Tour operators are scrambling to rearrange Swiss skiing holidays after the country joined Spain in tightening travel restrictions amid rising concerns about the spread of the new Omicron Covid variant.
From Saturday night Switzerland mandated 10 days of quarantine for all new arrivals, in effect wrecking skiing holidays in the Swiss Alps until further notice. Travel firms are also wrestling with Spain’s ban on non-vaccinated arrivals that will affect British holidaymakers from Wednesday 1 December.
Israel is also expected to announce a ban on foreign visitors for a fortnight, which could come into effect from Monday.
The international measures to limit the spread of the new Covid variant came as tour operators warned a new testing regime for arrivals to the UK expected to come into effect early this week was “a huge blow for travel businesses”.
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that all arrivals to the UK “must take a day two PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result”. For a family of four wanting a rapid turnaround test so they can leave quarantine within a day, that could increase the cost of their holiday by about £400. The measures will be reviewed in three weeks.
In a sign that people are already rethinking travel plans in the light of Omicron’s emergence, Thomas Cook, the UK’s largest tour operator, said sales of holidays on Saturday were at the same level as previous weeks despite running discounts in a Black Friday sale. After Johnson’s announcement on Saturday evening it is expecting a fall in consumer confidence. On Sunday it was contacting customers with booked Swiss skiing holidays to rearrange for a different country or to move the holiday to next year.
The timing of the new UK restrictions is bad for the travel industry as the coming weeks up until payday in January are considered the key period for selling holidays for next year, and operators fear the uncertainty about the impact of the new virus strain will cause a bookings slump. The tougher rules set out by Spain, a key market, only add to the difficulties.
TUI, which operates skiing holidays under the Crystal Ski brand, said: “Any customers who do not wish to travel and are due to travel up to and including 13 December can change their holiday fee-free using the Crystal Ski Holidays free changes policy. We will continue to monitor the restrictions and if quarantine is still enforced for all UK arrivals, we will cancel holidays and customers would receive a full refund within 14 days.”
EasyJet, which flies all across Europe, said its customers “can change their flights without a change fee up to two hours before departure. EasyJet also continues to offer a market-leading refund policy for those impacted by travel bans across Europe, which means that they can receive a refund, voucher or free transfer to a later date, even if their flights are still operating.”
It said its flying programme was operating as normal but the airline will “continue to monitor the situation closely.”
An Abta spokesperson said: “These changes will add cost to people’s holidays which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme. The government must also now consider offering tailored support for travel businesses, which have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic.”
Spain announced on Saturday that people arriving from the UK would need to show proof of vaccination, in effect ending an exemption to EU travel restrictions. Evidence of a negative test result and/or proof that arrivals have had Covid will no longer be enough.
The official announcement appears to suggest there may be an exemption for children. It states that the new policy covers “people with a vaccination certificate recognised as such by the health ministry, as well as accompanying minors to whom the Health Ministry extends the effects [of the decision].”
Meanwhile there was good news for the many Irish families living in Great Britain who have planned to return to Ireland for their first Christmas, when the British embassy in Dublin confirmed that PCR tests and quarantine will not be required for people coming into Great Britain from Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.
The exemption for travellers from the Common Travel Area will not apply if they have been outside the area in the previous 10 days.