Travel agencies find ways to navigate Covid complexities: Travel Weekly


Navigating international travel these days isn’t for the faint of heart, and to keep clients abreast of ever-changing policies, agencies are relying on a dizzying mix of digital resources, creative initiatives and staffers specifically dedicated to the cause.

Embark Beyond, for example, augmented its approach by adding a “Covid expert” to the company’s team earlier this year. The Covid expert, who transitioned into the role after most recently serving as an Embark concierge, is charged with keeping the agency updated on the latest travel protocols,while also fielding more complex Covid rules-related queries from Embark advisors. 

“As an agency or an advisor, you have to think about how you can be a step ahead and make the client’s life easy when it comes to travel, and really give people no excuses to not travel,” said Embark founder Jack Ezon. 

For travelers looking to visit or travel through multiple destinations, as well as those traveling with younger children ineligible for vaccination, having a Covid expert has proven especially valuable, added Ezon. 

“She’s been saving our advisors so much time,” he said. “In the beginning, our advisors were spending half an hour or 45 minutes trying to figure some of this stuff out, when they could be selling instead.”

Like many travel groups, Embark has also tapped Sherpa, an online platform specializing in travel identification requirements, to stay up to date on various restrictions like visa, passport, quarantine and Covid testing measures across the globe. According to Sherpa’s website, the company collects its information by aggregating data from thousands of sources, including official government websites, every day.

While Sherpa is also a go-to resource for Brownell Travel, the Birmingham, Ala.-based company has beefed up its pandemic problem-solving efforts with a special desk intended to field restriction-related questions. The travel desk email account is manned by a team of six. 

Additionally, Brownell has set up several Slack channels focused solely on Covid concerns.

“We maintain a Slack workspace for the entire community, with channels dedicated to different topics, including Covid updates and Covid resources,” said Sheri M. Selkirk, COO at Brownell Travel. “So, you have the Brownell community of about 200 people seeing your posts, and whoever can help you be more efficient and adapt to what your client needs at that time, they absolutely jump right in.”

So far, said Selkirk, Brownell’s crowdsourcing solution has yet to leave a single travel restriction query unanswered. 

“Everyone in the company is on Slack, from our president, Troy Haas, on down,” said Selkirk. “So we can cover all bases, whether it’s an operations question, a sales question or a Covid question.”

The tiered approach

Across Internova Travel Group, the strategy around travel restriction updates has been similarly multilayered, according to John Rose, chief risk and security officer for Internova’s Altour division. 

In addition to the Sherpa platform, which Internova has used since September of this year, the group has been leveraging support provided by a company called Exlog Global since August 2020. 

“Exlog is able to provide that next tier of support, and they specialize in that human component,” said Rose. 

“Let’s say you might be traveling with someone, but the person you’re traveling with is on a different passport. So, if there’s a question about that, that maybe isn’t clear to the client or the advisor, Exlog is able to work that out.”

One-on-one support from an Exlog professional is available via email or phone, with Rose estimating that Internova typically sees “several hundred” questions get answered by the Exlog system each week. 

If a Covid-related travel quandary proves too difficult or unique for Sherpa to address or Exlog to solve, the matter is then escalated to an internal team within the organization. 

The tiered approach has “really worked well,” said Rose.

“To be able to provide that level of service is a differentiator we have within Internova,” he added. “We can’t have an advisor spending eight hours searching 19 different websites and then getting conflicting information, because that’s not helpful to anyone.”

Meanwhile, as international travel continues to ramp back up, Rose predicts that being able to efficiently stay on top of travel protocol changes will be more important than ever.

“The world is opening back up, but it’s going to open with restrictions and those restrictions aren’t going to be going away anytime in the near future,” said Rose. “So, the demand for tools like Sherpa and other tiers of support is likely to grow, and it’s so important to be forward-thinking and get solutions.”

At Signature Travel Network, members are granted access to a paid enterprise account on Sherpa, which provides them the ability to create custom links that can be shared with clients, as well as integrate Sherpa’s content directly into their websites, emails and itineraries, among other channels. 

Members can also opt to create their own white label version of the Sherpa site. 

“Without question, a travel advisor’s greatest challenge today is keeping up with the continually changing border closures, visa needs, Covid protocols, et cetera,” said Jean Newman Glock, Signature’s managing director for communications and public affairs.



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Hong Kong to further tighten Covid travel restrictions


Issued on:

Hong Kong (AFP)

The announcement came despite concerns from the international hub’s business community that the city remains indefinitely cut off from the rest of the world, with one of the strictest mandatory quarantine regimes of any jurisdiction.

Most arrivals have to undergo 14 to 21 days of hotel quarantine.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Hong Kong will now go even further as she tries to persuade China’s leaders to restore travel with the mainland.

“Soon we will… announce that most of the quarantine exemptions granted to specific groups of visitors coming from overseas and mainland will be cancelled,” Lam said, adding only essential workers such as cross-border truck drivers would be allowed to make quarantine-free trips.

At present, Hong Kong allows certain groups of people to skip quarantine or isolate at home. They include diplomats and business leaders as well as some mainlanders with Hong Kong resident cards.

Lam did not detail which categories would now be denied exemptions.

Last month, Hollywood star Nicole Kidman was allowed to skip quarantine to shoot a television show, a decision that sparked much public anger.

Industry warning

Lam has previously described reopening to the mainland as “more important” than restoring Hong Kong’s international travel links.

On Tuesday, she made clear Beijing expects the city to mimic its own strict restrictions.

“We are caught in a sort of dilemma because in order to resume some quarantine free travel with the mainland we have to ensure our anti-Covid 19 practices are more in line with the mainland practices,” she told reporters.

“So if Hong Kong were to loosen border controls for people arriving from overseas or adopt with what other countries have done — so-called to live with Covid-19 virus — then the chances to travel with the mainland will be reduced.”

Hong Kong’s business community has looked on with growing exasperation as rival finance hubs such as Singapore, Tokyo, London and New York reopen.

On Monday, the top lobby group for financial firms warned that Lam’s decision to pursue a zero-Covid strategy and keep the city cut off was hammering its long-term prospects as a business hub.

But there is little sign of change on the horizon.

China maintains strict curbs on overseas arrivals and has given no timetable for opening its borders.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times, citing a Chinese government source, said Beijing planned to keep its borders largely closed until after a major Communist Party gathering in November 2022.



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What happens when travelers test positive for Covid on vacation?


(CNN) — There’s no denying that going on vacation has become a lot more complicated due to Covid-19.

Well over a year into the pandemic, border restrictions are still constantly changing as new variants emerge, while PCR and antigen tests have become part and parcel of traveling.

Many countries require travelers to produce negative Covid test results on entry, regardless of vaccination status, and in some cases take follow-up tests, while some destinations, including the US, require people to produce a negative test result before their return trip.

But what happens if you test positive after you’ve arrived in a new destination?

This is a predicament that a number of travelers have found themselves in over the past year or so.

Back in August, South Carolina couple April DeMuth and Warren Watson (pictured top) were getting ready to return to the US after a two-week trip to Greece when a positive Covid test result stopped them in their tracks.

“We took the test in the morning,” explains DeMuth. “So we’re in the airport, the agent is pulling us over so that we can check our luggage in and we’re pulling up our test results [on our phones]. That’s when he [Watson] said it.”

Just hours before they were scheduled to board their flight back to the US, they discovered that Watson had tested positive for Covid-19.

As Greece allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter without restrictions, the couple, who are both vaccinated, were not required to submit any PCR tests prior to the trip. However, they needed to provide negative Covid test results in order to fly home.

Positive on arrival

Shortly after receiving the results, DeMuth and Watson got a call from the Greek authorities and arrangements were promptly made for them to be transferred to a quarantine hotel provided by the Greek government.

Although most travel insurance policies cover quarantine-related costs, the pair had not taken out insurance for their vacation.

“We were very fortunate that Greece has quarantine hotels that the government pays for,” says Watson, who had been experiencing some mild Covid symptoms in the days before he received a positive Covid result.

“They delivered three meals a day to us. We were treated very well and it didn’t cost us anything. I know in other countries, it’s quite expensive.”

Thankfully Watson’s symptoms continued to be mild while in quarantine (DeMuth never tested positive) and he received a negative result after taking his next PCR test. The couple were able return home seven days later without incurring any extra costs.

“I would never travel without [insurance] now,” says DeMuth. “We were just fortunate that we were in a country that was very gracious with what they do, but we’d never want to rely on that.”

Things could certainly have been very different if they’d chosen to holiday in another destination. For instance, visitors to Italy are required to pay their own quarantine fees up front if they test positive after they arrive.

“Travel insurance with Covid-19 quarantine coverage is designed to help cover the lodging and accommodation expenses you might incur should you test positive for Covid on vacation,” Narendra Khatri, President and CEO of Insubuy, which provides international travel medical insurance from various US-based companies, tells CNN Travel.

“The benefit amount depends entirely on the policy you choose. Most plans provide a minimum of $2,000 in quarantine, lodging, and accommodation expenses, and trip interruption up to 100% of the trip’s cost.

“Should the traveler choose, many policies offer the option to purchase additional coverage up to $7,000 to cover quarantine costs, and a trip interruption benefit of up to 150% of the trip’s cost.”

While Watson did not require any medical treatment during his time in Greece and made a full recovery, others have not been so lucky.

Costly experience

Covac Global transports travelers who've tested postive for Covid-19 on vacation home via air ambulance.

Covac Global transports travelers who’ve tested postive for Covid-19 on vacation home via air ambulance.

Courtesy Covac Global

Back in 2020, Gloria and Jose Arellano from California tested positive for Covid-19 after traveling to Mexico for a vacation.

Although Gloria recovered, her husband’s condition worsened and he was admitted to a local hospital.

Unfortunately, Jose’s health continued to deteriorate and he was flown by air ambulance to the Naval Medical Center in La Jolla, where he died from a lung infection on December 28.

The medical and transportation costs incurred during the process were staggering, and the family launched a GoFundMe account to help with payments, as their insurance did not cover the full amount.

While cases like this are not necessarily typical, Khatri advises travelers to consider the costs they’d run up in a worst-case scenario when choosing a travel insurance policy.

“Is $2,000 going to cover your lodging expenses for the entire length of quarantine in your destination country?” he asks.

“Is a $50,000 policy maximum going to be enough if you need a helicopter ride from an island to the closest emergency room?

“If there’s a chance it won’t, you’re better off purchasing a policy that can provide more coverage. It’s far better to spend a little more now on insurance than to be stuck with huge medical or hotel bills in a far-off destination.”

Destinations like the Bahamas and Costa Rica have gone as far as to stipulate that all visitors must have obtained specific coronavirus-related coverage before they are permitted to enter.

Khatri also stresses that travelers should ensure that their insurance provides coverage for their entire trip.

“If you test positive for Covid or have some other medical issue on a Thursday while you’re flying, but your coverage doesn’t begin until you land on Friday, your insurance isn’t going to cover it,” he explains.

“It would be considered a pre-existing condition. Get insurance covering you from the beginning to the end of the trip.”

But while travel insurance can help to ensure that Covid-positive holidaymakers avoid paying extra costs for quarantine or medical treatment, most have little choice but to remain where they are until they can produce a negative Covid result.

Medical evacuation

Covac Global has evacuated travelers from destinations like Uganda, the Bahamas and the Maldives.

Covac Global has evacuated travelers from destinations like Uganda, the Bahamas and the Maldives.

Courtesy Covac Global

However, Covac Global, a medical evacuation company that launched in August 2020, provides a special program that allows travelers who’ve tested positive while abroad to be transported home via a certified ambulance with medical personnel — one of the “extremely limited” circumstances in which a traveler infected with Covid is allowed to re-enter the US.

The service, which is described as “the first and only fully indemnified membership program,” is available to members who’ve received a positive Covid test result after arriving at their destination and display at least one self-reported symptom.

Membership rates start at $675 for 15 days of coverage, while an annual membership costs $2,500.

Founder Ross Thompson says the company is seeing a significant rise in membership numbers month to month, and the average age of its members is becoming younger, with more professionals in their 40s choosing to sign up to the program.

Most of Covac Global’s evacuations are from hotel to home, and the company has been called to places like Uganda, the Bahamas and the Maldives to retrieve travelers.

“We’ve picked up people in speedboats from their over-water villas in the Maldives and from their hotel rooms in islands off the coast of Central America with a helicopter,” says Thompson. “So we’ll come to get you wherever you are. If you can get there, we can get there. And then we’ll take you home. Very few cases require us to take you to a hospital.”

But transporting a Covid-positive patient is no easy feat, particularly if they’re based in a remote location, or in a country where there’s civil unrest.

“We did an evacuation not too long ago from Ethiopia,” says Thompson. “We had to get the permits in coordination with Ethiopian government.

“There was a significant amount of civil unrest going on in Ethiopia [at the time] so we had to get our security teams involved to make sure that we got everybody into the country safely.”

Testing times

Medjet has introduced medical transport benefits for members hospitalized with Covid-19.

Medjet has introduced medical transport benefits for members hospitalized with Covid-19.

Courtesy Medjet

John Gobbels, COO of medical evacuation company Medjet, says the possibility of testing positive for Covid-19 and requiring hospitalization while in a destination where there are no ICU beds available is one of its members’ biggest concerns, along with getting “stuck” in a hospital miles away from their friends and family.

Medjet added air medical transport for travelers hospitalized by Covid-19 to their membership back in October 2020.

“We added that benefit at our own cost risk,” explains Gobbels. “Transport for merely testing positive is not a membership benefit, but can be arranged at the member’s sole cost.”

But what can travelers do to make sure they are better prepared for the possibility of testing positive for Covid while they’re on vacation?

Gobbels recommends that holidaymakers take at-home Covid test kits by “approved” brands on vacation with them so that they can test themselves early on.

“Don’t wait for the ’72 hour in advance’ window to test yourself,” he says. “You’ll need to fulfill that requirement, but knowing early that you may fail will give you more time to make fallback plans.

“And because there are sometimes false-positives, if you test positive, immediately run another test.”

Unfortunately, as Covid case infections remain high in various parts of the world, the possibility of testing positive while on vacation is a reality that travelers will likely continue to face for a while to come.

“I think this is something that we’re gonna have to live with now,” admits Thompson. “Just like after September 11, people added the security evacuation to their travel insurance or their travel memberships, because that’s just the world we live in now.

“I think Covid-19 evacuation cover is going to just be commonplace when you travel.”



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Valley News – Column: Facing COVID travel challenge to find a place of peace


Oh, for the days when all you had to worry about was whether Bernoulli’s principle could really sustain you in midair over 3,000 miles of open water. Now it’s COVID-19 tests, before, after and during travel, passenger disclosure and attestation forms, passenger locator forms, prebooked rapid antigen tests, pages of entry requirements to read and fill out to get into the country you are traveling to, and pages of instructions to (with hope) allow you to return home.

But I prevailed, and so one misty autumn evening I found myself trundling off a tiny ferry onto the pier of Iona again. Iona is just a mouthful of an island, a small comma on the map of Scotland, nearly invisible on a map of the world. I have been here before, but was preceded by Columba, an Irish monk who landed in its cove in 563 A.D.

Depending which history you read or believe, Columba was either a scoundrel or a saint. Whichever he was, he was certainly a man of immense energy. On Iona he founded a monastery and then took off for the mainland, the Western Islands and Orkney to convert the Picts to Christianity. No buildings remain from Columba’s time. The large, present-day abbey dating from about 1200 A.D. was already in complete ruins in 1773, when Johnson and Boswell visited.

But in 1938, George MacLeod, a Presbyterian minister and socialist, settled a new community on the island and began rebuilding the abbey. His belief that Christianity must be centered on practical endeavors to help others attracted many to the Iona Community. The restored abbey is beautiful, a large, honey-colored cathedral. And the ethos of the Community and MacLeod — to work for equality for all — must contribute to the atmosphere of intense peace here.

I booked a room in the Argyll Hotel, built in 1858, which, fronted by a small garden, sits directly on the water. I had stayed here before. The timeless quality of the place, with peat fires burning in the lounges, and a large, old-fashioned dining room, suits my taste. I turned the brass key to the door of my room (no fiddly computer cards here) and took it in at a glance: a single bed hugged up against one wall, its headboard upholstered in Harris tweed, a small Scots pine bedside table just large enough for a reading lamp, my book and an apple. Two pretty watercolors hung on opposite walls, and a sizable window opened up onto a fuchsia hedge. The bathtub was huge and the towel rack was hot. It felt exactly right.

The island, just 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, is perfect for exploring on foot, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had come to this island to find my center, to reflect and renew, to discover where I’d gone wrong and to reset my sails.

On the first morning, I headed to the north, through the pink granite ruins of the Augustine nunnery, and then past the restored abbey, which I had explored many times before. I walked on, following the road to its end and then took a grass pathway that meandered onto a raised beach. Waves crashed onto the rocks below, sheep bleated in the high grasses around me, a brisk sea breeze ruffled my hair and I relaxed in a deep and profound way, a way I have been unable to do in my day-to-day life.

The path curved around a headland and down to a beach where two intrepid swimmers played in the waves. It then led up over a hillock onto a heathered moor and onward to a large field. Here I became confused. And so, in the end, the day was fine and the walk was mostly flat, except that somewhere, somehow, I got lost and climbed a small mountain by mistake. This certainly seemed to be a metaphor for my life.

The next day, I planned to go to the other end of the island, Martyr’s Bay, where Columba had landed. I had done this before and packed with anticipation: water bottle, rain gear, snack and eyeglasses tucked in my upper left hand pocket. The walk began on the single-track road ringing the island, narrow and requiring me to jump up onto the verges when a car drove by. I walked for about 15 minutes, occasionally leaving the tarmac to make room for a car. And then I absentmindedly felt my pocket and realized, to my distress, that my glasses were gone. Impossible, I thought, and then noticed that the seam on this pocket had unraveled. The glasses had fallen through, sometime in the previous 15 minutes.

No problem, I thought, I’ll just retrace my steps. And carefully I did, scanning the road and combing the grass verges. I was so sure I would find the glasses that I constructed a parable. Nothing is ever really lost, I said to myself. This experience should remind me not to give up hope, always to assume the best; to be positive, to be strong.

But despite my optimism, I did not find the glasses. Never mind, I said to myself, I’m sure I’ll find them later, and I set off for Martyr’s Bay, determined to have a good time. After some confusion again, I found the path, over a golf course — what felt like the most remote golf course on Earth — through a herd of highland cattle, rumored to be friendly but who really knows, and over the brow of a hill, past a lochan, or small lake. Soon the path plunged down and I was rewarded by a vast sweep of high green grass leading onto a rocky beach, edged by a turquoise sea.

A scattering of small islands leads the eye to the horizon, which curves eventually toward the Irish coast from which Columba had sailed. Here I spent a happy afternoon, daydreaming, thinking and writing.

On the way back, I looked for my glasses again, without luck. Maybe I just thought I pocketed them, I mused, still sure they would turn up. But later, after a thorough search of my small room, I still hadn’t found them. The next day, before boarding the ferry to leave the island, I retraced my steps again. Now I had to admit it: Despite the first law of thermodynamics, some things really are lost.

So I changed my parable: This is a lesson on learning how to live with loss, I told myself. An important reminder that loss is a part of life and that what remains is more than what has been lost; a reminder that joy can blossom again after loss and that the way misplaced can be recaptured.

And I thought, leaving a small token of myself, however inadvertently, on this island isn’t a bad thing. It’s a link between me and a place of peace and beauty and growth.

Joan Jaffe lives in Norwich.





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Host Agency Reviews’ 2021 COVID Report Reveals Positive News for Travel Advisors


Host Agency Reviews (HAR) published its 2021 Travel Agent Income COVID Report, one in a series of eight travel advisor reports pulled from its annual survey.

Each year, HAR polls hosted travel advisors, independently-accredited travel advisors, franchisees and travel advisor employees to provide a critical data-driven overview of trends across four advisor segments.

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According to HAR, its COVID report, in particular, is the first of its kind to show the magnitude to which the coronavirus outbreak and ensuing pandemic disrupted the livelihoods of the travel advisor segments in 2020 and beyond.

The survey of 1,100 travel advisors revealed that 83 percent of advisors experienced a sales decrease in 2020.

Travel advisors were asked, “How much did your agency sales decrease in 2020?” The most common response was “100 percent.”

The report also found that 71 percent of agencies with employees before the pandemic downsized in 2020, and the percentage of agents who reported selling travel full time dropped from 60 percent to 25 percent during the coronavirus outbreak.

However, despite the downturn in business brought on by the pandemic, HAR’s survey found that a majority of career travel advisors remained committed to a career in selling travel.

Fifty-five percent of travel agents applied for an assistance program, and 95 percent of travel agents who applied received some type of aid. Eighty percent of advisors stayed open (40 percent with regular hours and 40 percent with limited hours).

Seventy-eight percent of advisors who stopped selling travel as a primary source of income during the pandemic plan to return to pre-COVID operation levels.

“The report shows what we all know: the pandemic has hit our industry incredibly hard. But what it also reveals is that travel advisors are sticking around and still love their jobs despite the challenges,” said Steph Lee, founder of Host Agency Reviews. “The findings also quantify the exact ways agencies were affected and how they dealt with the challenges of the pandemic.”





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Airlines see drop in travel demand as covid cases rise


Cancellations could also be driven by travelers postponing trips to popular destinations, such as Florida, that have become hot spots, as well as to places that are reimposing restrictions. Hawaii, which was one of the most popular destinations this summer, recently announced it will limit social gatherings and reduce indoor capacity for bars, restaurants and social establishments to 50 percent.



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Travel UK news live: Covid lateral flow tests go on sale ahead of PCR switch, with prices from £1


Lateral flow tests, also known as antigen tests, have become available to pre-order ahead of the switch from PCR tests for vaccinated travellers, permitted from Sunday.

The change was announced by the UK government on 14 October, and planned to happen in time for families returning from half-term holidays in the next two weeks.

The government website lists suppliers with prices starting as low as £1. But research by The Independent shows the cheapest tests are accompanied by onerous terms and conditions. In all cases when clicking through, travellers are presented initially with much more expensive options.

In other news, Australia has confirmed several steps towards its reopening to international travel – most significantly, the state of Victoria has announced that it will scrap quarantine for vaccinated international arrivals from 1 November.

The country is planning to open only to Singapore in a “travel bubble” arrangement initially, then to further countries in Asia and Australasia before Christmas.

Follow the latest travel news below:

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Simon Calder answers this week’s biggest travel questions

At this stage of October, the travel correspondent of The Independent is usually to be found in his private compartment travelling east over the central section of the Trans-Siberian railway in eastern Russia, en route to Ulan Bator ahead of the nationwide celebrations on 25 October of Mongolian Republic Day.

This year he has instead chosen to venture no further east than Ulan-Ude – where the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian lines diverge – and this afternoon found time to respond to readers’ urgent travel questions for an hour.

Whether you have concerns about proof of vaccination, the likelihood of more travel bans or individual destination rules, Simon Calder is likely to have the answers.

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 16:24

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Australia announces steps towards reopening to international travel

Australia has announced further steps towards reopening to international travel.

The state of Victoria – home to the city of Melbourne and the Yarra Valley wine region – announced today that it will scrap quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from 1 November.

The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison also announced that the country is planning a “travel bubble” air corridor with vaccinated Singaporeans, with plans coming into effect as soon as next week.

Mr Morrison said that the Australian government was in the “final stages of concluding an arrangement with the Singapore government” ahead of the plans.

“We anticipate that being able to be achieved within the next week or so, as we would open up to more visa class holders coming out of Singapore, we will see that occur,” he added.

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 15:00

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It’s opening up – but is the world ready for us?

As some of the UK’s great travel firms have told me during the Covid crisis, it is tougher to take apart a holiday than to put one together. In particular, companies offering multinational itineraries face multiple problems.

“The world isn’t ready for us yet,” says Charlie Hopkinson of Dragoman – an overland adventure firm with an excellent reputation. Attempting to take a truckload of people from a dozen nations, each with a different vaccination status, across a series of international frontiers is fraught with hazard.

He has shrewdly decided to put the firm into temporary hibernation. In the coming months Charlie’s team will set about rescuing the overland trucks scattered far and wide across South America, Africa and Asia. As international barriers started to clatter shut, these specialist vehicles had to be abandoned while tour leaders hurried their passengers to the nearest airport.

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 14:18

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Scotland’s bike-friendly trains are ripe for adventure

As UK travel remains admin-free and appealing, and many looker for greener modes of transport, Scotland’s new bike-friendly trains are inspiring adventurous travel closer to home, writes Robin McKelvie.

Mercifully, the nightmares of train travel with a bike are in the past on the Glasgow-Oban line, thanks to the green shoots of Britain’s first dedicated cycle carriages; a new sustainable artery into Argyll’s mountain and ocean-sparkled network of cycling trails.

Real thought – and design (the striking exterior is the work of Scottish artist Peter McDermott) – has gone into the ‘Highland Explorer’ carriages, with a wide passageway either side of racks holding up to 20 cycles. There are 24 seats too – for a small supplement you get a trail map table, snack box and hot drink, though you avoid the supplement sitting elsewhere.

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 13:40

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How does the new lateral flow tests system work?

From Sunday, vaccinated travellers into the UK (and some unvaccinated under 18s) can book a cheaper lateral flow or antigen test around travel, rather than the more costly PCRs.

Privately manufactured lateral flow test kits are now available to book, with the UK government publishing an approved list on the UK.gov website.

In terms of travel out of the UK, several countries also allow an antigen test result as part of their entry requirements, so the newly-vetted private lateral flow tests could also be used for this function.

However, this varies from destination to destination, so please check individual travel advice for each trip to ensure an antigen test is appropriate.

But how does the new travel testing system work, and what does this mean for unvaccinated passengers?

Here’s everything we know:

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 12:45

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Ask Simon Calder your travel questions before 1pm

Concerned about what Morocco’s ban on the UK means for other holiday destinations? Want a steer on what may chance in next week’s travel update?

The Independent’s travel expert Simon Calder will be on hand to answer your travel questions at 1pm today.

Whether it’s advice on trips booked or in the works for this autumn and winter, long-range predictions for the travel industry or something entirely different, Simon will do his best to answer as many of you queries as he can between 1 and 2pm.

Submit your questions in the comments section of this article:

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 12:20

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Antigen tests from as little as £1 – but what’s the catch?

Travellers returning to England from abroad are now able to book cheaper lateral flow tests rather than PCRs. For fully vaccinated international arrivals from Sunday 24 October, the cost of the so-called “day two” test for travellers is set to fall.

Announcing the change, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence.”

The government website lists suppliers with prices starting as low as £1. But research by The Independent shows the cheapest tests are accompanied by onerous terms and conditions. In all cases when clicking through, travellers are presented initially with much more expensive options.

Simon Calder22 October 2021 12:01

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Good morning

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s liveblog, where we’ll be sharing all the latest updates.

Lucy Thackray22 October 2021 11:58



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What hasn’t COVID changed? Airline and hotel service


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Some things never change. Even in travel. Yes, even during a pandemic.

You’re probably a little weary of all the headlines proclaiming that COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. So maybe it’s comforting to know that the travel industry is the same as ever – for better or worse.

By “better” I mean that some of the positive aspects of travel have also remained constant. And by “worse,” I mean that some parts of air travel and hotel accommodations have stubbornly stayed the same, despite all the promises. Taking inventory of these permanent aspects could help you plan your next trip.

Airlines lose some fees but keep the bad service

Airlines made a big deal when they dropped some – but not all – of their ticket change fees at the start of the pandemic. They didn’t mention that these fees were unconscionable to begin with, or that the airlines were receiving generous federal aid ($80 billion and counting). 

Rick Versace, a frequent air traveler who is the CEO of an airport limousine service, says that while he appreciates the removal of airline fees, flying remains a “cattle call.”

► You matter to us:  Southwest is (quietly) doling out ‘we’re sorry’ vouchers to travelers caught in cancellation chaos. Here’s how to get one

“Airports are jam-packed, and the flight attendants and ground crew are overworked and exasperated,” he adds. 

Sounds a lot like flying before the pandemic, doesn’t it? 

By the way, don’t take your eye off the airlines. It won’t be long before they quietly reintroduce all those fees. It’s a heck of a way to say “thank you” for all that taxpayer support during the pandemic.

Hotels aren’t ‘COVID clean’

Hotels would like you to believe that their rooms are cleaner than ever, thanks to their new sanitation protocols. But in conversations with hotel insiders and guests, it’s clear that these cleaning initiatives are mostly just promotional campaigns designed to attract more bookings. 

“The whole ‘COVID clean’ thing is B.S.,” says Chloé Cohen, a real-estate investor from New York. “I’ve seen stickers that say ‘self-sanitizing’ on an elevator keypad in a New York hotel, that was not backed by tech to emit the UV pad sanitation. So basically, it was just a sticker. Same goes for door handles and key cards. There was no evidence of virus-related cleaning.”

All that talk of UV robots and extra-clean hotel rooms will probably soon fade. And what will we be left with? Hotels will start charging for daily housekeeping. Thanks for nothing!

► Hotel housekeeping:  Here’s how to know if your room is really clean

► Where are the housekeepers?  COVID-19 guidelines, labor shortage affect hotel housekeeping service

Car rental companies: Older cars, higher prices

Here’s a complaint as old as the car rental industry: Travelers griping about overpriced, high-mileage vehicles. But they got more of the same during the pandemic as the rental-car industry struggled to adjust to the new normal

If anything, the situation turned worse after the outbreak. And the outlook is more of the same, as car rental companies struggle to manage their fleets and meet customer demand. Complaining about the old cars and high prices will remain.

► A $750 car rental for three days?   Don’t wait to book a rental car and other tips to avoid sticker shock

Road trips are still in fashion

Not all of the consistency is bad. Road trips, which were already big before the pandemic, became even more popular after the outbreak. Of course, they did: They offered the promise of safer travel within your family pod, and the opportunity for plenty of social distancing. 

“Millions of Americans went on a road trip,” says Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner. “What also hasn’t changed is people’s desire to visit friends and family.”

Road trips never went out of fashion, even when record numbers of Americans were flying. And if you took a road trip last summer, you know why, and also why that’s great. 

They don’t call it the great American road trip for nothing!

► We’ve been nomads for almost a year:  Here’s what I’ve learned about taking an extended road trip

Travelers still use advisors

Travel advisors are still here, too. A recent survey by Internova Travel Group found 4 out of 5 Americans prefer working with a human being over an online travel agency to plan an important trip.

Why? They like the personal attention, the extra perks, and getting access to deals they can’t find online. Also, agents are more relevant than ever in the age of COVID, helping travelers navigate the world of PCR tests and ever-changing travel requirements.

► From vaccines to testing:  What travelers need to know before the new US travel system on Nov. 8

“Travelers can expect consistency from their travel advisors,” says Angie Licea, president of the Global Travel Collection. “Why try to figure this out on your own when this industry was built on support and service for travelers?”

A sharp advisor has always been one of the most effective travel tools. And that’s true now more than ever.

► How to stay COVID-free on your fall vacation:  Plan – and then plan some more

And yes, people still love to travel

Another thing that hasn’t changed: People still love to travel. Even at the height of the pandemic, they booked trips and remained optimistic. A recent survey by Generali Global Assistance found that 41% of travelers expect a return to normal in 2022, with no masks or other COVID-19-related precautions.

“Given the lingering impacts of the pandemic, it’s reassuring that Americans are optimistic for travel normalizing in 2022,” says Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance.

Maybe one reason they’re so optimistic is that no matter how much people talk about change in travel, so little actually changes. That familiarity – at least on the positive side of the travel experience – is reassuring and comforting.

How have you changed since the pandemic?

The travel industry hasn’t changed that much, but travelers have. Here’s how – and what it means for you.

Travelers are planning their trips at the last minute. More than half of hotel bookings happen 7 to 14 days in advance. That’s a big switch from before the pandemic when lead times were often measured in months. “As hotel occupancy continues to increase, you should plan,” says Michelle Russo of hotelAVE, a hotel consulting firm. “If you’re unsure about what the future could mean when planning, select destinations that will offer more flexible cancellation policies.”

They’re taking shorter vacations.  Another change: Trips are shorter than in the past. John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet, an air medical transport and crisis response program for travelers, blames that shift on continuing uncertainty. “People are taking a series of smaller, more easily canceled trips this year instead of one longer one,” he says. But if you have your vaccines and don’t mind staying out for a few weeks, this could be the time to plan a lengthier vacation. You might save some money, too.

Travelers are buying more insurance.  Amid all the uncertainty, more travelers are buying insurance. And with good reason, says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA. “Our claims volume has been up 75% over last year, and we’re hearing from customers that they never expected to have to cancel their trip, but they are glad they purchased travel insurance.” You have a limited amount of time to buy insurance and receive the maximum benefit. 

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.



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