Call to ease UK travel restrictions to boost visitor bookings

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Alex Dolan, of Dolan Hotels, says that visitors are booking hotel rooms which are paid for on arrival but are holding off buying flights due to fears they will have to isolate if cases spike in their region.

In turn, he says, airlines are either merging or cancelling flights because not enough seats are being sold in advance.

And Robert Mackenzie, managing director of CI Travel Group, has warned that Jersey could be heading into a worse summer than last year and has questioned why border policies for the UK are so ‘stringent’ despite low infection rates.

During a Scrutiny hearing this week, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said that tourists might be put off travelling to Jersey by the ‘triple testing’ rules in the Island.

The concerns follow a campaign by Visit Jersey which has led to stories being published in several national newspapers promoting Jersey as a safe destination situated within the Common Travel Area.

Speaking about how bookings were progressing, Mr Dolan said: ‘Things have definitely picked up – not just for advance bookings but also for those in the short term. From July onwards it is looking very strong.

‘The difficulty is with May and June. What we are seeing are that bookings are coming in but the flights and ferries are being cancelled – it is almost like we are taking a step forward and then two steps back.

‘It is a bit of a dangerous game of chicken and egg. We have got people booking but they do not want to book flights until they know they can travel. Airlines are then either merging flights together or cancelling them.’

Mr Dolan then praised the efforts being made by Visit Jersey but added that the arrivals process needed to be made easier, with vaccine passports potentially being the answer.

‘The message has been that Jersey is a safe and robust destination but I think there are still a lot of people who are finding the traffic light system and test regime confusing. They are also worried that they might test positive before coming and not being able to come over,’ he said.

‘If there is a feasible and reliable system for vaccine passports, then I think the introduction of those would give people the confidence to travel without worrying that they might get stuck here. As long as the system is safe and robust and is approved by STAC and the government, then it needs to come in.’

The hotelier, whose family own the Somerville, Golden Sands and Christina hotels, said that booking habits had reverted to those seen during Jersey’s tourism heyday.

He added: ‘One of the trends we have been seeing is that whereas people previously booked to stay here for two, three or four nights we are now seeing that people are taking fewer but longer holidays. It has almost gone back in time.’

Meanwhile, Robert Mackenzie, managing director of CI Travel Group, said the industry was experiencing increased levels of interest but that uncertainty caused by the traffic light system – combined with triple-testing and the need to isolate until the first result – was hurting visitors’ confidence.

‘The key word is certainty. We need to provide as much certainty as possible that if you book a holiday here, then you will be able to take it,’ he said.

‘What I would like to see is that we go back to the situation we had last year where the whole of the UK was classed as green, there is one test on arrival and there is no requirement to isolate unless you test positive.

‘The Island is in a much better place compared to last summer, with so many people vaccinated with at least one dose. There is also a large section of the population who have been double-vaccinated – particularly those in the high-risk group. So why do we have a more stringent border policy than we did last year?’

Mr Mackenzie warned that inaction by politicians and officials could soon cause airlines to cut flights out of their schedules during the peak of the tourism season.

‘The government has to understand that they have got to start taking some decisions now because airlines are looking ahead and will soon be making decisions about capacity for July and August,’ he said.

‘Unless changes are made to border policies in the next two to three weeks, then there is a distinct possibility that there will be further cuts to [flight] capacity, which will have a significant impact on the economy this summer.

‘We could end up with a worse summer than last summer, which given where we are in terms of vaccines would be very disappointing.’

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