June 2021

June 2021

In this issue

June 2021
June 2021 – In This Issue
Welcome

Editor’s letter; plus, how to get in touch

Map: The traffic lights system

The story of the travel lists – told in 10 countries across the world, green to amber to red

News: Portugal removed from green list

Plus, ABTA has announced speakers for the travel industry’s leading event

News: Digital Covid Certificate revealed

Plus, Contiki to go carbon neutral by 2022

News: Air traffic revival forecast for 2023

Plus, MSC kickstarts return of cruise

UK Holidays: Jersey sees bookings boom

Plus, an interview with Robert Shaw, chairman of the Coach Tourism Association

Promotion: Gozo

Win a three-night break in Gozo

Promotion: Gozo

Beautiful, wild Gozo is the smaller and quieter sister island to Malta

ABTA: News

Industry urged to contact MPs again ahead of debate

ABTA: Ask the expert

Sean Tipton, media relations manager, on media appearances

ABTA: Events

The latest virtual conferences and training

Destination guide: Portugal

From former capital Coimbra to the unexplored north, rich with natural splendour, there are pockets of Portugal that remain largely untouched by tourism

Great and green Slovenia

Safe, outdoor adventures in Europe’s cleanest, greenest nature

Promotion: Vipava Valley

Nestled between tall mountain plateaus and wine-growing hills, this verdant region can be found at the western edge of Slovenia

Green list guide: Iceland

Iceland looks set for a busy summer season since it's been added to the UK's green list

Promotion: Seychelles

With the Seychelles having successfully sped through its Covid-19 immunisation programme, its pristine paradise resorts are ready and raring to welcome back holiday-starved British visitors

10 reasons to visit Gibraltar this summer

Tourism between the UK and the British overseas territory is experiencing the beginning of a boom

Editor’s letter

More frustrations for the industry

Hello and welcome to the June edition of ABTA Magazine. It continues to be a troubling time for the travel industry. Compared to the seemingly endless winter months, much has changed for the better: international holidays have restarted thanks to the traffic lights system; the staycation market is booming now the sun is finally shining; cruise ships have set sail again for the first time in 15 months; and the UK’s vaccination rollout continues at pace – all while the overwhelming majority of countries are now far from their Covid-19 peaks.

But challenges and frustrations remain for the industry – exacerbated by the removal of Portugal from the green list. Even before that, there were disagreements over holidays to amber destinations and concerns over lack of countries on the green list – as our world map demonstrates, confusion reigns when green doesn’t necessarily mean ‘go’.

As ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer has said: “The government now needs to come forward with tailored financial support for the sector, which recognises that the travel industry’s recovery will be slower than that in other sectors of the economy, and takes account of the unique challenges businesses in the sector are facing.”

In this issue, we have detailed guides to Iceland and Portugal, taking you off the tourist trail, plus a look at Gibraltar – the first nation in the world to be fully vaccinated. We also have interviews with Contiki, which is rolling out its sustainability plan, plus the Coach Tourism Association, who talk us through the return of an often-overlooked holiday type.

We hope you enjoy reading.

Read our guide to the Maldives

Also out now is the ABTA Magazine Guide to the Maldives. White sands, clear skies and turquoise waters –  it has long been held up as the very definition of paradise. But, sparsely populated and reliably warm, it is also the perfect destination for a post-Covid break. As we explore in this guide, there are luxury resorts in abundance, but there is much more to the Maldives than high-end hotels: from colourful corals and a wealth of marine wildlife to fascinating culture and traditions.

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-editors
Nathaniel Cramp, Emily Eastman, Alice Snape

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 an in-house magazine, 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
info@waterfront-publishing.com
020 3865 9360

All of the lights

The story of the traffic lights system – told in 10 countries across the world, green to amber to red.

Gibraltar

Now the only quarantine-free sunny destination available for Britons (on their return to the UK), Gibraltar’s will see a huge tourism boost this June, thanks to its place on the green list.

People arriving in the UK from green list countries, such as Australia, will need to take a pre-departure test in that country. On or before the second day after arriving in the UK, they will need to take a PCR test, but will not need to quarantine – unless they receive a positive test.

Gibraltar is the only country in the world whose adult population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Travellers who have only been in countries or territories on the green list in the preceding 14 days must book a free  lateral flow test before arriving in Gibraltar. The test must take place within 24 hours of arrival. Those remaining in Gibraltar for more than seven days must also take a second test on day five. They do not need to provide evidence of vaccination, or self-isolate.

See our feature here, plus there’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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Grenada

Like the rest of the Caribbean, Grenada has failed to make the UK’s green list, instead being placed on the amber list. This is despite the fact that the country has had just 161 cases of Covid since the onset of the pandemic and has reported no new cases since February.

Dr Clarice Modeste Curwen, minister for tourism, said: “We are extremely disappointed that Grenada was not added to the UK’s green list. It’s a huge blow for both holidaymakers and the travel and tourism sector.

“We’re proud to have successfully started rebuilding our tourism sector and welcoming back travellers from overseas while continuing to sustain no new cases of the virus, with 65% of visitors already vaccinated prior to arrival.

“We have spared no resources and implemented a stringent, rigorous and successful programme to control any spread of the virus, including the implementation and enforcement of non-pharmacological protocols and vaccinating 90 per cent of hotel workers in the tourism sector. In line with the UK government requirement, we also carry out regular genomic sequencing to check for variants.”

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

Since May 1, travellers providing proof of full vaccination will only be required to quarantine for up to 48 hours, pending a negative result from a PCR test, administered on entry, and paid in advance. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after a one-dose vaccine.

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Malta

There was a great deal of speculation that Malta would make the initial green list and then the early June update. As it stands, Malta remains on the UK’s amber list, despite low Covid cases in the country. In the seven days prior to June 3, there were only seven infections per 100,000 people reported in Malta.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

Malta has its own traffic lights system, with the UK will rated amber. This means all passengers travelling to Malta from the UK are required to have evidence of a negative PCR test, dated within 72 hours prior to arrival, before boarding flights to Malta. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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New Zealand

Like Australia, New Zealand may be on the UK’s green list, but its borders are currently closed to most arrivals.

People arriving in the UK from green list countries, such as Australia, will need to take a pre-departure test in that country. On or before the second day after arriving in the UK, they will need to take a PCR test, but will not need to quarantine – unless they receive a positive test. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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Australia

Australia may be on the UK’s green list, but its borders are currently closed to most arrivals.

Travellers who have been in New Zealand for 14 days or more can travel by air to Australia and will not require an exemption. There is information is available on the Department of Home Affairs website. However, the borders of New Zealand are closed to nearly all travellers.

People arriving in the UK from green list countries, such as Australia, will need to take a pre-departure test in that country. On or before the second day after arriving in the UK, they will need to take a PCR test, but will not need to quarantine – unless they receive a positive test. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

 

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Iceland

Iceland – widely considered to have handled the coronavirus pandemic very well – made it on to the UK’s green initial list of countries. It reported just eight infections per 100,000 people in the seven days prior to June 3 and has vaccinated an estimated 35 per cent of the population.

People arriving in the UK from green list countries will need to take a pre-departure test in that country. On or before the second day after arriving in the UK, they will need to take a PCR test, but will not need to quarantine on their return – unless they receive a positive test.

Tourists entering Iceland from the UK must demonstrate they have either been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or previously recovered from Covid-19 infection. All travellers must pre-register before arrival.

When flying into Iceland without a certificate of vaccination, visitors must present a negative PCR taken within 72 hours of departure to Iceland, then take two Covid-19 tests, one on arrival and another five to six days later. Travellers must quarantine between tests, until you have the results (full guidance can be found on the Iceland website).

Read our guide to what’s new and alternative in Iceland here, plus there’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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Portugal

Portugal including the Azores and Madeira made it on to the UK’s green initial list of countries – providing a much-needed boost for the travel industry. Sadly, from June 8, the country will be placed on the amber list.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

Tourists from the UK are able to travel to the country but must have had a negative PCR result within the previous 72 hours.

According to Cirium, more than 1,800 flights are scheduled to depart from the UK to Portugal in June – which accounts for almost 345,000 seats available. Seven airlines are scheduled to operate flights from the UK to Portugal in June, including Ryanair, easyJet, British Airways, TAP Portugal, Tui Airways, Wizz Air UK and Jet2.

Read our guide to what’s new and alternative in Portugal here, plus there’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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Turkey

Turkey is currently on the UK’s list of red list countries. Those who been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are a British or Irish national, or have residence rights in the UK. Before travel to England, travellers must take a Covid-19 test, book a quarantine hotel package, including 2 Covid tests, and complete a passenger locator form.

Turkey was one of eight countries to which Tui recently cancelled trips citing ‘ongoing uncertainty’. The other countries affected are Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Egypt, Cape Verde, Morocco, Tunisia and Bulgaria.

Although the Turkish government has said it will allow Britons to travel for summer holidays without a vaccination certificate or negative Covid test, the Foreign Office advices against all but essential travel to the country – so that does not include holidays. Travelling against Foreign Office advice will nullify most travel insurance.

Despite its troubles in containing the virus, numbers are falling in the country – with cases at 13 per cent of their peak, according to Reuters. It reported 66 infections per 100,000 people in the seven days prior to June 1. It has vaccinated about 18 per cent of the population, according to some reports. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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USA

The USA didn’t make it on the initial green list, despite speculation about air corridors to encourage business travel, instead being marked amber.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

Since March 2020, it has not been possible for most British nationals to enter the USA if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China, or, since January 2021, South Africa, within the previous 14 days. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

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Spain

Spain, the most popular holiday destination for Britons, failed to make it on to the UK’s green initial list of countries – instead making it on to the amber list.

The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic Islands but excluding the Canary Islands. Therefore, holidaymakers who are booked on a package holiday to travel imminently should be given the option of an alternative holiday or a full refund, unless  travelling to the Canary Islands.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

Entry restrictions and testing requirements for arrivals from the UK to Spain no longer apply. However, travellers from the UK should be prepared to present evidence of a negative test if they have travelled to a country on Spain’s list of ‘risk countries’ in the 14 days prior to travel. There’s more on ABTA’s travel hub.

Cases are falling, with 63 infections per 100,000 people reported last seven days prior to June 3. According to reports, about 19.6 per cent of the country has been vaccinated.

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News

Shock as Portugal removed from green list

Panoramic view of Lisbon at sunset, Portugal

Industry criticises decision to remove popular destination


Portugal has been removed from the UK’s green list just three weeks after being added, the transport secretary has confirmed.

Grant Shapps said the government was employing a “safety first approach to give us the best chance of unlocking domestically” on June 21.

The country, including Madeira and the Azores, will be added to the amber list as of June 8. No new countries were added to the green list.

A further seven countries have been added to the red list: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Trinidad & Tobago

He said rates of infection in the country have been doubling since the previous travel review. There is also “a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected, and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation,” he said.

Shapps said that “goodness knows the travel industry has suffered”, suggesting support was ongoing, despite widespread calls for greater measures to combat the devastating impact of the virus on the sector.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer, said: “It’s clear that the government’s domestic health strategy is continuing to prevent any meaningful resumption of international travel. You can’t build the recovery of a multi-billion-pound sector while mass market holiday destinations remain off the green list. The removal of Portugal comes on the back on what was already a very short and cautious green list.

“Travel agents and tour operators haven’t been able to generate income since the start of the pandemic and have been depending on the return of international travel to help bring in some much needed relief. The government now needs to come forward with tailored financial support for the sector, which recognises that the travel industry’s recovery will be slower than that in other sectors of the economy, and takes account of the unique challenges businesses in the sector are facing. Travel companies are desperately worried that at a time when the market hasn’t opened up they will shortly face increased furlough and business rates costs, with support being gradually withdrawn from the end of this month. It’s vital that the government doesn’t leave these businesses behind as it focuses on the domestic unlocking.

“We also need to see the government use the next review of the traffic-light system, on June 28, to deliver meaningful progress towards restart. Ministers must use that review to finally take the steps needed to capitalise on the great progress of the vaccine rollout in the UK. For example, many countries have chosen to exempt fully vaccinated individuals from certain travel requirements. The government should also treat islands separately in the traffic light system and take steps to further reduce the cost of testing.”

easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “This shock decision to add Portugal to the amber list is a huge blow to those who are currently in Portugal and those who have booked to be reunited with loved ones, or take a well-deserved break this summer. With Portuguese rates similar to those in the UK it simply isn’t justified by the science.

“And to add no more countries to the green list when most of Europe’s infection rates are on a downward trend and many places with low infection rates below that of the UK, such as the Balearics with a current rate of 33 in 100,000 and Malta, with just 12 in 100,000, this makes no sense.

“Especially when domestic travel is allowed within the UK, despite a number of cities having infection rates 20 times greater than much of Europe.”

Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said: “UK government’s risk-based traffic light framework won’t provide the clarity and certainty that consumers, families and businesses need if it does not follow the data. Its own evidence shows the US and Caribbean are low risk and should be added to the green list now.

“We are yet to see clear and transparent guidance on the methodology and data the government is basing these decisions on. It shouldn’t be a state secret.

“This overly cautious approach is failing to reap dividends from the UK’s successful vaccination programme, preventing passengers from booking with confidence and restricting 23 million [fully vaccinated Brits] in economic value each day with our largest trading partner.

“We urge the UK government to expedite talks with the Biden administration to lead the way in opening the skies ahead of G7 next week. There is no reason to delay, given that economic recovery and 500,000 jobs are at stake.”

News

Speakers revealed for Travel Matters

ABTA has announced speakers for the travel industry’s leading event


ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer, aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts, and Tui’s UK managing director Andrew Flintham have been announced as the headline speakers for ABTA’s first Travel Matters conference since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Isabel Hardman, assistant editor of The Spectator, and Civil Aviation Authority chair Sir Stephen Hillier are also among the top speakers at the event, which is being moderated by LBC’s Tom Swarbrick.

Now in its 11th year, the travel industry’s leading event for debating the political and policy issues facing the sector will be brought to delegates virtually on Tuesday June 22.

Under the theme ‘Politics and Policies: An Agenda for Recovery’, the conference will explore the policies shaping the travel landscape, what we can learn from the upheaval of the past year and what’s needed from government to rebuild travel in the medium term.

The event is attended by CEOs and senior directors from the travel and tourism industry, political figures, government stakeholders, and national and travel trade media representatives. For this year’s event, ABTA Members are invited to register free of charge.

The event will be streamed via a customised digital platform and moderated by LBC’s Tom Swarbrick from a studio in central London.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “This year’s Travel Matters conference comes at one of the most crucial times in the history of the travel industry, as we take the first steps on the road to recovery from the deepest crisis that our industry has ever faced. We’re offering free places for our members for this year’s event so we hope they will be able to join us as we discuss how to rebuild travel effectively, restore consumer confidence in travel and build a strong foundation for future challenges.”

Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI Northern Region, who will be giving the keynote speech at this year’s event, said: “After an incredibly difficult period for our industry, and with the first very small steps to recovery underway, the Travel Matters conference is the perfect time to look at how we collectively work through the challenges of another uncertain summer season – and how we will all come back stronger and rebuild consumer confidence in travel.”

This year’s headline sponsor is Travel Trade Consultancy and the media partner is Global, the Media & Entertainment Group. Visit Hungary is also a sponsor of the event.

Pre-registration is essential as places are limited. For more information and to register, visit: abta.com/travelmatters2021

 

News

Digital Covid Certificate revealed

Last month, the President of Spain presented the Digital Covid Certificate of the EU at the International Tourism Fair (FITUR).

The certificate has been agreed between the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.

Pedro Sánchez said: “With the Digital Covid Certificate, Spain will resume all its economic activity safely and we will achieve mobility within the European Union this summer,” Sánchez commented. The president clarified that this is not to be treated as a passport, nor travel document, and it is not a requirement for travel. “It is a mechanism that will facilitate mobility, as well as arrival and passenger transit, and which will be launched as of July 1”.

The Spanish Tourist Office said the main benefits of the Green Digital Certificate are its “simplicity and interoperability for the entire European Union, as well as the fact it is free and universal.”

With QR code, it will provide information on whether the person traveling is vaccinated, has contracted the disease, or has a negative PCR test result. In Spain, the regions will manage the issuing and delivery of the certificates in electronic or paper format.

Although Spain remains on the UK’s amber list, it now allows the entry of travellers from non-EU countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Thailand, Rwanda, China, as well as the United Kingdom and Japan.

All these countries have been included on the list of safe countries and therefore travellers from these countries will not face health checks upon arrival in Spain. “This is, without a doubt, great news,” the president added.

People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home when they return to the UK. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.

The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic Islands but excluding the Canary Islands. Therefore, holidaymakers who are booked on a package holiday to travel imminently should be given the option of an alternative holiday or a full refund, unless travelling to the Canary Islands.

Interview

Contiki to go carbon neutral by 2022

We speak to the youth travel company’s new sustainability officer 


Contiki Holidays recently announced that it will be going 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2022 as part of its new five-point Climate Action Plan, which ties into wider goals by The Travel Corporation (TTC). The Australian company, which specialises in youth travel, will be at the forefront of these plans as it looks to reduce emissions and set reduction targets; offset unavoidable emissions by partnering with offset provider, South Pole; and invest in carbon credits from a combination of three carbon offset projects.

TTC says that the Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard projects guarantee that carbon reductions are made, while offering co-benefits that positively impact local communities: forest conservation in Australia, biogas energy in Thailand and renewable energy in the USA. While the wider TTC portfolio is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030, Contiki has 2022 in its sights and is also aiming to source 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

The Château De Cruix is powered by renewable energy

As part of this strategy, Contiki has appointed a sustainability officer, Tasha Hayes. “From Contiki’s perspective it made sense for us to [be the first TTC brand to go carbon neutral], because our demographic is very much aligned with sustainability,” she tells ABTA Magazine. “We have lots of Make Travel Matter experiences, which started with Contiki and got incorporated into the other brands, so we were already at the forefront of this. It makes a lot of sense to go the full push and go carbon neutral.”

Hayes says younger travellers are increasingly seeking out organisations that take green issues seriously. “Contiki did its own study asking people about what they want from a company and why they travel, and one of the big things that came back was sustainability and travelling with companies that are trying to make a difference,” she says.

The company, she says, knows young people will always want to travel – describing it as “their rite of passage” – so believes it’s Contiki’s responsibility to provide experiences that respect the people, planet and wildlife that travellers encounter along the way.

Although emissions considered do include flights to the destination, Hayes said that the tours themselves were meticulously analysed to measure the company’s carbon footprint. “Of 40 trips globally we looked at every little aspect and measured the emissions, all transfers, meals and accommodation,” she says.

One major move has been at Contiki’s Château De Cruix and Haus Schöneck properties, which are now powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. “In both properties we’re also looking at local and organic food – in fact, it’s something we’re pushing for our own properties and suppliers that we partner with. We want to up that every single year.

“At the moment we’re having an audit done to see exactly what we’re feeding our travellers and see what we can get locally. For us, local is within 50 miles of the property. We want them to be able to say we can get our cheese and yoghurt from just up the road.” Indeed, a traveller’s ‘food print’, although often overlooked, can be considerable.

Contiki says it has also implemented fuel-efficient Euro 6 coaches throughout Europe, and has launched more ‘staycation’ trips alongside lower-carbon-footprint, by-rail itineraries, a new vegan itinerary and options for lower-emission vegan and vegetarian meals on all trips. Hayes says that bio-fuel options and training staff to reduce food waste are also big parts of the plan.

Upon the announcement of the wider sustainability plan, Adam Armstrong, Contiki CEO said: “Carbon removal and carbon capture technologies are deeply promising. It’s important to us that we support the science developing around every possible solution, in addition to reducing our emissions and purchasing verified carbon offsets. It’s equally exciting to have Tasha on board to lead this for us, the next phase of Contiki Cares.”

News

Air traffic revival forecast for 2023

Passenger numbers to exceed pre-Covid levels in 2023


Global airline passenger numbers will surpass pre-Covid levels in 2023, forecasts Iata.

Iata predicts that global passenger numbers will recover to 52 per cent of 2019 levels in 2021; 88% in 2022; and 105 per cent in 2023. Passenger numbers are expected to have grown to 5.6 billion by 2030, which is seven per cent below the pre-pandemic forecast.

The report reveals that the pandemic will have cost the industry two to three years of growth in air travel. Despite this, Iata director general Willie Walsh said that he was always “optimistic about aviation”.

“We are in the deepest and gravest crisis in our history. But the rapidly growing vaccinated population and advancements in testing will return the freedom to fly in the months ahead. And when that happens, people are going to want to travel.”

Walsh urged governments to remove restrictions to allow air travel to bounce back.

He added: “The immediate challenge is to reopen borders, eliminate quarantine measures and digitally manage vaccination/testing certificates. At the same time, we must assure the world that aviation’s long-term growth prospects are supported with an unwavering commitment to sustainability. Both challenges require governments and industry to work in partnership. Aviation is ready. But I don’t see governments moving fast enough.”

 

News

MSC kickstarts return of cruise

MSC Virtuosa set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton last month, marking the restart of cruising in the UK after 14 months. The ship, operated by MSC Cruises, welcome its first 1,000 guests on board, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated, with everyone tested at embarkation.

Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises, said, “We are, of course, incredibly proud that MSC Virtuosa’s first ever sailing heralds the resumption of cruise holidays from British ports and we would like to thank the UK government and other local authorities for their support to us and the overall cruise industry to allow domestic cruising to restart.”

Viking Venus, which is the newest vessel to join Viking’s ocean fleet of identical sister ships, has also set sail the first of its Welcome Back coastal sailings.

On Viking, there are frequent non-invasive saliva PCR tests for all guests and crew throughout the itinerary, processed in the onboard laboratory. Physical distancing will be in place and masks may be required on board, while Viking has said that, until at least September 30, 2021, all Viking sailings will be available exclusively for vaccinated guests.

Meanwhile, more cruise lines – including AmaWaterways, Hurtigruten Norway and Uniworld – have revealed details about their resumption plans, as momentum builds for the cruise industry.

News

Jersey sees bookings boom

Operators have welcomed the move by the Jersey government to open borders.

Jet2.com and Jet2holidays welcomed what they called the “clarity and common-sense approach shown by Jersey”, after the publication of updated requirements for travelling to the island this summer. The updated travel advice can be found here.

The operators have experienced a surge in demand and have expanded their flights and holidays programmes to Jersey, meaning the companies will operate to the island from six UK bases this summer, with up to 11 weekly flights departing from the UK .

It will operate weekly Saturday services from Birmingham, East Midlands and Newcastle; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday services from Leeds Bradford and Manchester; and Tuesday and Saturday services from London Stansted.

On April 26, Jersey reintroduced its Safer Travel Policy, allowing the Channel Island to re-open its borders and welcome back British holidaymakers from the UK and other Crown Dependencies in a phased manner. As part of the Common Travel Area, travellers do not need to complete the UK Government Travel Declaration to enter the island.

 

Interview

Robert Shaw, CTA

We sat down with the chairman of the Coach Tourism Association, to talk about the return of coaching holidays, green travel and the trade


ABTA Magazine: Coach tourism is a big part of the travel industry – but sometimes it’s overlooked. Is that fair to say?

Robert Shaw: Coach holidays have always been somewhat unfashionable, haven’t they? Let’s be honest, it’s just one of those unfortunate things. But it is a very useful part of the business, and for travel agents, it’s one way that they can tap into the staycation market this year. There are some great companies out there, most of them are CTA and ABTA members – Leger, Alfa, Bakers Dolphin, Johnsons. And they do offer great products, great prices and great service. I think it could be an area that that agents perhaps overlooked [in the past] and they should really visit it and see it as a potential to earn commission.

It’s never been a particularly fashionable part of the business, which is unfortunate, but that might be changing. We’re doing our best to appeal to what I call the ‘Greta generation’. You know, coaching is a green way to travel. Believe it or not, the average co2 emissions per passenger on a plane are five times higher and it’s 1.5 times higher on a train. So, we really want to emphasise that and get younger people to go on coaches. One product that particularly appeals to the younger market is theme parks – we carry a lot of customers to Disneyland Paris, for example, because it’s ideally positioned in price for the coach customer – and we’ve always travelled by coach to Spain, which we’re hoping to continue soon. Those sorts of products will always appeal to families, so it’s not the older market that has traditionally travelled by coach. I think it’s quite difficult sometimes to get that over to the travel trade.

You see touring companies – particularly Australian ones – aiming at the backpacker market with coach holidays.
Without question, it can be aimed at a younger audience, and we’re constantly finding ways of tapping into it, through the use of social media, for example. German tour operators are featuring coaches more in their programmes now, because it’s seen as a green way to travel, and their customers are posting on Instagram, saying ‘Here I am, I got here by coach because it’s greener to travel that way.’ That message is starting to come across now. You look at the support for Greens in the recent local elections, and you can see that people are [increasingly aware of climate issues].

What’s the demand like for coaching now?
Over the last 12 months, we’ve only been able to operate coaches for about two and a half to three months. We had a window that was, really, only part of August, September and October where we could actually operate. A few operators ran one or two trips to Europe, but not many, so the bulk of that was UK – so there is a huge pent-up demand for it. People just want to get away, go to a coastal resort and see some different scenery. Of course, demographically a lot of our customers have been vaccinated and they’re raring to go. That could really benefit the coach industry, the fact that a lot of customers have had two vaccines by now. People are just wanting to travel.

What is the coach industry’s position on mandatory vaccinations?
I think that’s discriminatory; I think it should be up to the government to insist on that. I’m not sure how it sits with legislation, but you can do it as part of your health and safety procedures. We don’t really want to encourage that, and a lot of members are not insistent on asking people. Most of our members have got enhanced air conditioning on board the coaches so it’s safe in that way. Everybody’s insisting on mask wearing; there are lots of protocols in place on board coaches, so we just try to make it as safe as we can.

What other trends are you seeing?
Clients are concerned about financial protection. I still think that the ABTA-bonded coach holidays badge is seen as the gold standard. I think they want flexibility when it comes to their holiday arrangements, so that if they have to cancel, or if we have to make changes, they’re not worried about anything. Clients are now more concerned about quality accommodation – I think it’s now truer than ever, the narrative that ‘mass follows class’. People are looking for a better standard of accommodation, a better standard of travel. In terms of destinations, I think coastal resorts are more popular, perhaps, than populated cities at the moment. But that will change, in places such as London, where effectively the domestic market has been priced out by the incoming markets, there are now huge opportunities this year.

Video: Explore beautiful Gozo

Click play to watch in full

Win a three-night break

Take the new Gozo Course malta-training.com and make a Gozo booking with Mercury Holidays by July 18 for travel in 2021, to be entered into a draw to win a three-night break at the 5* Kempinski Gozo. The prize includes return flights, transfers and a hotel stay.

The training course covers seven lessons: Introduction, History and Culture, Where to Stay, Exploring the Capital, Keeping Active, Seasonal Gastronomy, and Rest and Rejuvenation.

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Rural charm and adventure await visitors in Gozo

Beautiful, wild Gozo is the smaller and quieter sister island to Malta


Thought to be Calypso’s outcrop in Homer’s epic Odyssey, Gozo is a place of mystery, intrigue and tranquility. Made up of rugged landscapes, breathtaking coastlines, sleepy settlements and some of the world’s best diving spots, it is the quiet sister to the buzzing island of Malta.

One of three islands that make up the Maltese archipelago, Gozo, which is just 7km wide and 14km long, is blessed with natural and historical sights that can be explored easily by bus, car or on foot.

Just a 25-minute ferry ride from Malta – which is only a three-hour flight from the UK – it is perfect for a twin-centre break. The tiny island of Comino, which lies between the two destinations, is a paradise for snorkellers, divers, windsurfers and ramblers. It is car-free and aside from one hotel, virtually uninhabited.

Meaning joy in Castilian, Gozo has enthralled visitors and settlers for thousands of years. The Byzantines, French, Romans, Arabs and British have lived and ruled over Gozo’s 7,000-years of history, influencing its food, culture and architecture.

Perhaps the greatest influence over the island, however, is Sicily, which is just 80km north of Gozo. In fact, it is thought that Gozo’s first inhabitants crossed over from Sicily in 5,000 BC.

Win a three-night break

Take the new Gozo Course malta-training.com and make a Gozo booking with Mercury Holidays by July 18 for travel in 2021 to be entered into a draw to win a three-night break at the 5* Kempinski Gozo. The prize includes return flights, transfers and hotel stay.

The training course covers seven lessons: Introduction, History and Culture, Where to Stay, Exploring the Capital, Keeping Active, Seasonal Gastronomy and Rest and Rejuvenation.

Where to stay
Victoria
, the capital, is blessed with many areas of cultural and historical value, most notably its imposing Citadel, which offers views across the island from its towering fortifications. Its place in the island’s history is significant: until 1637, the Gozitan people were required by law to spend their nights within its walls for their own safety. Around the city’s market and narrow winding streets, you’ll find everything from delicious fresh produce, cheese and wine to antiques, craft goods, fishing nets and knitwear.

Picturesque ix-Xagħra has a rich historical heritage: built on a stretch of high ground northeast of the capital, it is encircled by the bays of Ramla, Għajn Barrani and Marsalforn, providing incredible views and easy access to the beach. It is also home to the famous prehistoric Ġgantija Temples, which date back to 3600 and 3200 BC. L-Għarb, one of Gozo’s oldest traditional villages, offers a distinctively rural experience and is home to renowned craftsmen known for the manufacture of the unique L-Għarb blade, a traditional sharp knife. Xlendi, in the southwest of the Island, is a typical Gozitan fishing village lined with lively cafes and restaurants. It also offers incredible walks into the country, while the bay is popular with divers of all levels.

Beach life
Ramla Bay, located in between Xaghra and Nadur is a wide stretch of red sand; it’s one of the islands best spots to swim, snorkel and relax. San Blas (main picture), a small and quiet beach, is a favourite with families; while Xlendi Bay is a small tourist resort located in the southwest of Gozo, sat before a quaint fishing village and flanked by high cliffs, where a 17th-century tower sits. The town is surrounded by countryside that provides an opportunity for great walks.

Marsalforn, on the north coast of Gozo, is a popular seaside resort with many tourist facilities, a stone’s throw from Qbajjar Bay, a quiet, shallow bay for swimming and snorkelling. Meanwhile, Hondoq ir-Rummien Bay is found on the south east of the Island, facing Comino, which is small, sandy and popular with swimmers, kayakers and novice divers.

The rocky inlet of Mgarr-ix-Xini, has a small pebbly beach and lots of sea caves making it a divers’ paradise. It provided the backdrop for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s film By the Sea. In the fishermen’s bay of Dahlet Qorrot is a tiny pebble beach, famous for its blue-doored boathouses hewn from the limestone rock.

Adventure awaits
Gozo offers outdoor adventure in abundance, not least coastal walks and bike rides through quaint little villages and stunning rural landscapes. With a mild, sunny climate and gentile hills, both types of holidays are becoming increasingly popular, with bicycles available for rent from various outlets around Gozo.

For indoor climbers moving outdoors, or experienced climbers, Gozo offers more than 300 sport climbs in over 12 locations, including The Underworld, the North Coast and Wied il-Mielah, while kayaking – which allows visitors to explore Gozo and Comino’s caves – horse-riding holidays and quad bikes offer fantastic ways to see the island in depth.

Of course, Gozo is known for diving – the Maltese Islands are repeatedly named one of the best dives destination in the world. Here, you will find an abundance of reefs, stunning caverns, caves and shipwrecks. In its pristine, transparent, warm and azure waters, there are dives for all levels.

Mercury Holidays has worked closely with travel agents providing training, fam trips and marketing support for the last 40 years and continues to do so

News

Industry urged to contact MPs again ahead of debate

ABTA urges members to invite their MPs to their stores and businesses to help them understand the challenges they face


With a parliamentary debate on travel planned for June 10, ABTA has updated useful tools that travel agents and tour operators can use in their contact with their local MP, making the process easier and more effective.

ABTA is also suggesting that members invite their MP to come into their shop to set out the severe problems of last 15 months and the vital role that they play in their community, helping to maintain the health of hard-pressed high streets.

The new tools include a template email for MPs, a briefing note and a concise infographic on the economic realities affecting travel agents during the pandemic. The tools can be found at abta.com/savefuturetravel

Ahead of Mark Tanzer’s appearance at the Treasury Select Committee next week, ABTA has launched a short poll to collate additional evidence from members regarding their access to support schemes and current challenges. The evidence gathered will build on recent engagement with members that has provided valuable feedback on many issues around the ongoing challenges facing the sector and access to different support schemes. You can find the link to the ABTA member poll here, which should take no more than five minutes to complete.

Luke Petherbridge, director of public affairs at ABTA, said: “Its really important that we encourage as many MPs as possible to attend the debate in June and speak up for the industry.

“There is strong support for the sector among many parliamentarians, but we need to keep up the pressure on government to act to save the travel industry. MPs will play a really important role in helping to make our case about the value of the sector to government and the need to provide tailored assistance.

“Inviting your local MP to come into your shop can also be a powerful and extremely effective way of demonstrating the vital role you play in your community and that travel needs the same kind of support that the government has been happy to give to other industries.

“We will be doing all we can to make sure as many MPs as possible are aware of the issues facing sector and our main asks for government support – extending employment support and business rates relief and making available recovery grants for travel businesses.

“We will also make clear the need for ministers to focus on aiding the recovery of international travel ahead of the upcoming reviews into the traffic-light system, opening up more countries to the green-list where health data allows. They should also give serious consideration to relaxing restrictions for travel between low-risk countries and for fully vaccinated individuals. As the summer progresses this will increasingly be the case in many of our most popular overseas destinations and would represent another clear, significant benefit of the successful vaccine rollout in the UK, enabling many more to take a much-needed and affordable break.”

News

ABTA launches #ReadySteadyTravel

Campaign emphasises benefit of booking travel through an ABTA member


ABTA has a new campaign, #ReadySteadyTravel, to help travellers feel informed, reassured, confident and excited to book foreign travel this year.

Through the campaign, ABTA will be sharing content across online and social media channels and working with national media to help people feel equipped and confident to travel this year. ABTA will also revisit and rerun its Book with Confidence advertising, planned to be a later stage of the campaign with adverts running when they are likely to have the greatest impact.

The campaign will be delivered through a number of phases and will flex and respond to the needs of customers and members, as well as what is happening in the UK and further afield around the reopening of travel.

The first phase of the campaign saw the publication of a new website hub which has content about travelling during the pandemic (abta.com/readysteadytravel). The hub launched in early May to coincide with the announcement of the destinations in each traffic light list.

Content in the website hub includes:

ABTA has been promoting the messages and content from the hub across its social media channels and with national media. There are also assets available for ABTA members to download, which will be added to as the campaign progresses.

ABTA will also continue to promote the value of booking a package holiday and has a new video on the top benefits of a package, which is also available for members to use.

The assets for ABTA members can be found in the marketing toolkit on the MemberZone.

Graeme Buck, director of communications at ABTA, said: “There is a really important role for ABTA to play in helping people feel confident to travel abroad this year, as well as continuing to put forward the industry’s case on the recovery.

“This week is a shining example of the confusion around the return to international travel. Through our #ReadySteadyTravel campaign we’re working to inform, reassure and excite people about planning and booking a foreign holiday, and help to make things clear. We’ll also be reminding people about the benefits of booking through an ABTA member and the extra protections provided by a package holiday.

“Given how changeable things are at the moment, the campaign will be agile – making sure it responds to the latest developments. Our big focus right now is helping people feel informed about what they need to do, both from a government requirement point of view and checking FCDO advice, but also making sure they have everything else in place, from an up-to-date passport to understanding social distancing measures when travelling. And, of course, we’re also celebrating the return to travel and helping people feel excited about the great experiences you get with an overseas holiday.”

ABTA

Ask the expert

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 was recently approached by my local radio station asking if I could come on and give travel advice as they wanted a local voice. I turned them down because I said I wasn’t free at that time but, really, I found the whole prospect rather intimidating. I now wonder whether that was the right decision. Could you give me some advice and help should they ever come calling again? Anon

You’re not alone in feeling this way, most of us are uncomfortable with public speaking and interviews have the added pressure of a much larger audience. However, they are also a great way to raise your company’s profile and are, in effect, a free advert.

The first piece of advice I would give might sound a little contrary, but it is simply: try not to be nervous. Unless you are going onto a programme like Rip Off Britain or Watchdog defending your company or the industry, presenters will generally be friendly and chatty and do their best to put you at ease. An often-heard expression in the world of media is to “treat it like a chat down the pub”. A relaxed guest makes for a much better programme.

Secondly, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Ask them what kind of subjects they’ll want you to touch on, if you need to do a bit of research first. “I don’t know” is not a great response and is best avoided – after all you’re being asked on as an expert. But at the same time don’t guess or make things up. The ABTA Press Office is always happy to give you some help with advice and tips.

You may be approached and asked what is ABTA’s view on subjects such as lobbying or the government. Best to refer those to the ABTA Press Office. We’ll either do the interview ourselves or get one of our very capable regional spokespeople to do it as it is important that we are consistent in what we say to the media on these kinds of issues.

Some people are not as temperamentally suited to doing interviews, but like most things, they often get much easier with practice, so it won’t do any harm to start off with an interview on a subject you know well and feel comfortable with. Local radio stations are often keen on ABTA Members fielding calls from listeners looking for advice on where to go on holiday and, as travel starts up again, that appetite will definitely be there –after all, you’re better placed than anyone to do this, it’s what you do for a living.

As you get more confident doing interviews, you may find that you’re happier talking about particular issues and have very definite views or information you want to get across. It is a good idea to practice what you are going to say, then you’ll have some ready-made phrases that you’ll be able to slot into an interview. If they like what you’ve said you often find that the radio station will reuse your comments throughout the day – always a sign that you’ve done a good job.

My last top tip is to make sure you have plenty of water with you. Your mouth can get very dry and taking sips between chats will also help with your breathing pattern, to relax and calm your nerves.

Sean Tipton, media relations manager

ABTA

Meet the team

Each issue we speak to a different ABTA employee about their work. This time: Graeme Buck, director of communications


As director of communications at ABTA, I’m entrusted with an important and exciting role. It encompasses inspiring people about travel, being clear about how ABTA helps both its members and the wider public, and – during the unusual times we live in – helping to bring clarity around what continues to be a fast-changing and unprecedented travel environment.

I’ve worked in communications for more than 25 years and jumped at the chance to join ABTA towards the end of 2020. It’s a fantastic brand and does so much good for the industry.

My career prior to ABTA is varied. On the travel side, I’ve worked with companies such as Sheraton Hotels and Premier Inn, but I also have bags of experience in other consumer-focused businesses and sectors facing challenging times, most recently as head of communications for Waitrose.

‘Communications’ can mean different things to different people – some take it to mean IT, for example. Instead, my role heads a team where our aim is to put across accurate and timely information to a range of audiences, but in particular the travel industry, the wider business world and, of course, UK holiday makers.

Often this involves working with media – putting across messages to them proactively or responding to their enquiries, always ensuring that we represent the travel industry in the best possible light. Sometimes this means being an ABTA spokesperson and so, alongside my colleagues, you may see me pop up on TV news such as the BBC or Sky, or national or local radio, to give commentary on what’s happening in the world of travel. This might include correcting misconceptions on a particular issue, or advising people to book with an ABTA member, for example.

On social media and online, we maintain an ongoing presence through our various ABTA channels and also run campaigns. As I write, we have recently started our #ReadySteadyTravel campaign, which is designed to support consumer confidence in travel now that things have (slowly) restarted. It aims to point customers towards sources of information as travel begins again, to reassure them about uncertainties they may have about travelling safely during a pandemic, and to inspire them to book their much-needed and long-awaited overseas trip.

Each year, we run a ‘Travel With Confidence’ advertising campaign, which again has the purposes of getting people excited about travelling, and shouting about the benefits of doing so with an ABTA Member.

And there’s much more. Common to it all is an aim of supporting our fantastic industry and giving it the best presence we can in the public eye.

It sounds a bit of a cliché, but it’s true to say that no two days are the same, particularly right now with travel facing its biggest-ever peacetime challenge. That’s partly what makes it so enjoyable – knowing that I can bring my experience to this sector and, I hope, help it come through these turbulent times.

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, new practical training events and one-day conferences virtually. These virtual events are designed to help travel businesses navigate the challenges of the coronavirus crisis and be prepared for the restart of travel.

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


 

New 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.

Data and Cyber Protection Training for Travel

June 8
10.00-15.30
This online training day provides an essential guide to data protection and cyber security in travel, including an update on the key regulations – GDPR, DPA and PECR. Learn how to legally process data and transfer data to the EU and the rest of the world. Get the latest cyber security guidance for remote working and learn how to respond to a data breach. Find out more

Complaints Handling Training for Travel

July 8
10:00-15:15
ABTA’s popular complaints handling training will give you the crucial skills to help you deal with complaints effectively across a variety of channels including email, phone and social media. As travel starts to unlock, attend to refresh your skills and ensure you are prepared for the restart. Find out more

An Essential Guide to Restarting Travel

July 13
10:00-15:30
This virtual training day offers practical guidance for tour operators and travel agents. Understand the impact of Covid-19 on your legal obligations and how to prepare for the restart of travel. This interactive training will equip you with the tools you need to understand the key legal issues and protect your business and customers as travel unlocks. Find out more


 

Virtual conferences with practical workshops

ABTA’s one-day conferences are brought to you virtually, streamed live via a custom event platform. Combining keynote conference sessions and interactive workshops with online networking, hear from a line-up of expert speakers who will provide the latest insights, guidance and advice in key areas for travel businesses. Early bird discounts and business rates are available.

Health, Safety and Security in Travel

June 16
09.30-17.00
After a year of unprecedented change, equip your operational teams with the knowledge and skills they need in preparation for travel restarting. Get practical guidance from leading health and safety experts and industry representatives on how to manage the balance between business as usual and Covid-safe protocols. Take part in training workshops to help you manage your travel business’ health, safety and security risks. Find out more


Conferences on demand: Access ABTA’s previous virtual conferences in areas including customer service, travel finance, travel law and marketing and PR on demand here.


Travel Matters – free for ABTA members

June 22
10.00-16.00
ABTA’s 11th annual Travel Matters will be brought to you virtually in 2021. This year’s theme is ‘Politics and Policies: An Agenda for Recovery’. At a time when it has never been more important for our industry to come together, ABTA will lead the conversation on how we can unlock travel and build a strong foundation for the future. Join senior industry representatives, CEOs, political figures and government stakeholders for a timely update on politics and current affairs in an ever changing world. This year, ABTA members are invited to attend free of charge. 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.

Selling Luxury Travel

June 30
10:30-12:30
This extended webinar will provide insight and guidance on how to adapt to the changing needs, sentiment and holiday trends of luxury travellers. Get the latest insights from consumer booking data and use this to adapt your marketing strategies. Hear from industry colleagues on how they have adapted to changing client needs and put your questions directly to travel and marketing experts live. Find out more


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


 

Feature

Portugal spots that are far from the madding crowd

From former capital Coimbra to the unexplored north, rich with natural splendour, there are pockets of Portugal that remain largely untouched by tourism and are perfect for post-lockdown holidaying, writes Florence Derrick


This summer, Portugal is set to be a firm favourite among British holidaymakers seeking sunshine and European culture following a long winter. Although moved to the amber list in the latest round of changes, Portugal is already a popular holiday destination, with passengers mainly flying to Faro to flop on the sun-soaked Algarve coastline or to the ancient yet cosmopolitan capital, Lisbon.

The travel industry has ramped up its offerings in preparation for a busy summer tourist season in Portugal, with airlines like BA, Ryanair, TUI and Wizz Air now operating flights for the first time in months.

But the post-lockdown holiday landscape isn’t the same as it was pre-Covid, when it saw about two million Brits visiting Portugal each year. This year, passengers are seeking responsible breaks that embrace the great outdoors – increasing their appetite for avoiding the country’s established tourism hotspots. This presents a great opportunity for tour operators to highlight areas of Portugal that have historically been given a little less love.

Southern Portugal 

The Algarve region is the number one destination for Brits holidaying in Portugal, with 1.2 million UK tourists visiting in 2019. But while it’s known for its family resorts and Blue Flag beaches, there’s so much more to this sunny, coastal spot – and the diverse landscapes continue in neighbouring Alentejo, just north of the Algarve.

Unesco-listed Évora is the capital of Portugal’s south-central Alentejo region. Best-known for its 14th-century historic centre and Roman Temple, it’s one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns. It’s also a university town, which adds a youthful energy to its healthy range of wine bars, live music venues and patio restaurants.

One big draw of Portugal’s southern regions is the climate – which, in the Algarve, rises to an average of 29 degrees Celsius in July and August and brings endless opportunities for outdoor activities.

Make a beeline for Portugal’s protected coastal areas like the Algarve’s craggy, windswept Cabo de São Vicente headland. Once thought to be the end of the world, this is the south-westernmost point of Europe. Today, it’s a prime birdwatching destination and – stormy weather permitting – one of the most revered sunset spots in Europe.

Near the Algarve tourist town of Portimão is the scenic Seven Hanging Valleys walking trail, which runs along the clifftops from Praia da Marinha to Praia de Vale Centeanes – two of the region’s most stunning beaches. And to the north is one of Portugal’s best hiking spots: the Monchique Mountains. The area’s highest mountain is Fóia, at 3,000 metres altitude, while the foothills are carpeted in pine and eucalyptus. You can drive to the peak to watch the sunset, or for the starting points of the mountains’ most breathtaking hikes. Aching muscles can be tended to post-trek in the pretty village of Caldas de Monchique, where thermal baths have been healing locals since Roman times.

Then there’s the Alentejo region. Within the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park is the Trilho dos Pescadores – a practically empty, long-distance footpath that clambers over cliffs and meanders between seaside settlements. You’re more likely to see herds of wild ponies and goats than people, and you can draw it out over a few days, stopping at small towns between the end points of Porto Covo and Odeceixe – a little-known surf mecca.

Central Portugal

From its pastel-hued old city to its ancient pastel de nata pastry shops, it’s undisputed that Lisbon is an incredible capital city. But to avoid the crowds this summer, consider the former capital of Portugal, Coimbra, instead – and go on to explore the region’s natural offerings.

Between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra’s medieval old town is home to the country’s oldest university – built on the grounds of a former palace. A university city, Coimbra is at its liveliest during term time, but the summer months bring a welcome calm to its cobbled streets, overshadowed by the Romanesque cathedral and ringing with the sounds of fado singers.

For a more remote experience, there’s Sortelha, which might just be Portugal’s most traditional village. Near the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela and home to just one restaurant and a handful of old guest houses, a stay here is the definition of getting away from it all.

Well-connected Coimbra makes a great jumping-off point for exploring central Portugal. Outdoorsy travellers head to the Serra da Estrela Natural Park – the country’s largest and oldest protected natural space. Covering 888 square kilometres, it’s home to mainland Portugal’s highest point: Torre, at 1,999 metres altitude. The hiking trails here are rugged and dramatic, spanning sheer drops into wooded valleys and sulphur-rich hot springs.

When it comes to beaches, the Estremadura province is often overlooked in favour of the Algarve. But this quintessentially Portuguese area, which stretches from the Tagus River to the Atlantic Ocean, is alive with white-sand beaches, castles and villages – and a fraction of the number of tourists you’ll find in the south. Take a coastal road trip that ends up in Peniche, a working port town that’s also a surf haven, with eroded limestone cliffs plunging into the churning ocean at the Cabo Carvoeiro headland. From there, you can take day trips to Berlenga Grande: a picturesque island of rock formations and caves, with offshore shipwrecks and sea caves tempting divers and kayakers into the water.

Northern Portugal

Most British tourists don’t consider the northern regions of Portugal. But they’re missing out on a region rich with natural splendour, ancient culture and very few other visitors.

In the far north of Portugal is the country’s third-largest city, Braga. Many visitors come here for spiritual reasons: Bom Jesus do Monte, the much-visited Christian pilgrimage site with its chapels, fountains and views, is five kilometres away – and the city itself hosts religious festivals to the constant chiming of Baroque church bells.

Even further north is Viana do Castelo, a picturesque medieval town with pretty, riverside palaces, leafy boulevards and the neo-Byzantine Santa Luzia church. If you really want to escape the crowds, this is your place: the only other visitors there are likely to be Portuguese families.

Portugal’s only national park, the remote and wild Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, is situated in its far northern reaches. This 703-square-metre mountainous region is the definition of off-grid exploration. Hikers pick paths between granite peaks, pine forests, waterfalls and wildflower fields, keeping an eye out for wild horses, ibex, deer and even Iberian wolves. And the region doesn’t only preserve biodiversity, but also the  lifestyle of settlers that live in over 100 granite-stone villages that have hardly changed in almost 1,000 years.

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The great outdoors of green Slovenia

Think of Slovenia and you’ll likely picture the glasslike waters of Lake Bled surrounded by snow-capped peaks, or chocolate-box towns tucked between rolling hills. The enduring image of Slovenia matches up perfectly with its growing reputation as one of the world’s greenest and most sustainable destinations. Slovenia was crowned Europe’s most sustainable destination at ITB Berlin 2020 and has established a Green&Safe responsible travel label, which ensures high hygiene standards and Covid-safe protocols. In June 2020, Slovenia became one of the first recipients of the Safe Travels Stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Currently on the UK’s amber list, Slovenia’s mass vaccination programme is now gaining momentum to prepare for a summer season that’s open for tourism. While visitors should currently only be travelling there for essential reasons, and the UK requires a 10-day quarantine period on arrival from Slovenia, this is set to change as the vaccination programme takes hold in the country.

And it won’t be a moment too soon, as Slovenia offers British travellers the kind of holiday that they’ll be craving post-lockdown: safe, outdoor adventures in some of Europe’s cleanest, greenest nature.

Green activities in the great outdoors
Slovenia crams a huge variety of landscapes into its modest landmass. The peaks of the Julian Alps soar skyward in the country’s northwest, while turquoise lakes glitter in the foothills. Over 50 per cent of the country is covered in forest, and the Soča River cascades emerald-green from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea. Literally one of the greenest countries on earth, it’s no surprise that hiking, cycling and adventure sports take centre stage in Slovenia’s tourism offerings.

The Juliana Trail (Source: slovenia.info. Photo by Alex Strohl)

Hiking for all
Swap two wheels for your own two feet on Slovenia’s 10,000km of hiking trails. The Juliana Trail opened in 2019 and takes hikers 280km from the Italian border through Slovenia’s most picturesque natural wonders, like the mountainous Kranjska Gora region, the iconic shores of Lake Bled and ascending into the Triglav National Park – overshadowed by Slovenia’s highest peak, Mount Triglav. You can hike into the Alps, too, leading you to the craggy border with Austria.

Family-friendly treks take place on Slovenia’s highlands, through the forests of the Pohorje Hills or the ambling Polhov Gradec Dolomites. The Slovenian Mountain Trail takes you from northeastern Maribor, between peat bogs and river rapids, to the makeshift lodges in the Lovrenc Lakes.

Cycling for champions
Keen cyclists can follow in the tyre tracks of Tadej Pogačar, the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, in 2020. There are plenty of road biking challenges across Slovenia, with the toughest winding through the Vršič Pass to 1,611m elevation in the Trenta Valley. Then there are the endurance tests – like the long-distance Circular Tour through the Julian Alps, which traverses 232km from alpine resort Kranjska Gora through the idyllic Soča Valley.

But you don’t have to be a pro to take on some of the longest-distance cycling trails, like the Trans-Slovenia 01 trail, which spans Slovenia, Italy and Austria over seven days and offers lots of opportunities for R&R on the way. Then there’s the 710km Drava Cycling Route, which crosses Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia – or Bike Slovenia Green, a series of one-day cycling loops around the Julian Alps, Lake Bled or the Adriatic coastline.

(Credit: Matevž Kostnjšek)

Wine destination
Slovenia is emerging as a top European wine destination, having picked up a record 186 medals in the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards. Visitors should make a beeline for Maribor, home to the oldest vine in the world still producing grapes, as well as the Posavje wine region in the southeast of the country, and the Primorska region in the west.

For a summer adventure that restores mind and body, with nourishing natural food and outdoor activities in the fresh air, Slovenia will provide.

Green gastronomy
Slovenia has been named 2021 European Region of Gastronomy and is taking the opportunity to focus on sustainable cuisine, encompassing education and agricultural development into its ethos.

With culinary influences from neighbouring Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia, Slovenia’s national cuisine relies heavily on its fresh, local ingredients, with its chefs making a name for themselves with their ‘garden to table’ approach. Those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for the alpine town of Radovljica, home of honeybread, beekeeping and the Chocolate Festival. For innovative takes on traditional produce, hunt out the first two restaurants to receive the Green Key international certificate: Gostilna pri Lojzetu in the Vipava Valley, and Galerija okusov in the Lower Savinja Valley.

Ana Ros (Source: slovenia.info. Photo by Dean Dubokovič)

Sustainable fine dining
2020 saw the first-ever Michelin guide to Slovenia, with 52 restaurants mentioned and six chefs receiving a total of seven Michelin stars. The top-awarded chef was Ana Ros, named the world’s best female chef in 2017. She received two stars for her restaurant Hiša Franko, a stone’s throw from the Italian border. Heavily influenced by the area’s dairy and meat-based traditions, the menu showcases the produce of local foragers, shepherds, fishermen and hunters.

A further six Slovenian restaurants received a Michelin Sustainability Award for their work on preserving biodiversity, reducing food waste and using renewable energy – and many more were listed in the Bib Gourmand and The Plate categories.

Main image: slovenia.info. Photo by Jošt Gantar

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Find paradise in Slovenia’s Vipava Valley

Nestled between tall mountain plateaus and winegrowing hills, Slovenia’s fertile Vipava Valley can be found at the western edge of Slovenia next to the Italian border.


Although just an hour’s drive from buzzy Venice and 50 minutes from the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, the dreamy region of Vipava Valley remains largely undiscovered despite being a paradise for lovers of nature, wine and outdoor adventure.

But right now, the lack of crowds at Slovenia’s best-kept secret is a major draw. Reminiscent of Tuscany, this under-the-radar destination is picture-perfect with verdant vineyards and rolling hills, dotted with old stone houses and church belfries, medieval settlements and castles. It’s no surprise that it was voted one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 must-visit regions in 2018.

Blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate, the Vipava Valley is an all-year-round destination with sizzling summers and mild winters. Hyped as being the sunniest place in Slovenia, the valley boasts a whopping 2,100 hours of sun every year. Visit in springtime to see the trees in beautiful blossom and in autumn for its New England-like foliage.

And it’s thanks to its pleasant climate that this fertile valley is firmly on Europe’s wine trail. Oenophiles can sip on a raft of wine varieties here, with top picks including the crisp and refreshing indigenous Zelen; the boutique Klarnica; and Pinela, an old variety, all of which are perfect for drinking with a picnic in the bucolic surrounds. Visit a family-run winery to tour the vineyard and cellar, hear local tales and discover how winemakers merge time-honoured techniques with contemporary approaches.

To complement the world-class wines, the region is also a culinary hit with gastronomical treats galore. Feast on rustic and wholesome locally sourced fare at cosy inns and agritourism farms, where you can indulge in mouth-watering local cheeses, cured Vipava Valley prosciutto and heavenly baked goods, such as štruklji (rolled dumplings) and sweet strudels made of delicious fruits that grow in the valley. Visitors may also be lucky enough to be shown around the farm and the wine cellar, where wine can be enjoyed straight from the barrel.

Gourmands seeking high-end dining spots will not be disappointed: the Michelin Guide for Slovenia awarded the Vipava Valley and Goriska the greatest number of stars in the country.

Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, the valley is a great spot to reconnect with nature away from the crowds. This adventure hub offers ideal conditions year-round for paragliding, climbing, paddleboarding, horse riding, hiking and fishing, to name just a few.

The area offers optimum thermal conditions for paragliding and hang gliding – beginners can fly in tandem. Join an organised hike to climb up the high plateaus and soak up epic views of the sea and hills punctuated with vineyards and orchards.

Explore the valley by bike to discover its hidden treasures, following picturesque trails through wine-growing hills and visiting sleepy centuries-old villages or tourist farms to refuel with local delicacies along the way. There are easy trails for families and novice cyclists, while more adventurous cyclists can get their kicks by ascending steep rocky plateaus on the mountain trails. Join a bike and wine tour to cycle along undemanding traffic-free paths, stopping off at local wineries to taste wine and tuck into tapas in rustic wine cellars.

Those with a passion for watersports can meander along the pretty River Vipava on a kayak or paddleboard, while soaking up the unspoiled wilderness and lush-green vegetation.

When it comes to rustic accommodation, the valley brims with idyllic options that make the most of the lyrical landscape. Camp under the stars in boutique campsites and charming glamping spots or enjoy a cosy slice of rural life at agritourism farms and countryside apartments, set in vineyards and old villages. There’s also an abundance of one-of-a-kind boutique hotels.

Those seeking buzzing nightlife should head to Nova Gorica to try their luck in the numerous casinos and gaming rooms. It’s also the only spot in Slovenia where you can go bungee jumping.

Lauded for its green credentials, the pristine and unspoilt Vipava Valley and frontier Goriška is committed to sustainable tourism. In 2019, the region was added to the top 100 most sustainable destinations in the world. There’s never been a better time to discover this hidden treasure.

Find out more about Vipava Valley here.

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A wild and remote tour of Iceland

Rauðisandur (Visit Iceland)

Iceland looks set for a busy summer season since it’s been added to the UK’s green list for travel. And it’s ready to welcome tourists with newly launched road trips, hot springs and volcanic eruptions, as Florence Derrick discovers


Is there a destination more perfectly suited to post-lockdown travel than Iceland? As Europe’s least densely populated country, the island has social distancing in place by default. And if its plentiful hot springs, abundance of fresh ocean air and endless hikes via geysers and waterfalls are anything to go by, Iceland has been toting wellness since long before it became a tourism trend.

Brits are in luck this summer, as Iceland being added to the UK’s green list means that it’s open for holidays. Vaccinated travellers only need to quarantine for 24 hours on arrival while awaiting the results of their free, on-arrival PCR test (if you haven’t been vaccinated, you’ll have to take a pre-departure test and another test on arrival, then self-isolate for five days). Coming back to the UK, you just need to take two Covid tests – no quarantine necessary. Here’s how to experience Iceland’s newest attractions while avoiding its busiest routes.

Instead of driving the Golden Circle, try the new Diamond Circle

Goðafoss waterfall, Iceland

Goðafoss waterfall

If you’ve been to Iceland before, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of – or driven around – the Golden Circle. The driving tour is around 250km and one of the most popular ways for tourists to tick off the island’s most famous attractions: the capital, Reykjavik; Þingvellir National Park; Geysir geothermal area; and Gullfoss waterfall. British first-timers heading to Iceland this summer will probably make a beeline for this route – but you can experience Iceland’s multiple geysers, waterfalls and clifftops on a brand-new sightseeing trail that’s yet to be discovered by the masses: the Diamond Circle.

Launched in 2020, this driving circuit is a similar length to the Golden Circle but links five major Icelandic highlights: Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss, Ásbyrgi and Húsavík. Like a mini Niagara Falls, Goðafoss is a 12-metre-high waterfall cascading off a horseshoe-shaped cliff, while Mývatn is the country’s fourth-largest lake, surrounded by black lava fields and mini volcanoes called the Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters. Then it’s on to Europe’s most powerful waterfall – thundering Dettifoss – before the woodland-lined Ásbyrgi canyon and finishing with whale watching in Húsavík.

Forget the famous Route 1 circuit, and instead opt for Route 2

Breiðavík beach, in Iceland's Westfjords

Breiðavík beach, in Iceland’s Westfjords

Even more famous than the Golden Circle is Route 1. Iceland has one main road – a 1,322km ring road that encircles the whole island – and seeing as it takes at least a week to drive it in the summertime, it’s a popular way for visitors to explore the island nation in their hire car. But for an even wilder, more remote view of Iceland, there’s Route 2, also known as the Westfjords Way.

The 950km trail, which launched to visitors in autumn 2020, ventures into a region that tourists rarely go to. The Westfjords, a vast peninsula in the extreme northwest of Iceland, is one of the island’s most untouched regions – not least because it’s a considerable distance from the Golden Circle’s ‘must-see’ destinations. Sparse, dotted settlements coexist with nature on a dramatic scale: the Dynjandi series of waterfalls rivals Goðafoss and the pink sands of Rauðasandur offer a pristine alternative to the black sand of most other beaches in Iceland. The natural hot spring at Hellulaug offers unique views of the ocean as you bathe, and you might even catch a local festival at Isafjordur, the region’s largest town – of 2,600 inhabitants.

Swap Reykjavik for Húsavik

Husavik, Iceland

Husavik

The harbour town of Húsavik slid into the global consciousness in June 2020 when the film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire and Saga appeared on Netflix, starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Icelandic Eurovision hopefuls. Húsavik got a second moment in the limelight when the movie’s title track Húsavik was nominated for a best original song at the Oscars. With just 2,300 inhabitants, it’s more than likely that fans of the show will run into extras around town, and perhaps even some Ferrell-related anecdotes from his time there.

Netflix aside, coastal Húsavik should be on your travel radar. Known as the ‘whale capital of Iceland’, it’s home to 23 species of whales, including humpbacks and even the elusive blue whale. Whale watching tour boats in Skjálfandi Bay outnumber fishing vessels and puffin colonies line the water’s edge. Húsavik is also the oldest settlement in Iceland, with a rich cultural history to be explored at the Museum House and a local drama society constantly ranked among the best amateur theatre groups in Iceland. The town’s newest attraction? A geothermal sea bath, where you can soak your bones with views over the magnificent bay.

Go to the Sky Lagoon, not just the Blue Lagoon

Sky Lagoon Iceland

Sky Lagoon (Christopher Lund)

It’s almost certain that a trip to Iceland will feature the creative capital city Reykjavik, the hub of all international flights to Iceland and the world’s northernmost capital. And this year, there’s one must-visit attraction: a brand-new geothermal lagoon, on the North Atlantic Ocean’s edge just outside of downtown Reykjavik. The Sky Lagoon opened in spring 2021, offering visitors a soak in a warm, 21-metre-squared infinity pool with sweeping ocean views. Come nightfall, Iceland’s famously dark skies set the scene for stargazing or – if you’re lucky – a view of nature’s most spectacular light show, the Northern Lights. The Blue Lagoon just got some serious competition.

Warm up at Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption

Visit a volcanic eruption in Iceland

There are about 130 active and inactive volcanoes in Iceland, with around 30 volcanic systems bubbling under its surface. The most recent eruption was on the Reykjanes Peninsula – a Unesco Global Geopark since 2015 – in March. Things escalated in May, when lava fountains began to spray up to 460 metres high – that’s taller than the Empire State Building. The red glow of lava was visible from Reykjavik, 70 kilometres away.

Want to check out the volcano site? It’s easy enough, as long as visitors are aware that fast-changing weather and the possibility of new eruption cracks can make a trip there unpredictable. The site isn’t far from the Blue Lagoon – in fact, keen hikers can park up at the lagoon and walk for around five hours from there to the Geldingadalir Valley, where the eruption is ongoing. Just wear good hiking shoes and warm, waterproof clothing, and bring plenty of food and water. Telephone signal in the area is patchy and you’ll probably be grateful for a GPS device in case you get lost. But you’ll be rewarded with an awe-inspiring site: geology in the making. Watch the livestream of the eruption to get in the mood.

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Exploration in the idyllic Seychelles

Seychelles

The Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago found east of Africa in Indian Ocean, is rightly celebrated for its pristine beaches – the bays of white sand and turquoise waters are considered among the world’s best.

But this idyllic getaway is not just about relaxation – adventure and active holidays await those who want them, whether that’s spying wildlife on semi-submarine voyages and kayaking through pristine waters, hiking through dense rainforest or exploring La Digue by bike.

Here are some of the top active experiences for those hoping to combine beach time with adventure.

Watersports

The calm waters of the Seychelles’ protected marine biosphere support activities ranging from catamaran cruises and kayaking to snorkelling and diving. Among those with a particularly strong active focus is the recently opened, family-friendly Club Med Seychelles, on Saint Anne. Crystal Water Kayaks is an ecological kayaking business offering guided tours in 100 per cent transparent kayaks, located on the beautiful island of La Digue, which is known for its beaches, such as Anse Source d’Argent, dotted with granite boulders. The kayaks allow visitors to discover and explore the marine life below – some of the most diverse anywhere in the world – while enjoying the scenic and panoramic views of the coastline.

The Seychelles is known for being one of the Indian Ocean’s top diving and snorkelling destinations thanks to its startlingly clear, bath-warm waters, and dazzling marine life. Best for beginners are the shallow waters of Saint Pierre, which attracts colourful reef fish and the occasional turtle or shark. More experienced divers can discover sunken ships on Mahé, or head to Brissare Rocks to goggle fire coral, parrotfish and yellow snapper. But the real star attraction for divers is the wild Aldabra group of islands, home to myriad creatures including hammerhead sharks, turtles and sailfish.

Hiking

Away from the luscious beaches, Praslin and Mahé have jungle-clad mountainous interiors that merit exploration on foot. On Mahé, the 45-minute Anse Major trail is an easy route with pretty views that winds its way along the rocky coastline to the tiny tucked-away beach of Anse Major, where walkers can cool off with a snorkel or swim.

Seasoned ramblers may prefer the more challenging Morne Blanc trail in Morne Seychellois National Park, an uphill climb through an old tea plantation and mist forests to the mountain of Morne Blanc where you’ll be rewarded with epic views of the west coast.

Cycling

Step it up a gear by exploring the sleepy island of La Digue by bicycle. A short boat ride from Praslin and Mahé, this virtually car-free island is perfect for a day trip. Cycle to L’Union Estate, an old plantation where visitors can see giant land tortoises, admire the French colonial architecture, browse markets and relax on the sparkling white-sand beach of Anse Source D’Argent, dramatically backed by granite boulders and palms.

Nature

Eden-like nature reserve Vallée de Mai on the island of Praslin is a hit with nature lovers who can follow one of three shady walking trails through its ancient forest. The 48-acre (20 hectare) park earned its UNESCO World Heritage status for its abundance of endemic coco de mer palms, which produce the largest and heaviest seeds in the world. The untamed lush green jungle is a haven for wildlife not found anywhere else in the world, including tiger chameleons, rare black parrots, tree frogs, geckos and blue pigeons.

For an off-the-beaten-track travel experience of a lifetime, nothing beats a stay at Cosmoledo Eco Camp. Gloriously remote, the camp is sited on the uninhabited Wizard Island, one of 22 islands that make up Cosmoledo Atoll, reachable only via an international flight, a domestic flight and a one-hour boat ride. The lodge boasts impressive eco credentials: a maximum of 16 guests are allowed on the island at any time; there’s no bottled water; and rooms are housed within stylish shipping containers to minimise the impact on the environment. Guests can enjoy non-motorised water sports, including kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and catch-and-release fishing, as well as spotting the colourful birdlife: the island is home to the largest colony of three species of booby.

If you’re looking for destination inspiration then sandy stretches such as Anse Georgette, on Praslin; or Petite Anse, on the main island, Mahé, speak for themselves. While some favour the five-star offerings of international hotel brands such as Raffles, Hilton and Four Seasons, others gravitate towards the private island resorts such as Denis Island and Bird Island, with their timeless approach to barefoot luxury and nature conservation. In such times, the exclusive sanctuary offered by such ‘one island, one resort’ offerings has never seemed more attractive, with other aspirational offerings including Fregate Island Private and North Island, long a magnet for high-profile honeymooners such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Not that you need to break the bank to ‘get away from it all’. Take diminutive La Digue. Setting foot on the sleepy, unhurried shores of this refreshingly carefree, and largely car-free, island, easily accessible from Praslin or Mahé, is like journeying to a simpler, more innocent time – albeit backed by world-class beaches and resorts.

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10 reasons to visit Gibraltar this summer

Tourism between the UK and the British overseas territory is experiencing the beginning of a boom, says Florence Derrick

The tiny Mediterranean peninsula of just six square km is enjoying a moment in the sun, as it’s been added to the UK’s green list for travel. Here are 10 reasons to go there this summer.

1. It’s the only country in the world that’s fully vaccinated against Covid-19

In fact, Gibraltar has a confusing 115 per cent vaccination rate, as several thousand of its cross-border workers from Spain got vaccinated there, too. After a winter of high coronavirus cases, the country’s vaccination rollout began in March, and has been a resounding success – its hospital’s Covid ward has only seen two cases since March 14. With the exception of mandatory mask-wearing indoors, normal life has all but resumed in Gibraltar – a welcome relief for British travellers still reeling from the harsh, recent restrictions of the UK’s third lockdown.

2. You can spot dolphins on a safari

You don’t have to travel to New Zealand to see wild pods of dolphins surfing the waves. Dolphin safari boats take tourists from the coast of Gibraltar several times a day, with some companies offering a 99 per cent success rate of seeing dolphins. Uncrowded boats, sea air and some of nature’s friendliest inhabitants? Don’t mind if we do.

3. Its grizzliest historical site is now an al-fresco dining spot

In the shadow of the famous Rock of Gibraltar, Grand Casemates Square is Gibraltar’s largest main plaza, with row after row of open-air cafe terraces basking in the lunchtime sun. Now the gateway to tourism and nightlife in Gibraltar, Casemates wasn’t always so much fun. Dating back to the city’s original foundations in 1160, the square was infamous for being the main location for public executions under British rule, until the practise was stopped in 1864.

4. It has beaches to rival the Costa del Sol

The idea of a fly-and-flop might conjure up images of Marbella and Málaga. But Gibraltar can hold its own when it comes to sea and sand. There’s Eastern Beach, the country’s largest stretch of sand, with calm, shallow waters and all-day sunshine. Catalan Bay (known as ‘La Caleta’) is a locals’ favourite, lined with the colourful houses of the local fishing village, and Sandy Bay is golden with sand imported from the Sahara Desert.

5. You can see Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic all at once

No trip to Gibraltar would be complete without a trip up its famous Rock. In the protected Gibraltar Nature Reserve, you can travel up on a guided bus tour or taxi from the town centre, or on the cable car. Get up there early to take in the views of North Africa to one side – Morocco is just across the water – and Europe on the other. Then, make the most of being on the Rock by exploring one of the four trail networks that have been developed there: the ‘Nature Lover’, the ‘History Buff’, the ‘Thrill Seeker’ or the ‘Monkey Trail’.

6. There’s an underwater city of shipwrecks to explore

The Strait of Gibraltar is a graveyard of 35 shipwrecks, and home to a huge diversity of marine life milling around Roman anchors, Napoleonic ships and ancient military artefacts. It’s a first-rate scuba diving spot for exploring the underwater flora and fauna – from schools of boxfish and damselfish to cuttlefish, octopus and electric, Atlantic torpedo rays.

7. You can e-bike through the Nature Reserve for a stress-free ascent

Cycling to the top of the Rock in midsummer heat sounds a bit exhausting. One of the latest, popular ways to explore the nature reserve and its majestic viewpoints is by e-bike – an eco-friendly and hamstring-saving alternative to a taxi or walking. Options include a guided tour of the Rock itself, ascending 400m with minimal effort, as well as a day tour of the whole of Gibraltar or private rental.

8. You can monkey around in the Apes Den

How could we mention Gibraltar without talking about the monkeys? The Rock’s most famous residents are the pack of macaques that live among, and cause minor havoc for, the local residents and tourists. Europe’s only wild monkey population, the monkeys originally came from Morocco, just across the Strait. Many of the macaques hang out at the appropriately named Apes Den, an open space located at the cable car’s middle station. The monkeys here are unusually tame and inquisitive, but beware, they’ll take any opportunity to swipe your bag or your snacks right out of your hands, and wild animals can always bite or scratch. Keep your distance as much as you can, while enjoying the view and their mischievous antics.

9. You can go to a concert in a natural amphitheatre

One of Gibraltar’s must-visit spots is St Michael’s Cave: a series of limestone caves in the upper rock, 300m above sea level in the Rock of Gibraltar. While you can visit anytime to check out the impressive stalactites and stalagmites of the caverns – with dissolved rock dripping down like candle wax – you should keep an eye out for concerts, which are often held in an auditorium in the cave’s largest chamber, known as Cathedral Cave. It has hosted beauty pageants, ballet performances, light shows and rock bands.

10. Thrill-seekers can get their kicks at Gibraltar’s high-rise attractions

Got a head for heights? You’ll need it on Gibraltar’s Skywalk. The steel-and-glass walkway on the upper rock sits at 340m above sea level (that’s higher than the top of The Shard), made of enough thick glass to cover four tennis courts. It might have a see-through base, but the walkway is strong enough to withstand the weight of five Indian elephants, or 340 people – and only 50 are allowed on at a time. If that’s not enough of a thrill, the Windsor Suspension Bridge is part of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, too. It takes guts to cross the 71m-long bridge, suspended over a 50m-deep gorge.