Health Minister Simon Harris stated that it is "Not looking good" for foreign travel in 2020. RTE News further reported that "it was looking highly unlikely that people would be able to travel abroad for holidays later in the year".
So what does this mean for travel in 2020? Where do we go from here? Well, first of all, and it needs to be said that we are not here to advise Simon Harris what he should and shouldn't say, we're not passing any comment on government handling of this crisis and nor are we seeking any comment on that. For the record this is an unprecedented situation and governments across the world have had the impossible job of trying to deal with the endless less of repercussions of every decision. While one move pleases one person it frustrates another. One move helps one person but might not help another so much. The number of deaths and infections is way below what was feared and while tragic, the efforts of all to save lives and keep this number down need to be commended.
With that out the way, where does it leave our travel plans? What about travel agents? Will we get away and where?
FACT - WE WON'T BE TRAVELLING UNTIL AT LEAST AUGUST...
The truth of the matter is that Simon Harris made that statement but no one has a crystal ball. If he's making that statement it's not without some thought and information. Sometimes we don't want to hear bad news no matter how true it might be. However, he doesn't know if we'll travel this year at this point. Neither do we! No one does! Its crystal ball stuff. The truth is its too early to say. The Irish Travel Agents Association has tweeted that it's "a stupid thing to say" calling out Minister Harris...
What we do know is that the government have set up a 5 phase plan which takes us into August so it would be absolutely fair to say that we will not all be jetting off on our holidays any time up to August 10th. It's also fair to say it's unlikely we'll be jetsetting across the world in the days immediately after that..
Phase 2 and 3 - 8th and 29th June - allowed to travel up to 20km but avoid all unnecessary journeys.
Phase 4 - 20th July - Extend travel to outside your region (unsure of this definition)
Phase 5 - 10th August - Resume tourist travel to offshore islands by non residents
The plan doesn't go any further than this, because it's too far ahead, too unknown and too hard to predict. Every phase will have to be assessed in terms of impact. All being well the country will move through these stages without any further spikes, with number of deaths and infections dropping to zo or as close as possible and we can get into August as per schedule, with albeit a new reality but one that reflects our 'old normal' much more closely. Thats the most important thing right now.
FACT - THERE ARE UNRESOLVED QUESTIONS FOR THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY
There are a number of challenges for the airline industry to resolve before it starts to fly regularly again. The first obvious issue is that most fleets are grounded and as we know from previous groundings there's a considerable amount of time in order to rearrange schedules and having planes where needed. This can be resolved fairly quickly whereas other issues will take longer.
For example without knowing exactly the ongoing requirements around social distancing it's difficult for an airline to know how to adapt. For example United Airlines and other airlines have indicated they will not use the middle row... which while desirable even before Covid to us all (no-one's mad about the middle seat!), it really doesn't meet any social distancing guidelines in reality. Michael O'Leary agrees calling the idea "idiotic". It might be good PR but you can't stay 2 metres apart on a plane.
There's mention of having to wear face-masks while onboard with American Airlines, United and Delta all introducing this policy in recent days across the US! There are question marks about the onboard food and drinks services, boarding policies and more... all will need to be thrashed out before we start seeing the world again...and ultimately how will this all affect the pricing? No one knows... One things for sure, they'll be working on it all...and fast... with British Airways, Ryanair and Aer Lingus seeking redundancies already they all know they need to get flying again and soon! A quick look at their respective sites will see you enticed by a host of sales and promotions for August, September and beyond..
FACT - THERE ARE INSURANCE, MEDICAL CERTIFICATES POLICY ISSUES TO RESOLVE
There are lots of rumours here but only rumours. There remains a lot to resolve here. For example, will you need a medical certificate to travel? Will you need a certificate that states you're 'Covid Free'? How is this proved? Where do you get it from? How long would such a process take to put into place?
There are thoughts that Over 70's or those with medical conditions would need to be approved to travel by their doctors and if we think about cruising these were the categories of passengers that were told very early on that it was not safe for them to cruise. Again, a process may need to be put in place here....
That's before we move onto the dirty word... insurance!! Will we be able to get a travel insurance that covers Covid 19? How much is that going to cost? Will we be able to travel without it? Will cruise lines insist on this insurance or these medical certificates? Time will tell..
Other things would have to change... the current restrictions that countries across the world including Ireland have on those returning from travel are prohibitive to anyone actually going away! For example if you embark on a cruise starting in another country you may find yourself quarantined in the country you return to before finding yourself quarantined again when you comeback to Ireland. This would have to change and maybe temperature testing at each point would remove the need to quarantine unless of course you've a high temperature... expect temperature testing to become a very common part of our travel experience from here.
FACT - TRAVEL AGENTS HAVE BEEN BADLY HIT
Travel Agents are in a very difficult position right now and even if you wanted to book a holiday you'll have to search around to find an agent with the capacity to book you right now. Important to note that agents ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS however many agents are now working from home, shops are closed and lots of staff have been 'furloughed' (off work and on the government 70% wage scheme). Some agents have sadly had to shut up shop for the final time such as FlyAway Travel and USIT and if the government withdraws it's wage support scheme we suspect others will follow. It may just be propping up some agencies at the moment.
The reduced staff are working round the clock on customers cancelled and rearranged holidays which of course brings no revenue in the door. Equally they are stuck in the middle of the passenger who wants their refunds and are entitled to same under our laws and travel industry providers who are determined to only offer credits or vouchers. Quite simply agencies do not have the money to pay out to all their customers at this point, it would put them out of business but equally travel providers are in the same boat hence the credit or voucher option. There is real sympathy all round here in what is an unprecedented situation for all concerned.
Somehow a compromise needs to be reached and some agents need to be able to return with a focus on booking your next wonderful holiday, rather than on constant administration.
Note, we can help you with any cruise booking, and will find you an agent that can book your next cruise for 2020, 2021 and even 2022 - just contact us here:
FACT - THERE ARE UNRESOLVED QUESTIONS FOR THE CRUISE INDUSTRY
We'll cover some of these issues in another post...there are so many rumours going around, some are far fetched, some are here to stay... temperature checking, increased sanitisation and potential restrictions on who can get onboard are here to stay. How will social distancing work though? Buffets, Theaters, Bars, Restaurants all have to be resolved, both on land and on sea for starters.... deck parties, promenade parties, embarkation and disembarkation queues all have to be worked out.... do cabins need to change, will there be less interior staterooms in future? Will there need to be more crew staterooms and more medical facilities? So many questions that cruise lines and CLIA are working through right now... but they will find answers.
ALSO A FACT - BE POSITIVE - THERE ARE REASONS FOR HOPE...
It must be noted however that alongside these phases the document clearly states that "The Road map also acknowledges the need to continue to work intensively on our approach to travel restrictions and controls at ports and airports and our co-operation with Northern Ireland , the UK and our EU partners"
This work will continue in coming days and weeks; this situation will be constantly assessed and it is fair to expect updates on this as we go along, it is unlikely to be something that will only be reviewed come August. That's the first thing... Ireland will want tourists revisiting the country and other countries will be exactly the same...
Speaking of other countries, this is not a decision that Ireland can realistically make alone. Other countries are already loosening restrictions and just like Ireland that will continue over coming weeks and months. The US has started lifting restrictions across many states. Germany continue to lift restrictions, Denmark, Norway continue to lift restrictions. Greece & Switzerland have now started lifting restrictions and even countries like Spain and Italy are making plans just like Ireland. Greece in fact are planning on opening up to tourism as early as July. Other countries remain unaffected...if you want to look at popular cruise destinations then locations in the Caribbean for example such as Saint Lucia, Dominica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Cayman Islands, Belize, Curacao, Aruba have had less than 5 deaths between them from Coronavirus and very few cases. Other popular tourist destinations like Vietnam have not had a death, Maldives have had just 1, Seychelles have not had a death. These places do exist and of course many countries are now in decline in terms of number of cases and number of deaths thankfully.
Of course this doesn't mean they are all open for business come August but some are likely to be with others to follow in the weeks and months afterwards.
MORE POSITIVE FACTS - THE CRUISE INDUSTRY IS PLANNING A RETURN!
The cruise industry is very much plotting its return and cruising is generally only suspended until June or July as it stands. In fact just yesterday Carnival Cruise Line announced that from 1st August they will be sailing 8 ships. These ships will be sailing out of Galveston, Miami and Port Canaveral. Now while this may seem a little ambitious its a bold step towards stating that cruising is returning even if it is on a phased basis.
We expect other cruise lines to follow in the months of August and September with a phased return, a small number of ships with selected itineraries for example to ports that are largely unaffected by Covid-19. Equally you could see cruising return with cruises to nowhere, 3, 4, or even 7 night cruises could be possible, perhaps even just to cruise lines own private islands. There are a number of possibilities here as cruise lines ramp up activity again and key for them will be to get started again to test and bed down any new safety procedures.
Furthermore we expect you'll see enticing pricing too... things are a little unsure at the moment which is why you're not seeing huge price drops... there are still a few too many questions to be answered but when they are you'll see cruise lines reassessing their pricing and you can expect promotions to come thick and fast for late 2020 and 2021...
OUR OPINION? THERE WILL BE OPTIONS - IT'S WHETHER YOU WANT TO TAKE THEM!
In our opinion we do think there will be pockets of travel opening up in the months ahead, possibilities to get away, cruise options to take. There are reasons to be positive if you're holding onto hope of travel in 2020.
You will not have the sheer choice that you would have had in 2019 or we expect in 2021 but we would be confident at this stage that the travel industry will find a way to make things happen.
There will still be more cancellations. There are major doubts for example over a lot of the Alaska season due to further restrictions there and it's limited period for sailing; many of you will find your existing holidays cancelled. However we do still think some of you will get away in the last quarter of the year and those that are yet to book will have a small number of options to choose from if you need a post lockdown pick me up...we all do, we all will... Whether you decide they are the right options is entirely up to you.
So stay positive, 2020 for International travel is not looking bright but it is looking possible!
We'll of course continue to keep you all informed.... if there's cruising happening, we'll tell you first!