//What ‘air bridges’ mean for summer holidays

What ‘air bridges’ mean for summer holidays

The industry will need grander plans and more support if it is to weather the impact of Covid-19 but, for now, air bridges – which allow quarantine-free travel between two nations – are a good start. By Anthony Pearce

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, infuriated the travel industry back in May when he declared the summer holiday to be cancelled, but – finally – it looks as if Brits might get abroad from July. The government has announced the lifting of quarantine measures to a number of EU destinations, lending support to the idea that a quick summer season can be rescued by short-haul tourism. Bilateral talks began in June about ‘travel corridors’ – sometimes referred to as ‘air bridges’ – and include Portugal, Spain, Greece and France. The move gives a green light to British holidaymakers desperate to get abroad and comes after months of inaction and obfuscation from the government, despite calls from ABTA and other industry leaders for clarity. At the height of it, in June, a number of destinations – including Spain – said they were lifting quarantine restrictions for British travellers, yet the Foreign & Commonwealth Office retained its advice against all but essential travel. 

In one of the most prominent signs of a partial recovery, Tui outlined its plans to restart holidays from the UK from July 11. It will begin flying to eight destinations in Greece, the Balearics and the Canaries from three UK airports – Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham – under “phase one” of the company’s plan. A statement from Tui said that up to 8,300 holidaymakers could travel on up to 44 flights per week to Ibiza, Palma, Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes, Lanzarote and Tenerife. By the end of July, the company plans to be flying from five UK airports and be offering a choice of up to 19 destinations. The company has also implemented new health and safety measures including digital check-in, making face masks mandatory on all flights, increased cleaning protocols and social distancing at hotels. In its resorts it has set up hand sanitising stations, while restaurants will serve fewer guests but be open for longer. In many properties table service will also replace buffets.

Andrew Flintham, managing director, said: “We’re really excited to be talking about taking people on holiday again; we’ve been working really hard behind the scenes and we’re ready to start taking holidaymakers away again in just a few weeks’ time. Initially, we are focussing on destinations where we anticipate air bridges being in place, such as Greece
and Spain. But we know many Brits are eager to travel again, and we have ambitious plans to rapidly increase our programme as soon as possible, to offer even more choice when it comes to holidaying this summer.”

Where will Brits head to?
Although much is likely to change – depending on the whims of the government and R-rates home and abroad – green shoots may finally be appearing, providing hope to the long-term future of the travel industry. Cirium, a travel data and analytics company that tracks airline data, gives a good indication of where Brits are likely to head to this summer. It notes that the countries that will be best served by UK airports in July are, unsurprisingly, Spain, Greece, Italy France and Turkey. The most popular destinations are Palma de Mallorca (with 1,396 flights currently scheduled, which is 19 per cent down on flights scheduled on this route in 2019), Amsterdam (948 flights, down 28 per cent); Malaga (928 flights, down 26 per cent); Faro (822 flights, down 27 per cent); and Alicante (809 flights, down 27 per cent). The Dutch capital is anomaly in northern Europe, which has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of flights – spared some reducation in numbers due to Schiphol’s position as Europe’s major hub. 

Although the volume of passengers is down considerably, it may make for familiar reading in terms of the destinations Britons are travelling to, with Turkey’s Gold Coast, the Algarve and the Canary and Greek islands likely to be among old favourites returned to. Aside from a potential scramble to get away in July and August, there is also talk of an October half-term boost as families who shied away from summer flights decide to head on their holidays. The still-warm south-eastern reaches of Europe may well be the major beneficiaries. 

Some holiday types, such as villa stays, are likely to fair particularly well. Tristan Symondson, managing director of CV Villas, said: “With social distancing, hygiene and cleanliness top of holidaymakers’ agendas, a villa holiday is the perfect choice of trip when we are able to travel again.” He notes that a villa offers a “home away from home, where features such as swimming pools, spacious gardens, games, home entertainment and well-equipped kitchens mean that guests don’t even need to leave the property if they prefer not to do so”.

Long-term prospects
The government’s 14-day quarantine policy – announced as many European countries began to relax their own restrictions, which had been in place since March or April – has been widely criticised by the travel industry, resulting in British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair launching joint legal action. Indeed, in June, Cirium recorded an uptick in tracked passenger jet activity for Western Europe-based operators, led by France, Italy and Germany where travel restrictions were progressively relaxed, but UK airlines were found to be lagging behind due to the Home Office’s quarantining measures.

The government has said it does not want to “import” cases of coronavirus, but the UK – where infection rates remain higher than in many other countries – may pose more of a risk to other countries that they do to us. 

With new outbreaks throughout the world an inevitability – and travellers carrying the risk of spreading the virus across borders – the long-term future of air corridors is not guaranteed. A scenario where travellers are asked to either quarantine themselves or to pay for a test – a policy adapted at Vienna airport – appears to be one logical option in a world waiting for a vaccine. Either way, the current move to allow travel – even if only to a handful of countries – is incredibly welcome.

The July 2020 issue of ABTA Magazine is out now. In this issue, we consider the impact of two recent government announcements: the reopening of the hospitality sector and the proposed formation of ‘air bridges’. With these policies likely to encourage Britons to travel domestically and to select European countries, can we finally see the green shoots of recovery? Nathaniel Cramp explores Cornwall’s lesser-known beauty spots; Jenny Southan of Globetrender shares her insights into travel in the age of Covid-19; while, the Jamaican tourism board tell us the story of the country’s reopening. Click on the cover to read the magazine in full.