Travel agent: 'It's almost as if going on holiday is a sin'

Holidaymakers - and travel agents - are holding their breath and waiting for the green light for overseas holidays to popular destinations such as Spain and Greece this summer.

Jo Richards, at Tivoli Travel in Mirfield, says the Government has been giving mixed messages
Jo Richards, at Tivoli Travel in Mirfield, says the Government has been giving mixed messages

Mixed messages from the Government have left people confused over the so-called “traffic light system” and Mirfield travel agent Jo Richards said: “It’s almost as if going on holiday is a sin.”

After a chilly and wet May, many people – particularly those with holiday homes abroad – jetted off to Spain this week as soon as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez opened the country to UK holidaymakers.

But, according to Jo, most holidaymakers are waiting on an announcement from Boris Johnson – probably on Tuesday, June 1 - that Spain, Greece and the Greek Islands are moved from amber to the "safe" green list.

Helen North, of High Ridings Travel in Birstall, said the industry is playing a constant waiting game

“It’s been a shambles,” said Jo, who runs Mirfield-based Tivoli Travel. “Government ministers have been giving such mixed messages.

“Why have an amber list if going there isn’t the right thing to do? It’s almost as if going on holiday is a sin, certainly to an amber country. It’s like they are accusing people of promoting the spread of Covid.”

Jo reported a rush of business when Portugal was first put on the green list but that has calmed now as people await the next announcement.

“It went a bit crazy for a while but now it’s the calm before the storm,” said Jo. “There’s still a lot of confusion, though, not least about the amount of paperwork and the PCR tests.”

There are only two countries on the UK’s “green” list currently accepting tourists from the UK - Portugal and Iceland.

You need to take a Covid-19 test before departure and have proof of a negative result. You must also book and pay for a test for day two after your return. There is no need to quarantine unless you test positive.

Amber list countries include popular destinations such as Spain, Greece, Italy and the United States. Tests are needed before and after and you must quarantine for 10 days when you get back.

Jo said there had been problems with PCR tests being delayed in the post, meaning people missed flights.

As a result Tivoli and other agencies have teamed up with scientific testing company Eurofins to provide a pop-up facility where tests can be dropped off for collection by courier. That service will be offered shortly by Tivoli’s shops in Mirfield and Holmfirth.

Jo said holidaymakers generally were split down the middle between those who were having staycations in the UK and those who couldn’t wait to fly off to the sun. Some people were hedging their bets, booking a UK trip just in case.

Jo expects a rush when Spain and Greece move onto the green list. She thinks June and July could still be busy, though sunshine breaks in September and October could be more popular.

“We are also finding people are spending a bit more, they are not as cautious about upgrades,” said Jo.

“People haven’t spent as much during the last 12 months and they are looking for something a bit more special, even looking ahead as far as 2023.”

Another independent travel agent taking bookings for 2022 and 2023 is Helen North at High Ridings Travel in Birstall.

“I am taking bookings for next year and 2023 but nothing at the moment for this summer,” said Helen.

“There is so much confusion with having to arrange tests and then people are worried that countries may change to amber while they are out there. We are waiting for the announcement next week but it’s a constant waiting game, just like it’s been for the last year.”

Like Tivoli Travel, High Ridings is also becoming a drop-off point for Eurofin PCR tests.

Travel agents only receive their commission when customers pay the balance on their holiday, 12 weeks before they go, so bookings for next year or the year after don’t help the hard-pressed travel industry right now.

“There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel but the travel industry has taken a battering,” said Helen. “We don’t get any extra help from the Government. We are classed as non-essential but we are not making any money.

“In fact we have worked for nothing all along. It’s just a waiting game for us.”