged, while 26 per cent of people intend to spend more to make up for holidays that have been missed while travel restrictions have been in place.

When consumers were asked about the reasons why they use a travel agent, almost half (49 per cent) of respondents said that they booked with an agent because of the advice and expertise that they offer. Another contributing factor was having the reassurance of someone who could help if needed (42 per cent), and 38 per cent of those surveyed referenced that financial security was another key reason. When asked what type of travel agent they were more likely to book with, 46 per cent answered that they would opt for an independent travel agent.

Debbie Marshall, managing director at Silver Travel Advisor, said, “We are really pleased to see from the survey that the Covid-19 vaccine is creating confidence among the 50-plus market to plan and book future travel, both in the UK and abroad. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, even the savviest silver traveller may be more hesitant when it comes to travel and, now more than ever, it’s clear that the advice and reassurance a travel agent can bring is invaluable. Through our partnership with Advantage, their members have exclusive access to the Silver Travel Advisor accreditation training which will help agents understand the mature market and the different segments. Upon completion of the course, accredited agents will be featured on the Silver Travel Advisor website, which is a great opportunity for agents to promote their services and grow its customer base.”

Kelly Cookes, leisure director at Advantage Travel Partnership said, “We know that consumer confidence has been severely affected throughout the pandemic, so it’s reassuring that the vaccine is giving three-quarters of mature travellers the hope that they can and will travel again. To ensure our members have all the tools available to convert enquiries from into bookings, our agent members also have access to our own digital version of the customer magazine The Silver Traveller, to help them market effectively to the over 50s [the next issue is out mid-February].”

Promotion

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News

ABTA calls on the government for clarity

The problems facing the industry have been compounded by the introduction of ‘red list’ countries and quarantine hotels


The introduction of quarantine hotels for ‘red list’ countries builds on a “mountain of existing measures for travel”, ABTA has said.

The travel association said that the industry needs to “see a clear plan for how [restrictions] will be lifted” after the government said it was attempting to stop mutant Covid strains from reaching the UK.

“In order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days without exception,” the prime minister Boris Johnson said.

He said the government would “enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel”. There are 30 countries on the “red list”, including all of South America, as well as large parts of Southern Africa and Portugal.

An ABTA spokesperson said: “We understand the government’s need to introduce temporary additional restrictions in response to emerging new strains of the virus, but this needs to come with support for the jobs and businesses affected and a clear roadmap forward for travel.

“It is now 12 months since the travel industry started to be affected by coronavirus, yet the government has still not provided any tailored financial support to the sector. Jobs are being lost at an alarming rate and longstanding businesses have gone to the wall.

“The lack of financial support targeted at addressing the consequences for businesses of international travel restrictions needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The government needs to work with the industry to develop a route forward for reopening travel, reviewing all of the existing measures and coordinating with overseas governments.

“While the vaccine rollout is positive, the industry cannot wait for the whole UK adult population to be vaccinated before travel restarts – and businesses cannot afford to lose another summer.

“We also know that many people have a desire to get back to experiences that they value highly and have missed dearly, including travel to visit family and friends abroad.”

Zina Bencheikh, managing director EMEA at Intrepid Travel, said: “It’s absolutely right that the government does what’s necessary for public safety in light of the global pandemic. However, further restrictions on international travel will of course have an impact on how confident people feel to book holidays for this summer and beyond.

“We need more clarity on an end date and pathway out of the current restrictions to give customers and the industry a chance to plan ahead. The impact of this on the travel industry means that it’s now essential that bespoke financial support is provided – not just for aviation, but for the wider industry which is directly impacted by these measures.”

Interview

Mark Tanzer, CEO of ABTA

We speak to Mark Tanzer about why the future of travel remains positive, but the government needs to do a lot more to help the industry see out the pandemic


ABTA Magazine: The Save Future Travel Coalition has said that the government must ensure that travel can operate in a risk-controlled manner. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Mark Tanzer: Last month, we saw the further tightening of travel restrictions. With the introduction of ‘red’ countries, the hotel quarantine [plan] and the home secretary standing up saying ‘holidays are illegal’, we have this extraordinary situation. It’s the latest level of restrictions added to those the travel industry has been facing since last March. It affects the here and now, but also potentially the desire to book holidays for later in the year.

So, we’re saying that we understand the priority the government is giving to getting the infection rate down and preventing variants of the virus coming into the country until we’re further advanced with the vaccination programme, but we need a clear way out. Does vaccination, testing, plus more selective quarantine requirements for countries add up to allowing people to travel again? We are working together to put something together that allows that to happen.

Obviously, we want people back travelling in the summer, by which stage not everyone in all countries will have been vaccinated, but people who have been vaccinated will want to travel. If you open up the borders then there is an increased risk that someone could come into the country with [Covid], but if we don’t want anyone coming in, then you’re not going to get the travel industry moving. So, we have to move away from a categorical shutdown, which is where we are at the moment, to easing those restrictions and finding a certain risk level we are able to tolerate.

How has the travel industry had to change its messaging in light of recent developments?
The vaccine program is obviously further advanced, which is good news. But what we need to know is do the vaccines work against different variants? [The most recent reports] seem to be saying they do. That’s important, because it becomes a question of whether or not you’ve been successfully vaccinated [against all strains], and that can change the attitudes about letting people into the country. So, there are medical and testing developments that need to be decided upon in order to get us moving.

Do Matt Hancock’s comments about having a “great British summer” suggest to you that it’s going to be a difficult summer ahead for the travel industry?
Those comments don’t help at all. No politician knows exactly when people will be able to travel internationally again, so to say you shouldn’t be booking a summer holiday, that’s the wrong thing to say. If people don’t book holidays companies will struggle, but also, it’s too early to say [something like that], because they don’t know the answer to those medical questions. So, I think we’re very keen that the entire travel industry – and that includes domestic holidays as well – is able to have a good summer, and we’re going to be pushing to get a plan in place from the government as quickly as possible.

If the government does extend or expand support, as the Save Future Travel Coalition is pushing for, but waits until the Budget to do it, would that be too late for a lot of travel companies?Certainly [travel companies] have been living off thin air for a year now, in terms of sales and having to make refunds and so forth. So, the industry is in a cash crunch. Some of the things that the government has done, like furlough, has been positive, but of course for travel businesses, they’ve got to have staff in the office because they’re doing bookings and refunds and so, although they’re not generating revenue they’re also not eligible for furlough. So, we’re not only calling for the scheme to be extended beyond March, but for it to be more flexible and recognise that kind of pattern of work.

The travel industry has not received the same level of direct support that others have – hospitality, for instance. I think the government saw [things through the prism of] the physical inability of people to go into premises because of social distancing. What we’ve been arguing, and now it’s even more the case, is that it’s stopping bookings and demand and therefore travel businesses should be, and must be, supported by the government [with targeted measures]. The government needs to look at all aspects of the industry, including operations and travel agents, as well airlines and airports.

We’ve gone from having travel corridors opening and closing to a new ‘red’ list, with Test to Release and the plan for hotel quarantine in the background. Will these confusing and overlapping measures have a residual impact on people’s appetite for travel even after restrictions are lifted?
Our customer research has found that people are 20 per cent more likely to use travel advisers than before Covid, and that’s for a number of reasons, but partially so they can tread their way through this very complicated set restrictions. It’s a moving target. What we have at the moment is belts and braces, but they are actually quite distinct non-pharmaceutical interventions. What we need is to really organise things so it’s much easier for a customer to understand what the deal is: whether they need to get tested before they travel, when they come back, how that’s going work and where they’re going to get it done. And, if they’ve been vaccinated, how does that change the picture? But, at the moment, we haven’t got the ability to put that clear proposition to customers. Clearly, that affects confidence.

Ultimately, was the travel corridor system worth it, with many changes that ultimately led to refunds being needed?
Anything that that allows us to travel, I think, without quarantine restrictions is good. You don’t want the chopping and changing, and the way you’re having to react to what happens with the virus. But any mechanism that means once infection rates drop in a particular place, and that destination represents a lower risk and therefore people can travel with fewer obstacles, I think that should be welcomed.

In a parallel world where the government embraced Covid Zero, totally closed borders and banned travel for the entire year, but said they would provide the necessary support, would the travel industry would have supported it?
It’s hard to say. I think when we started out, we didn’t know how long it would last, or whether we’d have a summer 2020, or summer 2021. Some countries – New Zealand, France, Italy among them – have had packages specifically for tour operators and the travel industry. We look at them with envy, because their governments have seen them as being significant and put in the infrastructure. However, the UK is a global economy on a different scale to the likes of New Zealand and locking everything down early was a big political decision to make. According to the current medical view, it seems going harder earlier would have helped us not be in this situation now.

Have you been surprised by the unwillingness of the government to properly engage with the industry and its demands, given how important travel and tourism is to the UK economy?
I’m disappointed, not surprised. They haven’t really shown much interest to engage in the past. We’re split between so many different government departments, because of [tourism’s] very nature. So, we’re dealing with the Treasury and dealing with the Department for Transport, we’re dealing with BEIS [Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy], the Foreign Office, all of which have a piece of the picture, but not all of it. And I think maybe that is one of the reasons why no particular department feels, from a budget or policy point of view, that it owns the problem.

We’ve be trying to join the dots and get other departments to talk to each other; organising the roundtables and workshops, bringing the government departments together with the industry, to be able to put that picture across. I think, stepping back, they’ve got a lot of competing claims – we’re not the only sector saying we need support – and there’s a limited amount of money to go around. I don’t think we should be given it by right, but by the strength of the arguments, and I think we’ve made those.

What gives you confidence in the future of travel?

There is big pent-up demand. When we conducted research at the turn of the year, before the last restrictions were introduced, we found that 60 per cent of people said that they are hopeful they would be able to take a European holiday this year. The whole experience of lockdown has reminded people of how important travel is, and their desire is still very strong – to go to places they might not have gone to before or return to places that they’re familiar with. What gives me confidence is there is a lot of demand for when [restrictions] are eased and the industry is able to move again.

Another point is that it’s given us time to think about how we want to balance tourism with the interests of [the environment]. Although I would never wish the pandemic on anyone, let alone the travel industry, I think there are some good things that we can take from it and build on as we go forward. I have absolutely no doubt that the underlying demand is strong – and that it may even been stronger than before.

News

Italy offers trip for agents

ENIT is offering a getaway along with hampers filled with Italian goodies to agents who complete its online training programme 


The National Italian Tourist Office in London (ENIT) is offering travel agents the chance to win prizes, including a trip to Italy.

Agents who complete the Italy online training programme can win a getaway to one of its famous art cities, or hampers filled with Italian goodies and Apple tablets.

To be in with a chance of winning, agents must simply complete all four training modules and download their Italy Specialist Certificate by May 31, 2021.

The Italy online training course provides agents with the knowledge and confidence to sell and up-sell their clients trips to the country.

Below are the four modules agents can complete:

  1. What Makes Italy a Unique Destination
  2. Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  3. Italy’s Art Cities
  4. Food and Wine

For more information, agents can visit: italyonlinetraining.co.uk

News

Midcounties appoints Sara Dunham as chief officer for travel and leisure services

The former British Airways executive will be responsible for growing the Co-op Travel and Co-op Holidays businesses


The Midcounties Co-operative has appointed former British Airways executive Sara Dunham as its chief officer for travel and leisure services.

Dunham joins the executive team at Midcounties and takes responsibility for the Co-operative Travel business, including Co-op Holidays.

The business operates 78 branches, has a strong digital presence, and covers 165 Personal Travel Agents as well as more than 140 members of the Co-operative Travel Consortium.

Dunham joins Midcounties with close to 20 years’ experience in the travel industry. She spent almost 15 years in a variety of senior roles at British Airways, across the airline and tour operating divisions.

In her new role, Dunham will be responsible for further growing the Co-op Travel and Co-op Holidays businesses. Phil Ponsonby, chief executive at The Midcounties Co-operative said: “Travel and leisure services are an important part of our long-term strategy and we are thrilled to be welcoming Sara to drive the next stage of growth across our travel and leisure offering. In these particularly challenging times for the sector, delivering the best possible customer experience will be crucial and Sara’s experience will help us to further develop our offering across all channels and in particular to strengthen the relationship with our 700,000 members and support their needs across a broader range of travel and leisure services.”

Sara Dunham said: “Co-operative Travel has an incredibly strong reputation in the market and I am delighted to be joining such a purpose-led organisation. Being member-owned provides a unique point of difference for the Society and I look forward to working with the board and Phil, as well as the Executive team, to deepen the experience we offer to members and customers. I am really excited to meet what I know are brilliant Co-op travel and Co-op Holidays teams in addition to our really important consortium partners and personal travel agents.”

Dunham replaces Alistair Rowland, who left Midcounties last year to head up Blue Bay travel, which continues to be a member of the Co-operative Travel Consortium.

News

UAE, Burundi and Rwanda added to ‘red list’

Passengers who have been in or transited through the countries in the last 10 days will no longer be granted access to the UK


Visitors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Burundi and Rwanda have been banned from entering the UK as the government extended its ‘red list’.

Passengers who have been in or transited through the countries in the last 10 days will no longer be granted access to the UK. The measure came into force at 1pm on January 29, but British, Irish and third-country nationals with residence rights in the UK are still allowed to enter.

However, they are required to self-isolate for 10 days at home, along with their household. Passengers returning from these countries cannot be released from self-isolation through Test to Release.

There will also be a flight ban on direct passenger flights from the UAE, which includes the popular winter sun destination, Dubai. The decision to ban travel from these destinations follows the discovery of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa that may have spread to other countries, the government said. Any exemptions usually in place will not apply, including for business travel.

It follows new measures announced by the government to minimise travel across international borders, including managed isolation in hotels and the need to declare a reason for travel.

More details on these measures will be set out soon. There were an initial 30 countries on the ‘red list’, which include all those in South America, as well as large parts of southern Africa and Portugal.

ABTA said it added to a “mountain of existing measures for travel”.

Read more

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Sapporo

A closer look at the Japanese city that mixes the metropolitan with the great outdoors


A major city rich in culture, first-class cuisine and multifunctional facilities that is also a stone’s throw from lush nature where a myriad of activities are possible all year long – you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere that balances the metropolitan and the great outdoors the way Sapporo does.

In Japan’s northern capital, you do not have to choose between urban excitement and a relaxing natural getaway on your holiday.

Read the guide in full here.

News

Refund Credit Note regime extended

ABTA has announced that its RCNs will be valid until September 30, 2021 to help ease the pressure on members


ABTA has announced an extension to its current Refund Credit Note (RCN) regime, recognising the continuing impact of Covid-19 on the travel sector.

It said that the aim is to ensure that members have the option of issuing further ABTA-protected RCNs at a time when significant travel restrictions are still in place and member income is minimal.

ABTA-backed RCNs which have already been issued are valid only until the expiry date shown on them, which can be no later than March 31, 2021. The new RCNs will be valid up to and including September 30, 2021 at the latest. The deadline for issuing these RCNs is March 31 this year.

Refund Credit Notes work because customers are prepared to accept them as an alternative to an immediate refund and have confidence they will not ‘lose out’ in the long run. Maintaining the financial protection which backs RCNs is critical to keeping consumer confidence in them, and so that financial protection must be in place for the duration of an RCN’s validity.

John de Vial, ABTA’s director of membership and financial services said: “We have been speaking with the CAA about the importance of travel businesses having the option to offer customers a Refund Credit Note beyond the end of January, so we’re pleased they have responded to our calls and extended the deadline this week.

“At the same time, we have also been looking at our own Refund Credit Notes, which were valid until the end of January or March this year. Members will now have the option to issue Refund Credit Notes until the end of March with an expiry date of September 30, 2021. Full details, along with the criteria, can be found in the ABTA MemberZone. Hopefully this will help to ease some of the pressure on members at this very difficult time, and will help to support consumer confidence.”

News

ABTA encourages members to write to MPs

ABTA continues to press government for support for travel sector


ABTA is encouraging members and the wider trade to write to their MPs again about the extreme challenges facing the sector and the urgent need for tailored financial support.

It follows a recent letter from ABTA to the prime minister Boris Johnson, ahead of further discussions about possible travel restrictions, to reiterate calls for financial help and a recovery roadmap for the whole sector, delivered in consultation with industry experts and public health authorities.

Last month the Save Future Travel Coalition wrote to secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, outlining considerations for reopening travel. The template letter calls on MPs to reach out to both Shapps and the chancellor of the exchequer ahead of the Budget on March 3, to urge them to consider providing tailored financial support to the sector and a roadmap out of the crisis by:

• Expanding existing grants schemes, in recognition of the unique regulatory restrictions placed on the travel sector. Targeted grants support will see many travel businesses through the crisis and into recovery.

• Extending other financial support mechanisms, such as furlough, VAT deferrals, business rates relief, loan re-payments, to avoid the impending financial cliff-edge facing many companies that have little or no revenue for approaching a year.

• Enabling travel businesses to trade our way out of the crisis, by setting out a plan to build consumer confidence while putting in place mitigation measures to ensure travel can operate in a risk-controlled manner.

The templates are available to download from abta.com/savefuturetravel for use by ABTA members and wider industry.

ABTA’s director of public affairs, Luke Petherbridge, said: “It is one year since the start of travel restrictions, which started with restrictions on Wuhan (China), but then spread quickly to cover all destinations by March. Travel was the first industry in the UK to be affected by this pandemic, and ONS data shows travel agents and tour operators are the hardest hit businesses.

“However, unlike other sectors such as hospitality, there hasn’t been any tailored financial support for the sector. While the vaccine rollout is positive, the industry cannot wait for the whole UK adult population to be vaccinated before travel restarts – and businesses cannot afford to lose another summer. We also know that many people have a desire to get back to experiences that they value highly and have missed dearly, including travel to visit family and friends abroad. ABTA will continue to press government for a roadmap out of the crisis and I urge members to do the same by getting in touch with their local MP.”

 

ABTA

Coalition urges travel support

Coalition of travel organisations urge Chancellor to deliver tailored financial support in the Budget


In a letter sent to the Chancellor, organisations from every part of the UK outbound and inbound travel industry stressed the urgent need for government to provide tailored financial support for the UK travel industry in next month’s Budget.

The Save Future Travel Coalition – which is made of up 12 travel organisations – argues that the need for support is becoming even more critical as businesses head towards 12 months of lost income, and deadlines for government-backed loans and the end of furlough looming in April.

The travel industry has had little opportunity to operate or generate income over the last year, with coronavirus starting to affect travel as early as the end of January 2020 and a mounting number of restrictions preventing trade since then.

Between March 2020 and January 2021, there was just one three-week period when people could travel to the whole of Spain, the UK’s favourite holiday destination. Writing in the letter, the Coalition says, “As you prepare for the Budget, we urge the government to consider the following priorities to Save Future Travel to expand the grant schemes available to support all travel businesses; extend other financial support mechanisms, such as furlough, VAT deferrals, business rates relief, loan repayments, into the next financial year; enable travel businesses to trade their way out of the crisis in the coming months.”

The Save Future Travel Coalition – formed of ABTA, Advantage Travel Partnership, AITO, ANITA, ATAS, the BTA, CLIA, Keep Travel Alive, the SPAA, SBiT, the Travel Network Group and UKinbound – also says that the travel industry cannot wait for a full rollout of the vaccine before people start travelling again. Not only would another summer season lost to the pandemic be a seismic blow to the industry, it would also threaten the industry’s and UK’s recovery.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, said: “Government policies to curtail international travel have had a devastating impact on the industry. Despite its significance to the UK economy and its recovery, travel has become the forgotten sector, and businesses are running on empty due to a lack of tailored financial support from the UK government. The chancellor has an opportunity to address this in his Budget. Supporting the sector through this time of crisis will payoff for the taxpayer and the wider economy.”

Julia Lo Bue Said, CEO, Advantage Travel Partnership said: “While the policy measures introduced, such as quarantine, travel corridors, testing and localised restrictions on travel, are understandable from a public health perspective, they also diminish consumer confidence and damage trade. Yet, to date, these measures have not been combined with tailored financial support targeted at addressing the consequences of these policies for the businesses affected – as a result our members are under enormous pressure. We need government to address this as a matter of urgency and work with the industry to develop a roadmap to reopen travel.”

Joss Croft, CEO, UKinbound said: “Many businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place – they can’t trade to generate income, but they’re also shut out of support. Businesses in the travel sector, including destination management companies, coach operators and tour operators, as well as many others, are entirely excluded from existing grants and support packages. The UK government needs to show they value the UK’s world-class travel and tourism industry.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive, The Business Travel Association said: “The business travel community has been almost entirely forgotten. Alongside our colleagues in the leisure industry, we are asking the chancellor to set out targeted support for our industry in his Budget. If we are to be a global Britain, business travel must commence at the earliest safe date and there needs to be an industry to support this vital economic contributor. Without targeted support, many businesses will rapidly collapse and thousands of jobs will be lost.”

ABTA

Meet the team

Each issue we speak to a different ABTA employee about their work. This time: Angela Hills, head of destinations


I am ABTA’s head of destinations, with responsibility for destination operations, health, safety and security, crisis management and incident management, a role that is extremely varied and involves myself and my team supporting ABTA members in this arena.

I joined the travel industry in the late-’80s, working for an agency at Gatwick Airport, who provided the customer support ground services for a large number of tour operators including Redwing Holidays – those of a certain age will remember them! As a result of those hectic days running around the airport making sure travellers safely made their flights and supporting those that didn’t, my passion for travel and the travel industry was ignited and it became my career. Here we are, over 30 years later, and I still have that love and passion for travel and the travel industry.

My career so far has provided many opportunities, including working in various junior and senior management roles both overseas and in the UK for a major UK tour operator. In September 1998 I was appointed as the head of health and safety and operational support for the Federation of Tour Operators, which merged with ABTA in 2008. The merger of the two trade associations provided the perfect opportunity to expand the reach of our work in destination operations, health, safety and security, crisis management and incident management.

Working with members, destination governments and associated stakeholders, we are able to support them to make changes and improvements to the components that form holiday and travel arrangements, such as transport, excursions and accommodations. As well as provide assistance when incidents and issues occur – this is an integral part of my work. I am proud of my work and the work of my team, and we have published a number of guidance books and manuals, such as the Health & Safety Technical Guide and An Introduction To Crisis Management, which have been distributed globally and form the part of many organisations’ and stakeholders’ risk management systems.

The ABTA safety campaigns help highlight some of the key issues that travellers should consider to keep themselves safe, and in our government and stakeholder training initiatives we bring people together to consider how small but significant changes can really make all the difference in risk and safety management, as well as promote the benefits of an environment where travellers and staff have confidence that safety and wellbeing is at the heart of travel.

As one of ABTA’s key points of contact for government representatives and tourist boards on destination-related issues and projects, we have a very close working relationship with many decision-makers in destinations and have an excellent relationship with the FCDO, which means we are in a great position to highlight issues and seek assistance to investigate, and where possible resolve, issues quickly and efficiently. A lot of this work goes on behind the scenes, which is as it should be.

My role at ABTA is incredibly varied; over the years I have been at the heart of dealing with a wide range of incidents and crises, assisting ABTA members and their customers. However, it is fair to say that the current pandemic and the impacts on our industry has been shattering and, while some of the work of myself and my team has had to be put hold, we have diversified our  approach to support the industry, producing new material including the Post Pandemic Recovery guide, this is aimed at members and their stakeholders, to support them in taking steps to prepare for when travel restarts.

We continue to publish information on countries’ recovery plans, send daily operational bulletins to highlight the latest information, and summarise through a situational update and country ‘grid’ the restrictions that are in currently in place – this is done in real time and often ‘after hours’ ensuring our members have all the latest information they need. The support ABTA offers to members is more important than ever and my colleagues and I have been arranging regular virtual meetings to discuss members’ concerns and update them on the work ABTA is doing to support them through and beyond the pandemic. Over the last very difficult 12 months I have become even more conscious of how important it is to encourage collaboration and come together to share common experiences and knowledge to support the Industry and ABTA and its members, and this work will continue to be at the heart of building a future for the industry post-pandemic.

As a speaker on behalf of the tourism industry at UK and international conferences, delivering health and safety, crisis and operational training to suppliers and governments in destinations I am really looking forward to a time when we can get travel restarted and reintroduce programmes of work in destinations and go on holiday! As travel restarts this may raise challenges for the industry to manage, but I know we are ready to tackle them head on and it will be a pleasure to support our members, destination governments and associated stakeholders so that we can make changes as appropriate to help build an industry that has a sustainable future and inspire customer confidence.

To be honest, while this article was meant to be an insight into my role at ABTA, it really is just as much about my colleagues, whose dedication, expertise and good nature makes my job so much easier to do. They are an exceptional bunch of people.

ABTA’s virtual conferences and training

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, ABTA has postponed its normal events schedule and is running a series of practical one-day events in key areas, including customer service and complaints handling, travel finance, travel marketing and PR and health and safety.

These events will be brought to you virtually, streamed live via a custom digital platform. Content will be made up of thought-provoking conference sessions and practical workshops.

Visit abta.com/abtaevents to find out more and register.


Early bird and team discounts
ABTA’s new business rate allows you to train your whole team digitally in a cost effective manner. It includes five digital log-ins and on-demand content can be shared among your team. Early bird discounts are also available.

Redefining Customer Service in Travel

February 10
9.30-17.00
There is still time to register for ABTA’s virtual customer service and complaints handling conference taking place next week. Designed for customer service teams of all levels, get practical guidance from the experts to implement successful customer service strategies for 2021 and be ready for the restart of travel.
Find out more

Travel Finance Conference

February 24
09.45-17.00
This year’s virtual conference will bring together senior finance professionals and business leaders from across the travel industry, along with regulators, suppliers and experts, to discuss the key updates in travel finance, along with strategies and tools to help businesses manage in the short term and prepare for recovery in 2021.
Find out more

Travel Marketing and PR Conference

March 10
09.30-17.00
It is vital that you have the right marketing and communication strategies in place to proactively engage customers and convert bookings as travel restarts. Learn how to flex and adapt your marketing and PR plans to react to changing trends and circumstances in travel. Equip your teams with the practical skills and knowledge they need to react fast and adapt to changes in the travel market.
Find out more

Health, Safety and Security in Travel

March 24
09.45-17.00
Traveller safety will be key to restoring customer confidence and industry recovery. This one-day event will combine conference sessions with practical and interactive workshops in key areas of health and safety, equipping you and your teams with the knowledge and skills you need in preparation for travel restarting.
Find out more

ABTA webinars – free for ABTA members

ABTA is running a series of online webinars to provide guidance for travel businesses through the coronavirus crisis. Focusing on business resilience, the webinars are delivered in collaboration with trusted ABTA partners and are free of charge for ABTA Members. Upcoming webinars are listed on abta.com/abtaevents. You can also access the webinars on demand at abta.com/webinarsondemand.

Feature

Reunited with the states of America

With the new administration taking a more proactive approach to the pandemic, and with the recent unrest seemingly abated, the cities and open spaces of the United States are a good proposition for Britons once restrictions ease, writes Anthony Pearce

In the pre-Covid world more than five million Britons visited the US a year, making it the fourth most popular holiday choice behind Spain, France and Italy. In fact, when it comes to long-haul travel, no other destination really compares, with its diverse cities, geography and culture providing myriad holiday choices. But, with the country’s well-documented struggle to contain the pandemic, will the flames of this special relationship go out?

According to ABTA’s Six Trends for Travel in 2021 report, this year travellers will be less likely to explore countries they’ve not been to before, instead returning to old favourites – with the US firmly among these, if and when borders do open. The research was conducted before recent events at Capitol, but with the unrest now seemingly abated, this is unlikely to have any effect on Britons’ desire to return. “Although there is some uncertainty as to when borders between the UK and other European countries will reopen, there is a strong appetite from leisure travellers wanting to return to the US for their holidays,” says Scott Balyo, executive director of the Capital Region USA, which includes Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. “We remain hopeful that, as the vaccine begins to roll out globally, it will begin the process of borders reopening sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, testing capabilities continue to progress, with many international airports now able to offer pre-departure testing which will be another key factor in commencing travel to the US.”

According to ABTA’s research, just 32 per cent of people said they would be likely to visit a new country, compared to 45 per cent who said so in 2019. This may manifest itself in tourists returning to old haunts within their countries of choice or exploring new destinations within favoured countries. The US is particularly ripe for exploration, given its vastness, cultural familiarity and close bonds with the UK, which bodes well for the many second and third visit destinations – that is, those outside of New York City, San Francisco, Orlando and the like.

Covid-19 may be a global pandemic, but it has impacted each country differently and at different times, so it remains unclear when travel will start again in earnest, and whether the US will remain behind this curve. Balyo admits that “while restrictions remain in place, we do not anticipate tourism levels to return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2023, perhaps even 2024”. He adds that, once they lift, “we know there will be pent up demand and travellers will return to explore more of America. From conversations we have had with our tour operators and trade partners we know that late 2021 through to 2022 is looking strong for bookings”.

Kuoni, meanwhile, notes that because a large proportion of the tourist visitors travel during the UK’s summer months, a proper recovery might not be forthcoming until summer 2022.

“The US handling of the pandemic has had a pretty bad press, so confidence is low at present, but the new administration appears to be taking a more proactive approach, so things are looking up on that front,” a spokesperson for the operator said. “There are many questions remaining about airline capacity and routes once travel restarts. With the likelihood that many businesses will heavily reduce their travel needs, many of the airlines may reduce frequencies and fares may well increase – both will have an impact on touristic travel.”

However, Kuoni notes that, as with destinations across the world, travellers will be looking for private and secluded experiences. “In the US this is likely to mean an uplift in road trips. We also expect to see the people who do choose to go long-haul travelling for longer and trying to maximise time and experiences, so we anticipate a rise in the multi-centre or combination trip where travellers try and fit in a variety of locations. There is also a significant city break market and we are already seeing New York featuring prominently in UK search traffic, suggesting this market may come back much quicker once travel is permitted again.”

Technology might help to get things back to pre-Covid levels: “Advancement in tech offerings, like touchless and biometric technology, will aid the industry’s recovery,” says Jerad Bachar, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, “especially when it comes to prioritising travellers’ health and safety.”

Meanwhile, away from the cities, the rise in popularity of ‘slow travel’ will mean people will be looking for more immersive experiences. “People are booking trips to rediscover our National Parks and open spaces in ways that we haven’t in more than 50 years,” says Jonathan Farrington, executive director, Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. “People are anxious to get out of the cities and into open spaces and that is also the safest type of trip they can take right now. I’m sure our European visitors will be doing the same once they return.”

Balyo notes that people are looking for a variety of different US breaks: “From wanting to experience those big bucket-list trips and reconnecting with family post-pandemic, to a desire for space when travelling and bubble holidays.”

The Capital Region is one, which like many others in the US, is well-connected to the UK – or at least has been traditionally – and offers fascinating, culture-rich cities with great access to nature. Washington DC, for example, is the greenest city on the East Coast and home to the largest urban National Park, Rock Creek Park, while Virginia has more than 20 National Parks, including Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail; and Maryland is home to Assateague Island National Seashore, which is known for its beaches and wild horses.

Of course, once restrictions do ease, it is likely to be domestic tourism that returns first, then short-haul travel and finally long-haul. But with a traditionally strong air network, its place as a long-standing favourite, vast swathes of openness – including the more adventurous options of Alaska and Hawaii – and many major cities overlooked by most tourists, the US is incredibly well placed, offering adventure and familiarity in an uncertain world.

“The US is at the beginning of an exciting new chapter,” says Balyo, “and we are looking forward to welcoming tourists back once restrictions are lifted.”

“When it comes to travel sentiment, people are ready to go now,” adds Farrington. “We’re all itching to get out suitcases out of the closet and begin travelling again soon.”

 

Feature

Destination USA

Four US holidays we’re desperate to enjoy again…

Explore Phoenix and beyond

By Kevin EG Perry

The first thing I notice as I step off the plane is the desert heat. On average, Phoenix has 299 days of sunshine every year, while nearby Yuma is not just the sunniest place in the United States, but actually holds the world record for average annual sunshine: an incredible 4,300 hours of sun each year. The heat and light make up not only the city’s climate, but its character.

It was the temperature that drew the celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright to Phoenix. He first arrived in 1928 to work as a consultant on the Arizona Biltmore hotel and returned a decade later, after his doctor told him that the weather would benefit his health, to build Taliesin West, his winter home, school and studio. Taliesin West remains open to visitors, even though it still operates as one of the best architecture schools in the United States. Taking the guided tour of the school is an excellent route to understanding how Wright built his reputation as one of America’s great architects, and in particular to appreciating his ability to bring the outdoors inside. Sunlight streams into the drafting room where Wright drew up plans for his most famous work, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and where students continue to work and learn from his example.

Of course, no visit to Arizona would be complete without paying a visit to the Grand Canyon. Entry to the National Park – a three-and-a-half hour drive north of Phoenix – costs £24 per vehicle, a tiny price to pay for the majesty that awaits. 

It is hard to describe the experience of standing on the cusp of The Abyss, the name given to one of the many look-out points. What is remarkable is not just the size and scale of the canyon, but also the swathe of history it illuminates. It has been six million years since the Colorado River first found its way to the Gulf of California and began working its way down through the dirt and rock. The river now runs more than 1,500 metres below the Grand Canyon’s rim.

There are two very different ways of experiencing the Grand Canyon. One is to hike down into it. The most popular route, the Bright Angel Trail, descends 1,370 metres to the Colorado River, which means you have got to climb all the way back up. The other, rather more leisurely way to get inside the canyon is by helicopter. Maverick Helicopters depart from the airport near the small town of Tusayan, on the south side of the park, and 40-minute flights start from £140. 

Visit the great parks of Florida

By Florence Rider

Florida is bursting at the seams with theme parks. The godfather of these is the Disney Magic Kingdom in Orlando, which welcomed a staggering 21 million visitors in 2019, making it the most visited theme park in the world for the 14th consecutive year. The iconic Cinderella Castle remains the park’s centrepiece, lit up every night by the famous fireworks display.

Also in Orlando, Universal’s Islands of Adventure features eight islands, the seventh being The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here you will find Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a motion-based ride that utilises clever technology described by Theme Park Insider as “the most advanced and engaging attraction in theme park industry history”. The eighth island, Skull Island, opened in 2016, featuring the excellent Reign of Kong ride.

Universal Studios, another of Orlando’s blockbusters, is the ninth most attended theme park worldwide. The most recent additions are the Fast & Furious: Supercharged and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, but the highlights remain Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers: The Ride 3D, each innovative and thrilling in their own way.

Universal Orlando spent nearly $600 million building Volcano Bay, making it America’s most expensive water park. It’s money well spent. The 60m Krakatau volcano, which features waterfalls during the day and “lava flows” at night, is the park’s centrepiece. Its epic aqua coaster takes riders inside the heart of the volcano, before plunging through a waterfall.

Legoland in Winter Haven, Florida is aimed specifically at families with children aged two to 12. The thrills aren’t as wild as at the above parks, but kids will love the Star Wars area and The Great Lego Race roller coaster, which is bolstered by VR headsets. The architects preserved parts of the site’s original botanical gardens, making for a surprisingly verdant theme park.

 

Cruise the Mississippi

By Sam Ballard

America’s Deep South is a region like no other. Historically one of the poorest areas in the United States, it also boasts one of its richest cultures. This is the birthplace of rock’n’roll, the blues and jazz. When walking the streets of New Orleans, Nashville or Memphis, the music just sounds better.

Musicians and singers spill out of the bars onto the streets where they carry on playing, for pleasure and tips, lining the streets and jostling for attention. We start our Southern adventure in New Orleans, the self-declared capital of the Deep South and one of America’s biggest party towns. After two days in the Big Easy we will begin our Mississippi cruise with the American Queen Steamboat Company on through to Memphis, the final resting place of The King, Elvis Presley.

Music, cocktails and good times: New Orleans has been this way ever since the French and Spanish set up camp here centuries ago, before Napoleon sold it to the US in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. From Bourbon Street, the epicentre of the city’s nightlife, to the beautiful colonial mansions that line Charles Avenue and lead up to Audubon Park, there is a reason why New Orleans attracts both groups of Americans, out to enjoy boozy weekends, and foreigners coming from much further afield.

The French Quarter is relatively small, but is bursting with bars, restaurants, hotels and a number of other less than salubrious joints. We eat beignets at Café du Monde, which has been serving the sugar-stacked pastries since 1862; enjoy a night in August, one of the best fine-dining restaurants in town; and watch jazz in Palm Court, one of those neighbourhood cafés that manages to make both families and couples feel comfortable. When it’s time to board the American Queen, any sadness we have at leaving New Orleans disappears at the first sight of our ship.

The Queen is the biggest paddle steamer on the Mississippi and, as someone used to sailing on European river boats, it’s quite something to behold a river ship capable of holding 436 passengers. The public areas are incredible – from the Mark Twain gallery to the Ladies Parlour – and appear to be influenced by the antebellum homes and steamboats of the Civil War period. The Grand Saloon theatre has been modelled on Ford’s Theatre (where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated), while the dining room boasts double-height ceilings with huge chandeliers that lead up to vast mirrors. The whole ship has an old world charm that suits our journey through Southern plantations, Civil War sites and on up to Memphis.

Graceland, the King of Rock’n’Roll Elvis Presley’s royal residence, is brilliantly absurd and just as over the top as you hope it would be. From his TV room, where he would have three sets blaring at once, to his jungle room that was furnished with carpet on the ceiling and a huge indoor water feature. His planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II, are both outside, although are arguably the most dated part of the whole tour, while his vast collection of cars, from his famous pink Cadillacs to stately Rolls-Royces, have pride of place in a garage literally fit for a king.

 

Explore the country’s capital

By Anthony Pearce

Washington DC is celebrated for its museums, and with good reason. Not only does the US capital house some of the world’s greatest collections, but the majority of them are free to visit. But with the average stay in the city being around three nights, the choice can be overwhelming.

“One museum will take you three hours or more to get through. You might think you can do three in a day, but you’re not talking about a series of art galleries or sculpture galleries, you’re talking true global and American history, tied to the Native American experience,” says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, which promotes the city.

The Smithsonian alone comprises 19 institutes, each with a theme – covering African American history and culture, natural history, Asian art, craft and decorative art, the earliest of which (the Smithsonian Institution Building) was built in 1855. But to believe that Washington DC is museums and Capitol Hill alone would do the city a huge disservice. As Elliott points out, DC is becoming one of the culinary hotspots in the US: it’s only the fourth city in North America to be given a dedicated Michelin guide. “The fact that the food scene has been validated by Michelin is a huge thing for us,” he says.

But it’s not just haute cuisine – DC has a buzzing food scene, particularly in once overlooked areas such as Adams Morgan, Bloomingdale, Dupont Circle and Georgetown. “You tend to find a lot of chefs globally and in the US look towards DC to start their first restaurant,” says Elliott, who puts this down to affordability and the fact that business and leisure tourism create huge demand for new restaurants. The city also offers great culinary diversity, taking influences from other states and cultures, resulting in a landscape that includes Korean fried chicken at Bul Korean Bar & Restaurant, greasy burgers at the Tune Inn, sausages at DCity Smokehouse and Chesapeake Bay oysters and blue crabs.

Elliott advises visiting the city based on its busy cultural calendar. There’s the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the H Street Festival and any number of sporting events, such as Citi Open, which showcases both established and emerging tennis stars from all over the world. Plus, there’s the chance to see the Washington Capitals, Washington Football Team (formerly the Washington Redskins), Wizards, Nationals or DC United play, depending on your sport of choice. It’s a constantly evolving landscape.

“There’s so much development happening in DC – the Wharf [where shops, restaurants and hotels are being built on the waterfront] that didn’t exist until recently. Now you’ve got an area of the city that visitors are going to that wasn’t on their radar before,” says Elliot.