Covid Scotland: Scottish travel agents see 'huge surge' in holiday bookings after Covid changes
Travel agencies in Scotland have reported a surge in bookings as restrictions ease and holidaymakers seek out winter sun.
It was announced this week that countries including South Africa, Mexico and Thailand would be removed from the red list on Monday, meaning travellers arriving from those destinations will no longer need to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel.
And yesterday, the Foreign Office confirmed it was lifting its advice against non-essential travel to 51 countries and territories, making it easier for travellers to obtain travel insurance.
With changes to allow eligible fully-vaccinated travellers to use a cheaper and quicker lateral flow test for their post-arrival test – rather than the PCR version – expected by the end of the month, holiday bookings are now surging.
The Travel Company Edinburgh has seen its “best week of the year” following the news. The company is expecting bookings for The Maldives and South Africa to pick up even more through the weekend.
Ken McNab, director, said: “If I was to compare this to throughout the year this has probably been our best week for the whole year.
"We are doing five times the volume we were doing at the beginning of the year. We’ve had a massive catch-up.
"The difficulty now though is there’s a rush on for Christmas and with the price increases it’s making it difficult for people to afford them.
"There should be enough products out there for us to satisfy the customer but it’s coming late in the year and I hope they don’t rush to spend their money now because some won’t be able to afford a holiday next year.”
Barrhead Travel said that the removal of Mexico from the Red List would see a “huge surge” in holiday bookings this weekend in areas such as Cancun, a popular winter-sun destination.
President Jacqueline Dobson said “The confirmation that just a handful of countries will remain on the Red List is a resounding relief for our industry.
"Demand for late bookings is still growing and we expect this announcement will prompt more people to confirm long-awaited plans.”
She said the red list changes coupled with the new, simplified travel guidance, made travel more appealing for holidaymakers:
“Some people have not been able to get away on their annual holiday abroad for over two years so the demand for travel is there, particularly now things are much more accessible compared with earlier this summer.
“Our winter market represents half of our bookings right now and, as airlines and operators react to the announcements by adding additional capacity, I believe we’ll see demand take-off across the month of October.”
British Airways reported a five-fold increase in searches for holidays on its website in the hours after the red-list reduction was announced, compared with the same period during the previous day.
Cancun, Cape Town and Johannesburg were among the most popular destinations.
Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, said it had seen a 200 per cent increase in bookings to South Africa this week.
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland said it was the “first substantive positive move” towards getting travel moving again not only for holiday makers but for those who are desperate to visit friends and family and for Scottish businesses which trade overseas.
“We eagerly await the potential change from PCR to lateral flow test on day two following return, and we hope that the Scottish government will align itself with the UK. We also hope for implementation of this change by the end of October.
“The changes from PCR to lateral flow will cut costs for those wishing to travel. We do, however, need clarity on when the changes will come into effect. We also await a date for the opening up of travel to the USA as the current information is only that this will be ‘in early November’.”
Just seven countries remain on the red list following the changes announced this week. They are Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
The changes were agreed on a four-nation basis, said the Scottish Government, as UK Government Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the same for England.
Vaccine certificates will also be accepted for arrivals from a further 37 countries and territories and those issued under the UN’s vaccine programme.
The Scottish Government did not provide a list of these countries in its announcement but Mr Shapps said the countries included Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.
It means fully-vaccinated people entering Scotland from these locations will be exempt from quarantine and the pre-departure test.
The Scottish Government said details for the UK’s post-arrival testing regime for vaccinated travellers were being finalised but Scotland would align with it.
Mr Shapps has said its “ambition” is for this to be in place “for people returning from half-term breaks by the end of the month”. Asked if he was referring to English schools’ half-term holidays around October 22, he said: “Yes, that’s right, October 22. That’s the goal and, as I say, the testing companies are gearing up to do that.
“I’ve spoken to the airports including Heathrow and they even have tests available as you walk through the airport, so you could be done and dusted before you even get home with these things, which will be a massive improvement to having to send off PCR tests to labs and waiting for the results and all the costs involved.”
Travellers will also be able to verify they have completed a lateral flow test by sending a photograph.
Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey said: “It’s important we continue to exercise caution which is why a red list of countries will be retained, carefully monitored and updated following a review at regular intervals.
“If evidence and circumstances change, we will not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions to protect public health in Scotland.
“But the steps we are seeing now pave the way for growth in the travel and tourism sector who we have listened very carefully to and engaged with widely on throughout this difficult period.”
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