What is The Travel Forecast?
Where can you travel right now? Which destinations are set to open soon? And where will travel be 3, 6 or 12 months down the line? With restrictions changing by the second, travellers are full of questions. Our new series of online events, The Travel Forecast, hopes to give you some answers.
Experience Travel Group set up ‘The Travel Forecast’ to give travellers an expert briefing on present and future travel. For our inaugural event, we teamed up with fellow tour operators Journey Latin America and Cedarberg Africa to discuss the state of play in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Below you’ll find a video recording of our discussion, as well as a written summary of our insights and answers to all the questions that came in throughout the webinar. We hope you find it useful.
Of course, we now live in a world where certainty seems impossible. However, The Travel Forecast aims to give helpful and realistic predictions, based on our experience and on-the-ground insights. As ever, we believe in being open with our community – and we’re cautiously optimistic for travels to come. Watch this space for future events!
Watch the Travel Forecast #1
THE CURRENT TRAVEL FORECAST: WHERE CAN I GO NOW?
EXPERIENCE TRAVEL GROUP UPDATE
Most Asian countries are currently not allowing entry to anyone from Europe. The exception is the Maldives. This is looking like our best suggestion if you want to get away this side of Christmas, especially with news breaking 22nd October that you now do not have to quarantine on arrival back in the UK, and been removed from the all but essential travel list by the FCDO. While Maldives is known primarily as a resort-led destination, at ETG we have some tremendous trips which as well as the usual Maldives magic, get you out and about to explore the incredible and unique culture of this incredible place. We have created this comprehensive resource for travelling to the Maldives during these COVID times.
This resource is Oman is another possibility; the latest information we had was that they planned to open in November. It would certainly be a possibility then – plenty of space for social distancing and an amazing culture to explore and get stuck into.
CEDARBERG AFRICA UPDATE
Africa now has a popular honeymoon destination on both the exemption and corridor lists which is allowing us entry. So no requirement to quarantine on return to the UK AND a minimal quarantine on arrival. Positive travel forecast from Seychelles!
Commercial flights resumed in August, with Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways and Ethiopian Airlines all resuming flights into Mahe, the main island. British Airways flights have resumed now too. Wednesdays and Saturdays overnight, returning daytime Wednesday and Sunday.
Travellers from the UK (a ‘special status’ country) need a negative PCR test not more than 48 hours old and must stay at their first hotel or resort for 5 days with daily health checks. But that’s pretty much the norm in any case. Guests are not confined to their rooms, just to the property’s estate. 65 resorts are on the list for ‘special status’ countries first 5 days stay, about half of which we sell.
On the 5th day guests will have another PCR test and if the result is negative, can continue their holiday to other islands. If positive, you will be required to stay in a stay safe hotel until cleared by the health authorities.
At present, you don’t need a PCR test to return to the UK when flying with British Airways. However, you do require a PCR test when flying with Emirates, even if you’re only transiting through Dubai. The test must be taken within 96 hours before the flight with Emirates.
JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA UPDATE
Almost all of our region remains effectively out of bounds, with the FCDO advising against all but essential travel. The one exception is Cuba – along with much of the Caribbean, Cuba has made it onto the exempt list.
WHAT’S THE TRAVEL FORECAST FOR 3-6 MONTHS?
EXPERIENCE TRAVEL GROUP UPDATE
Southeast Asian countries (as well as Sri Lanka) have really avoided the worst of the impact from COVID. They are therefore wary about unchecked travel from countries with much higher rates of transmission. That said, within that, there seems to be a variety of approaches developing. The travel forecast is positive for Cambodia, which seems keen to welcome tourists again, and seeing Angkor without the crowds would be an exciting possibility. There are movements to open conditionally fairly soon and I would expect Cambodia will be one of the earlier countries to open more normally. However, there are no direct flights so they will rely on transits flights via Bangkok, Singapore or Malaysia so they are not entirely in charge of their own destiny.
Laos is making noises about opening up, but with limited flight routes and no sea border, they are almost entirely reliant on Thailand who is keeping their travel forecast open and very close to the chest. There have been confusing and contradictory announcements coming out of TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) including a plan to open for long-stay visitors with a mandatory quarantine period and a limited opening for Phuket. There is nothing confirmed there and we are as confused as anyone as to what Thailand is planning. Vietnam might well open Phu Quoc but are being very cautious about early 2021 and if I had to guess, I would say April at the earliest.
India could relax their entry restriction early next year but whether demand will return or not for India is a different matter as it has very negative press over the COVID response. That said the sheer size of India makes the picture much more complex than it seems from the western press and highlights the danger of treating India as one country. If you look at the cases and death rates per capita and by region the story looks different. Much domestic tourism has re-started though the picture varies massively from state to state. Sri Lanka is another country giving out contradictory signals, but appears to be taking a cautious approach in general. There are plans to open in a limited way this side of December to test the water, with visitors limited to one hotel for the duration of their stays, charter flights and various tests. All in all, I suspect this plan is not intended with the UK market in mind. Over in Indonesia, Bali is desperate to open and waiting for the all-clear but the central government in Jakarta kiboshed their plans and I would expect that Bali will open again in time for the season from April 2021 onwards.
Finally, I think Bhutan has taken an interesting and sensible approach in publicly stating that they plan to re-open for October 2021. The Bhutanese seasons run from October through to April so they have, in effect, written off 2020/2021. This way they can make certain that their ducks are lined up in terms of protecting their visitors and the local population, the flight routes are open and people can plan their holidays with a little bit of certainty. Bhutan is a destination in which you must book at least 9-12 months in advance anyway, so I am personally pleased to have that bit more certainty around this one (that said, I have learnt that nothing is guaranteed during a pandemic.)
CEDARBERG AFRICA UPDATE
Most safari destinations are re-opening borders to international travellers with negative PCR test certificates. Flights resuming, some offering free Covid-19 medical insurance, including Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates Airlines. Most of the safari experience is outdoors and inherently socially distanced – so the travel forecast is positive in the sense that this remains a Covid secure style of holiday. If travellers want to go and can get insurance, we can make it happen, mindful of the FCDO advice and prioritising safe travel. Private “in room” PCR testing can be arranged with rapid test turnaround.
A slightly confusing travel forecast in South Africa, which re-opened to travel from selected countries on 01 October but the UK and Ireland are still on a Red List. Due to be reviewed every 2 weeks so we’re hopeful that could change if our escalation of cases can be controlled. That’s not deterred huge numbers of new bookings this September around the Rugby Lions Tour next July/August.
Among the top safari destinations, Kenya has now been open since August. Travellers need a negative PCR test with no more than 96 hours from test to arrival time. Private tests in the UK cost £150 to £350, we gather.
Namibia is open to Brits with pre-planned itineraries that allow for a second test on Day 5. Our local partner can co-ordinate the booking and payment of the tests and arrange the logistics.
Tanzania – Borders were never closed. Enhanced screening and temperature checks. Might need PCR test – if flying Emirates.
Uganda – PCR Test no more than 72 hours old.
Rwanda – PCR Test no more than 72 hours old. Testing again on arrival and departure so extra waiting time needed.
Zambia – PCR test – 2 weeks. Can get a private “in room” PCR test with results within 3 hours for $60 in high-end lodges in Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwe – PCR test – 48 hours. Land borders remain closed. Ethiopian Airways will resume flights on 06 October.
Botswana and Madagascar remain closed for now. Ethiopia, Malawi and Mauritius require visitors to quarantine.
St Helena is on the exemption and corridor lists (not Scotland’s). But requires a 14-day quarantine.
JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA UPDATE
A mixed travel forecast from Latin America. Some destinations never closed their borders – for example, Brazil. They are focussing on domestic tourism and we understand there is quite a lot of that now happening. But, given the country’s very public challenges with covid, we suspect it will be some time before the FCDO changes its travel advice.
Thinking of destinations which may come online:
Cuba is the obvious one. The FCDO does not advise against travel to Cuba and there is no need to quarantine on return. To date, Cuba has largely been closed to international arrivals, but there are suggestions that this may change by the end of the year. We are hopeful that the Cuban authorities may be preparing to open up Havana airport and allow travel to resume throughout different regions of the country. The travel forecast here is that it’s definitely one to watch for possible winter getaways – sunshine and rich culture, plus fabulous landscapes to boot.
Argentina and Chile are both still firmly closed; Argentina, in particular, has had a very strict lockdown, with no travel permitted between states. But there are indications that the domestic market may open up before Christmas and, if so, we have hope that there may still be a partial season for Patagonia, perhaps from January onwards. Direct flights with British Airways scheduled to restart in November.
Uruguay would make an excellent add-on, for a relaxing beach or estancia stay, or an interesting destination (perhaps our self-drive itinerary?) in its own right; Uruguay has had one of the lowest incidences of infection in the world.
We are also watching both Ecuador and the Galapagos and Costa Rica closely. Both have now re-opened borders to international travellers; negative PCR tests required on entry; both have worked very hard on protocols and safety standards and both have attained the WTTC Safe Travels stamp; both offer the sort of travel experiences which lend themselves to safe covid travel and social distancing – remote locations, rural or outdoor settings, boutique properties etc. British Airways scheduled to resume their direct service to San Jose from November; Iberia and KLM to Ecuador.
THE TRAVEL FORECAST Q&A
Do the speakers have any thoughts about when/where the customer demand will come back?
We all have a level of demand right now for booking holidays in summer 2021 and beyond already. From our customer surveys, it seems there is a great deal of pent-up demand since people have been largely unable to travel from March onwards. January is the main booking season in the travel industry so our hope is that with more countries giving some certainty around the opening (even if like Bhutan, it is deep into 2021) that will enable more people to at least start planning and booking trips for later in the year. We believe our ‘Booking with Confidence’ policies will help with that.
Depending on the destinations, we predict there will be a decent amount of demand for last-minute trips where possible from January onwards. Our collective travel forecast is that there will be at least some long haul travel for winter 2021.
Travel companies/job losses etc seem to be largely ignored by the media. How are all the companies managing to stay afloat? In the UK and all the suppliers overseas? (Kathy)
The simple answer is that we’re not. It’s very challenging out there and pretending otherwise would be misleading. There will be many great companies and professionals who will not return to the travel industry for years to come, if ever. From my experience, every company in the UK I know is at least 50% the size of what it was and companies are hanging on for dear life. In our case, we were greatly helped by the willingness of our clients to postpone rather than cancel their trips (some understandably were not able to do so) and we took as much of the furlough support as we were able to (travel companies were caught in a terrible bind as we were not allowed to furlough staff dealing with cancellations and postponements). You can read more on this blog here, how are we really doing?
In-country some places, such as Vietnam and India have been somewhat protected by the strength of their domestic tourism, but that is in no way enough and I can tell you frankly that some of our guides throughout Asia are struggling very badly. In places like Sri Lanka and Bali, many people have gone back to live on family land and working informally as farmers. Some people do not even have that limited safety net.
Without wanting to be overly political, I do find it surprising that the travel industry is so little mentioned compared with hospitality and other sectors. The chancellor talking about supporting ‘viable’ businesses was a bit of a kick in the teeth to companies that have made it through since March with zero income. The UK is a world leader in travel and has a thriving independent and specialist sector which exports expertise to the US, Europe and beyond and pioneers aspects of tourism such as sustainability and experience, human-led travel. ABTA and others in the industry are campaigning on this if you are interested – have a look here: https://savefuturetravel.co.uk/
What is the general current situation with Travel Insurance? (Barry O’C.)
It’s always been the case that FCDO advice is necessarily broad because it’s intended for such a wide audience, including young, inexperienced or vulnerable travellers, NGOs and Corporate travel organisers. The FCDO is also not asked to take into account the social, economic and mental wellbeing cost of not travelling. That is up to all of us to weigh up! We’d like the advice to be more finely-tuned but that probably isn’t feasible just now. So we do have to ask travellers wishing to travel against FCDO advice to formally acknowledge in writing that they have been made aware of the travel advisories.
That said, there may well be scenarios in which we agree that a destination or situation is too risky, even if someone wants to travel and can get insurance.
What about existing travel insurance?
If a policy was taken out before the pandemic, for future travel, then a decent policy is still likely to cover both the emergency medical costs of Covid-19 and cancellation costs arising from it. But there is a lot of small print in all policies and you should check.
Any new insurance products emerging that cater for disruption due to CV-19? (Also, FYI, Falkland Islands are Covid-free, but flights go via Chile or Brazil!) (Peter Y.)
The only cover available for Covid-19 currently is if travellers fall ill abroad and need medical treatment. If travelling against an FCDO advisory, specialist or additional insurance is needed to cover this. GR
How do the speakers feel the balance between countries being desperate for tourism and the cash it brings… and Europeans/Americans being seen as “bringers of the plague”?
There are bound to be some mixed feelings around re-opening borders, just as there were about hordes of people descending on Britains beaches and parks in the Summer. But people know that public health will suffer without some economic activity. The big difference from overcrowding in UK holiday hotspots is that overseas visitors are going to be very few in number as we start the process of tentatively opening up again. But, yes, it will be our responsibility, together with our local partners, to reassure the local community that travel will be managed safely and that those who DO travel internationally will have (almost always) been tested and will be a very specific group of people who will be highly motivated to stay safe and well. GR
I think we need to leave it to each country to make its own risk assessment on the basis of health. In time, there will be a testing system which ensures that there is very limited transmission via the international aviation structure too and that will help. Travel, done in the right way, is a positive force for good and huge parts of the world economy are dependent on it. The human cost of an extended shutdown will be immense.
Is it possible to get travel insurance that covers COVID if things do open up?
Many policies now cover the medical and emergency cost of Covid-19, so long as do not travel against FCDO advice (hence the recent soar in popularity of the Battleface policy). If considering most of “our” destinations for future travel, check that there is no clause in any policy you consider which stipulates that the destination must not be subject to a travel advisory against travel at the time of booking or purchasing the policy. GR
Do we need to have a test and show that is negative on arrival? (Ana Maria)
This certainly applies to all open destinations in Africa, with the exception of Tanzania. However, even there it may be needed by the airline you travel with. This is the same for the Maldives and we predict might be the case going forward with many destinations as they open up. We will do our best to keep all our clients aware as the situation develops.
Given that some of your accommodation can be quite remote what steps will you be taking to ensure it is safe from covid? (Barry M.)
Remoteness is a blessing when it comes to Covid-safe hospitality protocols within Africa. For example, staff rostering has been changed at safari camps and lodges so that there are longer intervals of work and longer breaks. Staff are then tested when they arrive for their 6 weeks stints and from then on, they are living in the staff village and not mixing with others (other than guests) so there is an inbuilt ‘bubble’.
While each country destination has developed its own protocols around customer information, PPE, physical distancing, and sanitisation and hygiene practices in hospitality and transportation (64 pages in the case of the requirements in South Africa), several have also gained the internationally recognised World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Global Safety Stamp of Approval. This includes Eswatini, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa. GR
We (ETG) have a risk assessment system in place that we pay for as part of a large group of tour operators. It is part of what we do as a sector. They have added COVID protocols to this now and the nature of our open, remote and spacious properties, as well as the limited transmission in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, mean we are very confident that our clients will be COVID secure in the destination as far as it is possible to be. Remote destinations fare well in our travel forecast.
Do you see a preference for direct to country destinations flights, against countries that you have to transit such as Botswana, Zambia etc. (Clive B.)
Yes, that preference will strengthen, especially among older travellers. But other factors such as the cost of flights, flexible change policies and free travel insurance will also be weighed in. And we have not yet been able to make comparisons as no safari destinations are on both the exemption and corridor lists.
Botswana is very likely still closed because its primary tourist access is via Johannesburg and South Africa is still closed to Brits and Americans (though being reviewed every 14 days, we gather). On the other hand, Zambia always necessitates a stopover and that could just as easily be in Addis Ababa or Dubai – so that impediment may already be factored in when people add it to a wish list. Additionally, Zambia is (cleverly – or sneakily, depending on your perspective) positioning itself as the perfect safari destination to visit for 10 days, which would then allow even “red list” nationals to then travel on to Cape Town.
Multi-country itineraries will definitely be more challenging because of the need to allow time and opportunity for a second PCR test. And most land borders are still closed. GR
Any news on Morocco? (Sally R.)
We don’t feature Morocco but the borders are open to those with a negative PCR test and a confirmed booking at certain health-approved hotels. However, it is not yet on the FCDO exemption list. We also get the impression that the Marrakech area is still closed. GR
Your advice about Thailand is wrong, it has not opened and no realistic sign of it. (Paul S.)
Sorry, I should have been clearer on this. There is a great deal of contradictory noises coming from TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), the latest being a plan to open for long stayers after a period of quarantine. While this is not relevant to our holidays, I have checked with my colleague Tom (still based in Bangkok) and he says that currently that scheme is not yet live but that Thailand was hoping to bring in some charter flights from China as a first step. SC
Any news on Japan? (Tim W.)
Sorry Tim, we don’t feature Japan as one of our destinations – please check out Inside Japan’s latest updates: https://www.insidejapantours.com/
When might Oman re-open and is it on the FCO list? (Sarah)
Oman is talking about re-opening in November but it remains on the FCDO list and I don’t see a strong possibility of that changing soon. Once it opens, we would arrange holidays there, but only if our customers were happy to travel and understood the risk and implications. SC
What is the situation with Vietnam please? (Margaret T.)
Vietnam is not open and unlikely to open very soon, though as there is little information (from a famously secretive government) we would not like to rule anything out. SC
Seychelles or Maldives sounds great but I’m mainly not sold on the idea of sitting masked on a plane for long enough to get there! (Matt C.)
I am told that being masked when you are sitting still in your seat is quite a lot less annoying than being masked when active. But, yes, we get that some people will want to take the plane journey with a mask for the travel ‘reward’ that follows and others won’t. GR
As Ginny said really, I travelled to Corfu in the summer and it was a very minor inconvenience. We removed it for lunch of course and to drink. I did wear contact lenses so my glasses didn’t steam up, but I get that everyone is different in this respect. I suspect that masks on planes are here to stay for the long term so we all need to get used to the idea or not travel at all. SC
What are the self-isolation rules in Chile? We were planning to go for Christmas but don’t want to be self-isolating (Barbara W.)
Currently, Chile’s borders are closed and no international arrivals are allowed. We hope this may change by the end of the year but with no confirmation yet it’s difficult to be sure what any new rules may look like.
At present, Chile has a range of restrictions in place to try to manage the pandemic and reduce transmission. Some measures are national – for example, a nightly curfew from 11 pm to 5 am, and face masks in public. Others vary by region. In areas with the very highest level of restriction people expected to self-isolate at home. In others, cinemas, restaurants etc have been able to re-open, but with reduced capacity and social distancing in place. The aim is to gradually get more regions re-opened is a covid-secure way.
Any news regarding Peru? (Katia F.)
Thanks for the question Katia. I had not addressed Peru in the travel forecast, particularly during the webinar, partly because they have clearly had serious challenges managing the pandemic, but also because they are now close to the end of the main travel season and visitor numbers would not normally be expected to pick up again until around April.
Peru has just re-opened its borders, but for now this only applies to neighbouring countries (max 4 hours flying distance). Locally, restrictions have eased slightly, although a night-time curfew is still in place (11 pm to 4 am). Restaurants are open, with reduced capacity and some long-distance buses and domestic flights have resumed. The authorities had planned to re-open Machu Picchu to local visitors in October, but this has now been pushed back to November. Although you may have spotted a rather lovely news story this week about a Japanese tourist having been treated to a private visit to the site (although he has reportedly been stranded in the nearby village of Aguas Calientes since March so has had quite a wait!). I read this morning that Peru is among the latest destination to have achieved the WTTC Safe Travels stamp.
What does the approved accreditation abbreviations you mentioned when talking about Latin America and Costa Rica mean? I get the feeling it was a covid safe accreditation am I correct? Thank you (Gill F.)
Thanks Gill. Apologies for the not taking the time to explain the acronym. The WTTC Safe Travel stamp is an initiative recently launched by the World Travel and Tourism Council. The WTTC have developed a range of protocols for destinations and their hotels, local operators and other providers to help them implement covid-secure policies as they gradually re-open. The protocols are intended to be robust (they are all informed by the guidance from the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) and to set a globally recognised standard. Over 120 countries around the world have now adopted them, including several in Latin America (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia and most recently Peru). Some destinations are developing their own – for example, Belize has implemented a ‘Gold Standard’ benchmark for approved hotels and activities.
What about the travel forecast and predictions for Costa Rica and the US for April? (Gill F.)
We are cautiously optimistic about being able to offer travel to Costa Rica, potentially from the end of this year or early next, assuming that the UK government updates its travel advice. Domestic tourism is back and properties are re-opening. International borders are also now open and Costa Rica is receiving a small number of international arrivals, mainly from the US. British Airways has scheduled its direct service to re-start from November. A negative PCR test is required within 72 hours of arrival and visitors must have adequate travel insurance, providing cover any covid related medical cover. Locally suppliers have worked very hard to implement appropriate safety and hygiene protocols (as I say, the country has the WTTC Safe Travel stamp). And we think the nature of travel in Costa Rica – remote locations, outdoor activities, boutique properties – lends itself well to a safe and enjoyable experience.
We were supposed to be flying to Chile, Easter Island, Argentina and Brazil for a special wedding anniversary and birthday tonight at 10 pm! Devastated. All delayed for a full year. What would be the advice if Covid is still rife by October 2021? Thank you (Deb)
I am really sorry to hear that Deb – that is so very disappointing. I have had a sneaky peek at your itinerary and it’s an amazing trip which you have planned. So, hopefully, despite the bitter disappointment of this year, it does give you something exciting to look forward to for next.
We would certainly hope that this trip will be possible by next October. There is some confidence that a vaccine will be available within the near future. Or we may simply have become more adept at living with and managing the impacts of the pandemic. As we’ve all noted, both in our country and around the world, we are dealing with a fluid and fast-changing situation and so the travel forecast will change accordingly. Rest assured, we will not advise you set off on the holiday unless we are confident that we and our partners on the ground will be able to provide for your safety and enjoyment. Our Flexible Booking Policy means you are fully protected in the event that covid is still preventing us travelling this time next year.
Sarah – we are booked to go to Colombia in January – how is that looking? (Virginia J.)
Like Peru, Colombia has very recently re-opened its borders but only for limited traffic from neighbouring countries at present. There are a number of restrictions still in place locally, and regional lockdowns still a possibility. We think Cartagena may be the location which opens up soonest. As with Peru, we have no word yet on when arrivals from Europe may begin.
We are currently looking at all our group tours due to depart in the first 3 months of 2021 so one of the team will be in touch over the coming week to discuss options with you.
I am interested in Galapagos and Peru next August – does it sound like I should amend to just Galápagos Islands as it sounds possible that will be open or is it worth waiting to see (Dave)
Peru and the Galapagos is a fabulous combination, so I would urge you not to be put off!
Nothing is certain at the moment, including what sort of changes the FCDO will make to their travel advice and when. We think that Ecuador and the Galapagos are a little closer to being ready to receive visitors than Peru. But, with a good 9 months to go before you plan to travel, I am pretty sure that will have changed. As I mention above, Peru goes into low season from December through to March.
I talked about our Flexible Booking Policy. It’s designed for just this sort of scenario. We’d be happy to put together a trip for you, combining both these destinations. If, closer to departure, part of the itinerary were not feasible, we could make suitable changes for you, postpone it, or cancel it without penalty, as you prefer.
What’s the travel forecast for Bolivia?
Borders have started to re-open, although Bolivia – land-locked and with limited airlift – has always been one of the more difficult countries to access directly. Typically, our clients enter from Peru or Chile and these countries are still closed to international visitors. In common with other countries which have started to re-open borders, a negative PCR test is required. Overall our partners on the ground feel the country is not yet fully prepared and ready to welcome visitors, though they are focussed on making sure everything is in place for when our clients are able to visit.
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