Destinations are being switched off at a moment’s notice but airlines are not always playing ball when it comes to issuing refunds, continuing flights to countries on the “no travel” list and leaving some travel agents unable to fully reimburse customers. At the same time, increasing numbers of holidaymakers are looking for ways to circumvent the rules. So why are the public – and the airlines – so dismissive of the FCO’s travel advisories, which were once held in such high regard? Does the FCO no longer have the gravitas it once had? And what does this mean for the Package Travel Regulations, if certain companies are no longer bothering to abide by them? So many questions asked by Sophie Griffiths, Editor at TTG and here is what we have taken away from the session.
Guy Anker, Deputy Editor at MoneySavingExpert.com,
Susan Deer, Director of Industry Relations at ABTA
Joanna Kolatsis, Director at Themis Advisory
There is no doubt that the FCO is an objective source of information providing a lot of guidance; but whilst the FCO is concerned with UK nationals travelling abroad, it is working alongside the DfT whose travel corridors policy is to prevent risks from travellers returning to the UK (whether they are UK nationals or not). Both departments are getting advice from public health agencies but they are also looking at different and separate parameters to make informed decisions. As such their strategies are not in sync and their messaging is badly communicated by the FCO, creating a lot of confusion and frustration amongst travel stakeholders and members of the public:
Before the travel corridors were announced there were talks about a traffic light system which seems to have vanished without any explanation.
The current travel corridor policy does not take regions into consideration. This blanket approach has never happened before. It has always been based on regions and this is what it should get back to as the FCO should provide a targeted risk approach for travellers to make informed decisions.
The DfT travel corridor policy does not give any reasons for a country to be removed from the exempt list.
Some destinations deemed safe are unable to be added to the exempt list as there isn’t a clear process for them to communicate with the UK governing bodies.
Airport’s measures in the UK do not seem to match the gravity of the situation highlighted by the FCO.
The general confusion is not helped by the fact that it is not illegal for travel to take place against the FCO’s advice and a growing number of travel insurances are disregarding the government’s advice by offering full or partial COVID coverage to destinations that are not deemed safe. It is therefore not surprising that many travellers favour search engine and independent websites over the government’s platforms in order to seek up-to-date information.
Undeniably, the travel industry has lost a huge amount of trust; and mostly because of the airlines' wrong doing. Not only are airlines still operating routes to countries not on the exempt list but they are very reluctant to reimburse in a timely manner. Under the new Package Travel Regulations (PTR), refunds should be operated within 14 days but the reality is that tour operators are currently waiting between 30 and 60 days before they can get the money to pass onto their customers. Not only do the Package Travel Regulations (PTR) need a review to better protect consumers but they also need to offer more support to the travel companies who, under the PTR, must provide assistance to their customers regardless of the situation on the ground.
In view of the above, it is no real surprise that in response to a poll organised by TTG during this webinar, 71% of the trade partners asked stated that the FCO’s advice isn’t currently fit for purpose and doesn’t always match up with the DfT.
Where do we go from here? Time will tell but we need to remember that the FCO is only one moving part of the current situation, with many destinations working behind the scenes to get ready and safe, large-scale testing programmes taking shape, a vaccine being developed, etc. So? Has the FCO totally lost its credibility? Possibly not but they most certainly need to get to grip with their communications. The sooner, the better...
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