Travel agents’ dismay at confusion over holiday advice

Local travel agents are dismayed over conflicting information from politicians about whether it’s safe to travel to certain holiday destinations.

Holidays are now allowed in a limited number of destinations on the Government’s green list meaning there’s no need to quarantine on return from your holiday.

But there’s been confusing information from politicians about whether it’s advisable to travel to countries on the amber list.

David Gambier, managing director of Great Experience Travel Group, in Witney, said: “The situation is very confusing, and the Government’s continuing conflicting statements are doing nothing to make the situation easier for us to explain to our clients.

“I’m sure that when some PR consultant came up with the traffic light idea, it must have sounded fairly straightforward – red means stop, green means go. However, dependent upon the context, amber can either mean get ready to stop, get ready to go, or – if it is pedestrian crossing, flashing amber means that you can proceed with caution.

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“In that context, it was obvious that there was going to be confusion.”

He said the Government started off badly by including countries on their green list that were either closed to visitors, such as Australia and New Zealand, or are entirely inaccessible such as The South Sandwich Islands or Tristan da Cunha.

There were also countries such as Israel on the green list that had an Foreign Office advisory against travel on security grounds.

Mr Gambier said: “At the same time, the FCO reduced their Travel Advisory level for Kos, Rhodes, Zante, and the Canaries, while the Department for Transport had them on their amber list.”

Natalie Turner, head of branches for Your Co-op Travel, based in Thame, Carterton, Chipping Norton, Headington and Kidlington, said: “The mixed messages from the Government over the traffic light system, particularly around travelling to countries on the “amber” list has caused real confusion among holidaymakers.

“When the traffic light system was announced, on 9 April, we saw a big uptick in holiday bookings for this summer and for summer 2022, as consumer confidence soared.

“We were expecting another spike when the “green list” was revealed and international travel resumed on 17 May, but we’re yet to see that and it’s because the number of countries on the “green list” right now is very limited and there is confusion about the “amber list”, which is not instilling the expected levels of consumer confidence in travelling at the moment.”

Mr Gambier said the advice he is giving clients is that they can book to travel to the green list countries that are ‘open’ to visitors which are Iceland, Gibraltar, and Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira.

They can also book to travel to amber list countries, which includes large parts of Europe, provided that the FCO Advisory level permits the travel agent to sell them.

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He added: “We are currently warning against booking to travel at short notice, departing within a week, as there are potential issues with securing the correct tests and completing the required paperwork and formalities.”

However, he said he thought that by July/August, and certainly September/October, travel should have returned to ‘normal’, and by the end of June, the list of countries that UK residents will be able to visit is likely to be considerably larger.

Mr Gambier said one issue that he thinks will contribute towards the attraction of booking to travel overseas again is the fact that the cost of UK staycations is rocketing.

“We’ve done quotes for clients indicating that a week in a holiday lodge in the UK in August for a family can be costing upwards of £4,000, and three nights in a hotel in Cornwall was costing more than £1,300 – and breakfast wasn’t even included.”

And Ms Turner said: “Our advice to customers is to book with an experienced travel agent, who can help navigate them through the complexities of the traffic light system, the FCDO advice – which is not necessarily in line with the Government’s traffic light system – and the various testing requirements.”

Both agents emphasised the importance of booking with an operator that offers flexibility.

Ms Turner said: “This week has also seen the first cruise sailing from the UK, demonstrating that there are now even more options for holidaying closer to home this year which, of course, a good travel agent can advise on.”

Boris Johnson recently sought to clarify confusion over the “amber list” of countries, including most European destinations.

He insisted the position was “very clear” and people should only travel to an amber list country “for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member”.

He told MPs: “You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”

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