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British travel U-turn, too little too late

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Despite the British government’s travel rethink on lifting travel restrictions for vaccinated tourists, it might come too late as the summer season shortens.

Earlier this week, Cyprus’ hopes of salvaging a blighted coronavirus summer were rekindled; UK government officials and Tory MPs campaigned to convince Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow fully vaccinated Britons to travel to countries in the amber category.

Cyprus tourism was on a cliff edge when Johnson delayed plans to unlock the UK by almost a month, pushing the date of allowing Britons to travel to anywhere but the 11 countries and territories on the country’s green list to 19 July.

While travelling to amber listed destinations is not banned, the UK government warn against it, and tourists returning to the UK from an amber country like Cyprus must undergo 10-day self-isolation and two tests.

Britain was expected to lift travel restrictions on 21 June.

According to the Daily Telegraph report, a campaign to sway Johnson’s opinion is gaining ground, but stakeholders fear that even if a U-turn materialises, it will not salvage another blighted coronavirus summer.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Noel Josephides of Sunvil Travel, former chairman of the association of independent tour operators (AITO), does not expect any change in the UK’s policy any time soon.

“The most likely scenario is that such a decision will be pushed to July, which means that not much can be done to get tourists on board a plane to an amber country, for which there are currently no flights anyway,” said Josephides.

Despite the latest developments, he said Cyprus would not see many UK tourists this summer, as “at best they will be coming in August”.

In Cyprus and Europe, the industry has had to move forward and plan without counting on tourists from the UK.

“The rest of Europe is on the move. The French are allowed to travel, along with many other fully vaccinated European citizens.

“So, tour operators, hotels would sit and wait for the UK to decide?”

He said the UK has not been clear on its instructions and plans to lift restrictions on flights.

“Earlier this month, in a move that brought about the fierce reaction of airlines, the UK removed Portugal, the only EU holiday destination, from its safe list, just three weeks after adding it to the safer green list.”

Portugal slammed the UK’s decision to downgrade it to amber as “unfair and completely inadequate”.

The UK argued that concerns over the “Nepal” mutation of the Indian variant were detected in the country.

“Even if travel to amber countries will be allowed, how can we expect tourism stakeholders to take on the risk?”.

Josephides said that if things don’t change and Britons are not allowed more options to travel, then the tour operators will go belly up.

“Missing out on two seasons will not be something that the majority of tour operators could walk away from unscathed.”

Spokesperson of the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents Charis Papacharalambous did say that any decision from the UK reversing their decision on foreign travel restrictions would be beneficial for Cyprus.

“In no way are we expecting to see British tourists arriving in their pre-COVID masses.

“Nor will lifting travel bans help Cyprus tourism overnight. But it will help to keep the sector going,” said Papacharalambous.

He argued that Cyprus tourism is ready to welcome British tourists back.

“However, the issue will arise with international stakeholders, such as tour operators and airliners who are not keen on taking on the risk of booking flights and hotels during these uncertain times.”

If the UK had allowed Britons to fly to amber countries or Cyprus made it on the UK’s green list, tour operators would feel very insecure as epidemiological data is fragile.

“We have seen that tour operators, quite rightfully, do not have an appetite for risk.

“Airlines and tour operators like TUI and Jet2 have pushed back their flight schedules from the UK to Cyprus until July.

‘On the Beach’, a UK-based travel retailer specialising in holidays to Europe, had at some point said that it was freezing packages for Britons until the end of August,” said Papacharalambous.

Pre-Covid-19, over 53% of Cyprus’ record 3.97 million tourist arrivals in 2019 came from the UK (33.5%) and Russia (19.7%).

Cyprus had three successive boom years before the pandemic struck, with British arrivals peaking at 1.4 million.