And maybe sooner than we expected as long-haul tour operators show confidence in the UK—the world’s largest country source market for Visit USA traffic
While dominoes falling one after the other is not an exact metaphor, it doesn’t seem to matter to the UK tourism industry, which was closed for business for more than a year-and-a-half because of the global pandemic wrought by the COVID-19 virus as the country rode out a particularly heavy levy of damage to the country’s people and the tourism industry. The virus wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people and businesses.
No more. On September 27, the United States, which had been holding out on easing travel restrictions to and from the country, announced that, beginning in early November, it would allow vaccinated travelers to enter from the UK and most EU and a number of other nations.
On any given day during the past two weeks, it has been impossible not to notice unbridled enthusiasm in the UK travel trade news media and in mainstream news channels of the country. About the only factor dampening the enthusiasm is the reality of the challenge of getting into working order the logistical infrastructure that it is going to be necessary in order to have employees and programs in place and in order by early next month.
With the above as a preface, here are some of the developments that have fed the enthusiasm of the past couple of weeks.
—The UK has ended its traffic light system that rated other countries on of three colors indicating which degree of readiness to travel to the UK they had reach. (Only a handful of countries remain “red.”)
—There has been a reservations boom by British travelers, some of whom are still hoping to book a long-haul package (to the U.S., we hope) this year!
—When TUI talks, the rest of Europe listens. The company, which is the largest operator in Europe (and in the UK) is raise €1.1 billion ($1.49 billion) in order to strengthen its balance sheet as travel starts to emerge from the damage inflicted by the pandemic. The company said that UK winter bookings were “trending strongly” after the September 17 government update on travel rules, and that overall summer 2022 bookings are up 54 percent over pre-pandemic summer 2019.
—WTM, Brand USA shows are soon. In less than a month, two major trade shows, the World Travel Market (WTM) and the Brand USA Travel Week, are both scheduled to take place in London: WTM is slated to go on November 1-3, while the Brand USA event is slated for Oct. 25-28. The former is being staged at London’s ExCel, while the Brand USA Travel Week is being held at London County Hall.
—TTG reported that Jim Eastwood, global sales director at Travel Counsellors, hailed the “resurgence of long haul” with the Maldives and United Arab Emirates among its top sellers. “The announcement about US entry restrictions easing resulted in an immediate surge in bookings for leisure customers and corporate clients for November onwards,” added Eastwood. “The top three selling U.S. destinations are Orlando, New York and Las Vegas.”
—Worldwide, people want to travel: A survey commissioned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) questioned 4,700 respondents in 11 markets last month and found that two thirds (67 percent) felt that most country borders should be opened now, up 12 percentage points from IATA’s June 2021 survey. Almost two thirds (64 percent) of respondents felt that border closures are unnecessary and have not been effective in containing the virus–up 11 percentage points from June.
—Latest ATOL numbers show strength and resilience: Last week, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued its half-yearly list and ranking of Air Travel Organizer License (ATOL) holders. What they showed as a group was staying power. The current top ten—they are the same companies as a year ago—are licensed to carry 14,023,706 package holidays passengers between them. At the time last year, they were covered to carry a combined 12,055,667. Last year’s total was a drop of more than five million collectively on 2019. That is, with this year’s prospective improvement on last year, the worst is over.
|“The majority of UK tour operators are required to hold an ATOL license, without which they may not legally sell air travel. ATOL-licensed firms will have had their business practices inspected by the CAA. An ATOL licensed tour operator must also obtain insurance bonds from the CAA. The aim of this is to provide refunds to travelers affected by any event which causes the airline to be unable to provide travel for its customers, and to arrange for flights (in addition to accommodation and other items which may be included in a package holiday) to return home those already abroad at the time.“|
The CAA reported that it had granted 871 ATOL licenses by the September 30 renewal date, more than 300 fewer than in October 2019. (The process was extended in 2019, because of the September 23, 2019 collapse of tour operator Thomas Cook.) Of the 1,133 ATOLs due for renewal, 118 applications remained outstanding and 144 ATOL holders chose not to renew. As such, the licensing process leaves 1,517 ATOL holders, with 661 due to renew in March 2022
—Data are a guide to the future: As Travel Weekly UK explained, “Companies can vary their ATOL numbers in the course of the license period but not substantially without the scrutiny of the CAA, so these figures offer a guide to expectations for the next 12 months.”
The CAA reported that it had granted 871 ATOL licenses by the September 30 renewal date, more than 300 fewer than in October 2019.
Of the 1,133 ATOL licenses due for renewal, 118 applications remain outstanding and 144 ATOL holders chose not to renew. The licensing process leaves 1,517 ATOL holders, with 661 due to renew in March 2022.