COVID-19: latest update

by Laura Gelder

Exodus Travels extends departure extension

Exodus Travels is extending the suspension of all its tours until June 30 this year as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The tour operator had previously suspended departures before 16 May 2020.

All agent partners with passengers booked on tours affected by this suspension are being contacted by Exodus Travels’ team and will be advised of the available options.

Sam Seward, Managing Director at Exodus Travels, said: “Ensuring customer safety and enjoyment is our primary focus at Exodus Travels. We have therefore taken the decision to suspend further tours in the best interests of our customers, our leaders and all our partners. I’d like to thank our industry colleagues for their understanding and continued support during this unprecedented time. We look forward to returning to normal operations as soon as it is safe to do so and welcoming customers on new departure dates in 2020 or 2021.”

Grand American Adventures & TrekAmerica announces proactive cancellations

Due to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe, Grand American Adventures and TrekAmerica are proactively cancelling all departures up until June 30 this year.

All passengers booked have been contacted and given the option to re-book their holiday.

Jet2.com donates snack boxes

Jet2.com has donated its airline snack boxes  to charities around its Manchester base: Otley Action for Older People, Age UK’s Manchester Resource Centre and SPIN (Supporting People in Need) Manchester, a charitable organisation that feeds, shelters and supports both the homeless and people in need.

The snack boxes, which would normally be purchased by customers flying with Jet2.com, contain chocolate flapjacks, pretzels, cheese and crackers.

Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said: “We want to support the community in any way that we can during this difficult time, and we hope these snack boxes will help those who are in need. We are very proud to be doing our bit to help people in Yorkshire and in Greater Manchester.”

Uk airports ask government for help

According to the Airport Operators Association 'the UK government is falling behind other major economies in supporting its aviation industry'.

The press release issued by the AOA today (Tuesday March 31) says that figures from IATA estimate that the UK could see 113.5m fewer passengers travelling through its airports in 2020 – a drop of more than a third compared to 2019.

Chief Executive of the AOA, Karen Dee said: “As passenger volumes approach zero, airports are downscaling operations across the UK and in some cases have announced temporary closures. Without passengers, an airport cannot run sustainably – yet it is vital for lifeline services, freight and other critical services such as post, search & rescue and maintenance and operation of offshore wind and North Sea oil & gas that airports stay open.

“Other countries have recognised this – it is time for the UK Government to step up to the plate.”

British Airways grounds Gatwick fleet

British Airways will suspend all flights to and from London's Gatwick airport due to the coronavirus.

BA told staff it was facing a challenging market environment in "unprecedented circumstances", according to an email seen by the BBC.

The airline is still flying from its main hub, Heathrow, on a reduced timetable.

Repatriation of Brits begins

This week the UK government will be begin flying home tens of thousands of British tourists who are stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic

Airlines including British Airways, Virgin and Easyjet are among airlines working with the government to repatriate Brits and the government has also pledged £75 million to charter special flights to bring home UK nationals from countries where commercial flights are unavailable.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said an "unprecedented" number of UK travellers were trying to get home".

According to the BBC, 'under the new arrangement, airlines would be responsible for getting stranded passengers home where commercial routes remain an option. Where commercial routes do not exist, government financial support will enable'.

Aitken Spence addresses UK travel industry

Speaking directly to the UK travel industry, Susith Jayawickrama, Joint Managing Director of Aitken Spence Hotels which has properties in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, said: “We want to reassure the UK travel trade that we are available to them at any time as our sales team continue to provide trade support online and by telephone. We will continue to keep our UK trade partners updated on any additional measures taken in the future too.”

Aitken Spence Hotels has also implemented a number of preventive measures at its resorts and hotels following global health and safety recommendations to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

Seabourn extends its stand-still

The luxury cruise line has extended the pause operations for its five cruise ships for an additional 30 days to include sailings scheduled to depart through to May 14 this year.

The brand had announced an initial 30-day pause on March 14 but decided on a ‘proactive response’ to the COVID-19 pandemic. The line will be communicating changes to voyages scheduled to depart in the extension window with all guests and travel agents.

Seabourn guests on impacted voyages will receive a 125% refund of the fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit, which can be applied toward any future cruise up to December 31, 2021. Guests can also choose a 100% refund.

Agents will be sent communications on how to manage cancellations and compensation online.


easyJet grounds its fleet

The low cost carrier released a statement on Monday March 30 saying that 'as a result of the unprecedented travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the implementation of national lockdowns across many European countries, easyJet has fully grounded its entire fleet of aircraft'. 

The statment revealed that easyJet has operated 650 rescue flights to date, returning home more than 45,000 stranded customers, the last of which took place on Sunday March 29. 

The airline says it will' continuously evaluate the situation based on regulations and demand'.

Its cabin crew is furloughed under he government's Cronavirus Job Retention Scheme from April 1 for a period of two months.


St Kitts and Nevis close borders

St Kitts and Nevis has now officially closed its borders and will not be accepting any commercial airline flights, ships or yachts into its seaports or airports until April 7. Nationals and residents overseas will now need to remain offshore until the border closing is lifted.

There are currently two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the island nation but no confirmed cases on Nevis

Jadine Yarde, CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority (NTA) said: “The decision to close our borders does not come without serious consideration as tourism is hugely important to Nevis, however, our highest priority is the health and well-being of our people. We wish the best for all those interested in Nevis and we hope to see you when the time is right for us to accept visitors again.

"Nevis will launch a campaign to convey that we are all in this together - #We’reWithYou - and that the island looks forward to again welcoming visitors in the near future. Nevis will be challenging past visitors to share their notable moments and memories on the island while using the hashtag #SeeYouSoonNevis.

ABTA offers free membership

ABTA is offering its members a breathing space during the coronavirus crisis by offering free membership for six months.

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: "ABTA is altering its policy for the subscriptions year from July 1 2020.  All current members will be offered free membership for six months to help see them through the current crisis and into the anticipated recovery period later in the year.

“ABTA will continue to provide support in every way we can. In the meantime, Members are encouraged to stay up to date via ABTA Today, on the Member zone of the website and through our weekly conference calls, which are designed to help address pressing issues.”

Payment of the 50% discount is deferred until 2021, and will be due in two instalments. Members will be asked to pay £100 on July 1 to maintain their membership, for administrative purposes and to keep their direct debit active and valid.

 

Chancellor reveals helps for self-employed

Rishi Sunak says self-employed people struggling during the coronavirus crisis can apply to have 80% of their monthly wages covered by the government.

It will be calculated using average monthly profits over the last three financial years. As with the furlough scheme, support will be capped at £2,500 per month, will initially last three months and is back dated to march. The money won't be in bank accounts until the start of June.

The scheme will only be open to those who are already self-employed, have a self-assessment tax return for 2019 and have trading profits up to £50,000 a year.

The Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme comes after the government announced a six-month delay for tax payments through the self-assessment system.

The chancellor said this will cover 95% of the self-employed who make more than half of their income from self-employment.

 
Antigua to close its airport tonight

The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda will close its V.C. Bird International Airport to all incoming commercial traffic, from midnight (local time) on Thursday March 26, in order to prevent COVID-19 coming to the islands.

Commercial air carriers that choose to fly empty aircraft to Antigua after Thursday, will be allowed to enter in order to collect citizens of their countries for return to their originating cities.

Poseidon Expeditions suspends operations

The expedition cruise line is suspending cruise operations aboard its 114-passenger expedition vessel Sea Spirit for the rest of March and April. Postponed until 2021 are a sub-charter in the mid-Atlantic and a cruise along the coastline of Portugal, Spain and France.

Steve Wellmeier, Managing Director of the company’s US office, said: “Poseidon remains committed to its schedule of cruises in the Arctic this season. But we are giving travel partners the benefit of the doubt in rescheduling their summer cruises. Those passengers with existing reservations for the upcoming season may re-book or transfer their booking to a 2021 Arctic departure, beginning from 60 days and up to seven days prior to the 2020 scheduled departure date. Final payment for 2020 Arctic voyages is pushed back from 90 days to 60 days prior to departure, and deposits on new bookings for 2020 Arctic programmes are reduced from 20% to 10% of the cruise fare.”

The company has updated its Coronavirus Travel Policy, here.

Hays Travel furloughs majority of staff

Less than six months months after purchasing 555 ex-Thomas Cook retail stores, John and Irene Hays have used the Government's Coronavirus Work Rentention Scheme to furlough most of its workers.

Last week Hays Travel reduced working hours for 880 out of 5,700 of its workers to zero but on March 26 they announced they would furlough most of their staff using "all measures available to protect our industry and jobs”.

Kuoni launches new central call centre

Powered by a 40-strong team of its personal travel experts, all working from home, Kuoni's call centre is open to help  customers with existing bookings and 'reshape their holiday plans' during the the COVID-19 crisis.  

Kuoni closed all its 48 stores this week anbut has reassured customers that they will continue to get seamless first-class service and support to help manage their travel plans. 

It follows the news that the tour operator reinstated all 70 of the employees it made redunant last week, using the government scheme which pays 80% of wages to furloughed workers.

Air Tahiti Nui suspends service

French Polynesia's national carrier has announced it will suspend most flights for one month, as of March 28, in response to restrictions placed by different governments on transportation to and from French Polynesia.

The remaining scheduled flights are to allow non-resident travellers to return back to their country and the updated flight schedule can be found here.

 

Qatar Airways keeps skies open, for now

Qatar Airways has increased its services in an effort to get people home during the COVID-19 crisis.

On March 24 Qatar Airways put 10,000 extra seats on  its network, provided charter services to Europe and the US from Asia, addded extra flights to Paris, Perth and Dublin from Doha and upgrading services to Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Perth with the addition of the Airbus A380 on those routes.

According to the airline, figures for the last seven days show load factors of over 80% for flights to the UK, France and Germany, with a fall to 36%  for outbound services from those countries, illustrating the demand for homeward travel.

“Qatar Airways is currently operating flights to 75 destinations, though this number may reduce as nations introduce tighter restrictions,” said a Qatar Airways spokesperson

A full list of operational routes can be seen a here.

 
Air Europa creates agent update page

Due to the changing situation regarding COVID-19 Air Europa has created a specific landing page for its trade partners, to offer our support and clarification.

In addition to updated information on the status of its flights, agents can find useful information like alternative options available to passengers, as well as instructions on how to process travel vouchers or manage reissues.

Access it here.

Antigua and Barbuda urges visitors to reschedule

The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority has released a video message from its CEO, Colin James, on COVID-19. In it, he urges visitors to rebook their holidays for a later date. Watch the video here.

Titan customers make aviation history

Titan travellers are set to make aviation history as they travel back to the UK on the first temporary non-stop flight from Darwin, Australia to the United Kingdom.

Due to transit restrictions in Singapore following the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Qantas will temporarily operate its flagship A380 Sydney to London service via Darwin. After refueling, QF1 will depart from Darwin International Airport  and complete the non-stop journey to London Heathrow in nearly 17 hours.

QF1 will continue to operate its temporary route from Sydney to London Heathrow via Darwin until the end of March, after which Qantas is suspending all international flights until at least the end of May 2020.   

 

Aegean suspends all international flights

As part of the terms and conditions, flights cancelled on/before 10th March 2020 are eligible for an involuntary refund or exchange into a credit voucher valid for redemption during the 12 months following its date of issue. 

Flights cancelled on or after March 11, 2020 are eligible for rebooking at a later date to the same destination, rerouting at a later date to any other A3/OA destination, exchange into a credit voucher valid for redemption during the 12 months following its date of issue or to be used as an open ticket for future use to any destination on the Aegean  network. 

 

Qatar Airways amends ‘Travel with Confidence’ policy

Qatar Airways has amended its ‘Travel with Confidence’ and flight disruption policies to give customers more flexibility.

Customers who choose to receive a travel voucher for future use will receive the full unutilized value of their ticket plus an additional 10% of the fare cost as an added value offer.

Customers also have the option for a refund back to the form of payment they used when purchasing their tickets - the administration of this refund will take up to 30 days to process. 

Qatar Airways spokesperson says: "We continue to operate more than 150 flights per day so that as many people as possible can get home safely to their loved ones. Vouchers for future travel continue to be the most expedient way of helping customers while we manage the backlog."

 

Aer Lingus offers voucher plus 10%

Passengers booked to travel on Aer Lingus between now and May 31 can apply for a voucher for the full value of their travel, including taxes and charges, plus an additional 10%.

The voucher can be used to book travel to / from any destination on the Aer Lingus network over the next five years.

Guests can apply for the voucher online at aerlingus.com.

 

If Only adapts operations

Tour operator If Only will be temporarily closed today (Tuesday, March 24), to focus on the urgent repatriation of its overseas customers, and to allow time for all staff members to be fully set up working from home.

The operator asks that any urgent queries on March 24 be sent via email to info@ifonly.net with the subject line ‘URGENT’, to be actioned with a call back from a member of the team as soon as possible.

If calling, agents should use the standard reservations number – 0141 955 4000 – and leave a message. From March 25, If Only will be open for enquiries as usual.

The If Only marketing team has adapted its communications to provide agents with inspiring offers for late 2020 and 2021, encouraging the public to ‘Rebook their holiday. Reconnect the world’, and support the travel industry at this challenging time.

 

Turquoise Holidays releases offers

Specialist luxury tour operator Turquoise Holidays has released a series of offers to help agents encourage their clients to support the travel industry.

James Bell, Co-Founder and Managing Director, commented: “I've been in the travel industry since I was boy, stacking the shelves with brochures in my father’s travel agency in East Lothian, Scotland. Never I have seen, heard or witnessed anything as seismic as the effect Covid-19 is having on the travel industry today. My fellow founders, directors and I have spent the last 18 years building a travel business I am so proud of. It brought me to tears when addressing the company this morning about the graveness of the situation we face. Our fabulous reputation is down to working with a team of staff who are not only inspirational and professional, but unfailingly loyal to our brand.

“Lots of people have asked me how they can help us and while we recognise it's a difficult time for everyone, the one thing people can do is postpone their Turquoise holiday, rather than cancel. We are available Monday-Saturday, 9am to 5pm. Let us be your friend and guide.”

 

Etihad stops all flights

Etihad Airways has suspended all flight to, from and via Abu Dhabi. The suspension begins at 23.59 (local time) on March 25 and will last for an initial 14 days.

 

TUI updates travel promise

As part of TUI's travel promise, agents can amend any existing TUI, Marella Cruises or First Choice package holiday travelling before June 30, 2020 to any holiday that's currently on sale.

The changes can be made free of charge up until seven days before the original departure date, until May 31, 2020. 

Agents that book a holiday that's cheaper than the one originally booked, will be refunded the difference. If a more expensive holiday is booked the difference in price will still need to be paid.

This policy is in place until May 31, 2020. So, if a holiday departs after June 8, 2020 you must make any amends on or before May 31, 2020.

Agents can amend bookings using the Manage my Booking page.

 

G Adventures suspends all tours until May 31

G Adventures has further suspended all tours departing up to and including May 31, 2020, with the exception of its ‘Norwegian Arctic Encompassed’ trip departing May 29th.

Any traveller booked and fully paid on a tour departing between now and May 31, 2020 will receive a 110% travel credit on all booked tour services, including pre- and post-night accommodation and transfers, to be used on any tour departing up to two years from the end of the month of their tour’s suspension.

G Adventures is advising travellers with flight bookings to contact their insurance and air providers directly for details on compensation.

Agents with questions are asked to contact itd sales team by telephone or email: 0344 272 0000 or experience@gadventures.com

 

LATA calls for holidaymakers to postpone rather than cancel

 

Colin Stewart, Chairman of the Latin American Travel Association, said: “On behalf of the Latin America Travel Industry and the wider travel industry, we would like to urge the British public to support the travel industry by postponing rather than cancelling their holidays.

"The travel industry is one of the sectors that has been impacted most immediately by this crisis and our objective is to keep as many people in business as possible. In Latin America and around the world, many communities rely on tourism. We are also trying to support our partners in the region by giving them some security for the future.

At LATA, we are doing everything we can to support our industry but rescheduling instead of cancelling will make a huge difference.”

 

 

CMV undertakes repatriation operation

Cruise & Maritime Voyages is transporting 907 passengers, including 602 British nationals, back to the UK following a successful repatriation operation.

Vasco da Gama successfully transfered 239 passengers onto Columbus while off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.

The transfer follows the recent CMV announcement on March 13 that all cruise operations were being suspended and the CMV fleet would be returning to their home ports.

Columbus will now voyage back to the UK via Sri Lanka, arriving back in Tilbury on April 13.

 

 

Hurtigruten suspends operations until end of April

Hurtigruten is to pause its global expedition cruise operations through April 28 and their Norwegian coastal cruises through April 19.

Guests who have their voyages cancelled because of the temporary suspension of operations will be offered a Hurtigruten Future Cruise Voucher in the amount of 125% of amounts paid (including fees). They will also get a 10% discount on any future Hurtigruten cruise - Expedition or Norwegian Coastal - from July 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021, with a flexible rebooking date.

Guests booked on voyages through September 30 2020 are offered rebooking, without any rebooking fee, to any future Hurtigruten cruise - Expedition or Norwegian Coastal - for departures between July 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021.

Says Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam: “At the same time, in cooperation with the Norwegian government, we will deploy two of our ships in an amended domestic schedule, bringing critical supplies and goods to local communities on the Norwegian coast at this time of crisis.”

 

 

Singapore Airlines’ skeletal fleet

Singapore Airlines is axing around 96% of flight capacity between now and the end of April and is grounding the majority of its aircraft.
The airline says it will ground about 138 Singapore Airlines and SilkAir airlines, leaving less than 10 aircraft flying.
The SIA Group’s low-cost carrier, Scoot, is also suspending most of its network.

 

1 million travel jobs lost every day, says WTTC

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) says that one million jobs are being lost every day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the London-based international organisation, which represents the global travel and tourism private sector, the growing job losses are affecting every level of the industry and are gathering pace, as countries go into lockdown to tackle the virus.

WTTC says the vast closure of hotels, suspension of flights and cruises and growing global travel bans are having a catastrophic ‘domino effect’ hitting huge numbers of suppliers. It says small and medium sized businesses in the sector, such as tour operators, travel agents and sole-traders, are especially vulnerable.

An analysis of WTTC's members, who represent every level of the sector, shows that up to 50 million jobs throughout the world are at immediate risk, with up to 320 million jobs being impacted by loss of business.

 

 

SAA stops all international flights until May 31

South African Airways (SAA) has announced that it will immediately suspend all international operations until May 31 2020 in response to the government’s travel ban on foreign nationals from countries at high-risk from COVID-19m which includes the UK.

SAA will continue to operate services on its regional and domestic routes.

 

Fiji Airways suspends international route network

Fiji Airways, Fiji’s National Airline, today announced that it will suspend all international flights until the end of May, with the exception of twice-weekly services between Singapore and Nadi.

Fiji Airways will operate the last return Auckland-Nadi service on Sunday March 22. The final South Pacific return services between Nadi or Suva and Nuku’alofa, Honiara and Funafuti will operate on Saturday March 21.  The final Nadi – Honolulu flight will operate on Sunday March 22 with the return on Monday. 

Return services between Nadi and Brisbane, Melbourne, Christchurch, Wellington, Hong Kong, Tokyo (Narita), Apia, Tarawa, Christmas Island (Kiritimati), Vava’u, San Francisco are suspended immediately.

 

Cathay Pacific keeps London route

Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will reduce capacity by 96% across the passenger network in April and May – although Cathay will for now continue to operate three flights a week between Heathrow and Hong Kong.

Both carriers intend to operate a bare skeleton passenger flight schedule in April and May, but say their ability to maintain even this limited schedule will depend on whether more travel restrictions are imposed by governments around the world. 

Besides its London service, Cathay Pacific will also operate three flights a week to 11 other destinations: Los Angeles, Vancouver, Tokyo (Narita), Taipei, New Delhi, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and Sydney. 

Cathay Dragon will operate three flights per week to three destinations: Beijing, Shanghai (Pudong), and Kuala Lumpur.

 

 

Midcounties Co-Op agents to be re-deployed

Agents from Co-operative Travel’s branches are being temporarily re-deployed to other divisions of Midcounties Co-operative’s portfolio of businesses, mainly Co-operative Food.

Co-operative Travel, which has 57 branches across England, will temporarily close its high street agencies to customers. A number of the branches will be turned into virtual call centres or administration centres, enabling the company to continue to look after customer enquiries and bookings over email, phone and social media.

Said Alistair Rowland, Chief Retail Officer for Midcounties: “Our Travel division is suffering along with the rest of the travel industry but the teams in our food business are extremely busy right now. It therefore makes sense for us, where the locations match up, to temporarily move our Co-operative Travel team members to our Co-operative Food branches.”

“This move will help to protect our Travel colleagues’ job and finances at this challenging time, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver the high levels of service to our Travel members and customers, albeit by telephone and technology in the short-term.”

Ssaid Natalie Turner, Head of Branches for Co-operative Travel: “When the time is right, Co-operative Travel will re-open all branches, backed by the biggest media launch in the company’s history. Midcounties Co-operative has plans to really drive the Co-op Holidays brand, put travel at the heart of its member reward programme and dramatically increase its digital capability.

 

Finnair to operate a skeleton network April to June

Finland's national airline has published a new, scaled back flight timetable.

Due to theconstant updates of travel restrictions, the traffic program is under review continually and can change at any time. The latest advice is here.

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