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    UNWTO backs WHO call for reopening of borders

    The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has welcomed the call of its sister agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), for restrictions on travel to be lifted or eased.
    Citing the varied global responses to the emergence of the of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the WHO has reiterated that restrictions on travel are not effective in suppressing the international spread.
    In line with a recurring warning from the UNWTO against the use of blanket restrictions, the tenth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee in Geneva earlier this month expressed concern that such measures can cause economic and social harm.
    They may also “discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging Variants of Concern,” the WHO added. 
    The committee also noted that measures applied to international travellers such as testing, isolation and quarantine, and vaccinations, should be based on “risk assessments and avoid placing the financial burden on international travellers”.ADVERTISEMENTUNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “When it comes to stopping the spread of new virus variants, blanket travel restrictions are simply counterproductive.
    “In fact, by cutting the lifeline of tourism, these restrictions do more harm than good, especially in destinations reliant on international tourists for jobs, economic wellbeing and sustainable change.”
    The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects Report for 2022 – to which UNWTO provided the official travel related data – has noted that in both developed and developing, recovery from the impacts of the pandemic is “uneven and fragile”.

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    Travel and leisure sector continues to bounce back

    Profit warnings issued by FTSE travel and leisure companies fell to their lowest level in seven years in 2021 despite the sector experiencing another challenging year, according to EY-Parthenon’s latest report.
    In total, the sector, which includes restaurants and bars, issued just 11 profit warnings in 2021, from 16 per cent of the sector.
    This compares with the record 74 profit warnings issued in 2020 in the height of the pandemic.
    The low level of profit warnings reflects the impact of record earnings downgrades in 2020, but also the positive impact of certain government support measures and how well businesses in the travel and leisure sector have adapted over a year which began with a lockdown and ended with the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
    Meg Wilson, turnaround and restructuring partner at EY, said: “Despite a challenging year, which included continued travel restrictions and reduced air passenger numbers, the travel industry has shown remarkable resilience. ADVERTISEMENT“Looking ahead to 2022, pent up demand for summer holidays, record levels of personal savings and a rebalancing of consumer spending from products to experiences should support a much better year ahead for international leisure travel.
    “However, there are still hurdles to overcome.
    “While the UK is further relaxing obstacles to travel, variability in destination markets remains.
    “There is uncertainty surrounding the timing of bookings and the extent of business travel reductions, which will result in different recovery speeds across the sector.
    “Margin pressures also haven’t gone away and the pass-on of costs may become harder as the cost-of-living squeeze intensifies.”
    The hospitality sector also faced continued staffing problems in 2021 with an average seven vacancies for every 100 employees.
    Brexit’s impact on the labour market, combined with furlough and growth of opportunities elsewhere, especially in retail and logistics, has increased competition and left some companies struggling to adapt.

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    European tourism sector calls for greater coordination among nations

    European tourism organisations have called on governments across the continent to align travel rules to avoid a patchwork of regulations.
    Passengers and business alike need a stable and coherent European framework to restart travelling and safely prepare for spring, it was argued.
    In the last few weeks, Europe has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases and the spread of the latest and highly-transmittable variant, Omicron.
    While the European Commission announced in December that the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) would be valid for nine months without a booster shot, several EU countries – including France, Italy, Denmark and Malta – decided to shorten the validity of vaccination passes for national use to seven or three months.
    A number of countries have also introduced additional testing requirements that apply to vaccinated/recovered EU travellers, going against the current European Council recommendations.ADVERTISEMENTTransport and tourism associations are very concerned at this emerging new patchwork of rules across Europe.
    The industry supports the European Commission according to which a harmonised validity period for the DCC “is a necessity for safe free movement and EU level co-ordination”.
    Although the commission recommends EU member states apply the same DCC validity period for intra-EU travel and national level, the emerging discrepancies are worrying.
    Equally, states should align with the council recommendations as they are agreed and updated from time to time, so that travel between Member States is possible under equal conditions across the EU at all times.
    The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the biggest global recession since WWII.
    Data shows EU economic underperformance from 2019–present relative to the United States and China, with forecasts confirming recovery is unlikely before 2023.
    Southern European countries have been particularly affected and without doubt, the travel and tourism sectors have been hit harder than others.
    Although the pandemic has been raging for the last two years, several EU members continue to act unilaterally, adopting a different DCC validity period, as well as diverging rules regarding children and young adults below 18 years old.
    This will have a direct impact on families wanting to travel for the winter holidays and later on this spring.
    This inconsistency in travel restrictions across the EU directly impinges on individual passengers and businesses to schedule future trips and holiday bookings.
    The transport and tourism industry still sees booking rates at least 30 per cent below 2021 levels.
    Organisations including Airlines for Europe, ACI Europe, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the European Travel Agents’ & Tour Operators’ Association, European Regions Airline Association, ETOA and the European Travel Retail Confederation, among others, signed letter.

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    UKinbound calls for day two testing to be scrapped

    UKinbound has written to the department for transport asking for day two testing for vaccinated international arrivals to be scrapped at the next travel review, due at the end of the month.
    In its letter the association, which represents over 300 UK-based tourism businesses, stressed that the day two test continues to be an impediment to recovery and at odds with European countries such as Ireland, where vaccinated arrivals are not required to take a test.
    UKinbound also outlined that it is imperative that the removal of day two testing is reciprocal for both UK and international citizens arriving in the country, arguing that the outbound and inbound tourism industries have a symbiotic relationship, and one cannot fully recover without the other.
    Future alterations to the fully vaccinated status for international arrivals, incorporating the third booster vaccination, were raised.
    To ensure this does not derail recovery, the association asked that when changes to vaccinated qualifying rules are published domestically, the guidance for international travel is published at the same time and that it clearly outlines any changes for inbound visitors who do not hold a UK passport or visa.ADVERTISEMENTJoss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, commented: “This year presents an array of challenges for the UK’s inbound tourism industry as it rebuilds, but recovery is on the horizon.
    “The industry has been working hard to roll out demand-driving initiatives to entice international visitors back and encourage them to spend their money here in the UK.
    “However, this demand will only convert into bookings if the UK is competitive internationally, which is why we need the day two test for vaccinated international arrivals removed.”

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    Contiki seeks to overhaul brand identity

    Contiki has launched an evolution of its brand identity as it seeks to boosts its position in youth travel.
    As well as a new look and feel, signifying an optimism for the industry, the company claims to have realised its ambition of becoming entirely carbon neutral.
    This refreshed positioning is focussed on the “fun, social experiences and sustainability” that the brand has been associated with for 60 years.
    “During these strange times, we took some time to really understand what our travellers will want when the so-called ‘new-normal’ arrives,” said Simon Llanos, Contiki chief marketing officer.
    “We thought about our position and how we communicate social travel, something the world has dearly missed. ADVERTISEMENT“We focussed on the things that are uniquely us: sharing incredible experiences, with brilliant people and a sense of fun, humour and community.
    “We really feel we’ve bottled this feeling with our lively new brand evolution.”
    The new look and feel is an expression of its values.
    The vivid colour shade, led by Contiki Green, leans into the energy, power and wonder of the feelings the brand creates on trips.
    “The evolution firmly places community at the heart of everything we do at Contiki, it expresses the emotional excitement of sharing your first travel moments with new friends from across the world,” Llanos said.

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    Riviera Travel adds new UK product for 2022

    Riviera Travel has added two new itineraries to its 2022 UK tour programme.
    The UK tour and river cruise operator has previously announced it will run over 100 group journeys this year, across 12 itineraries, from March to December.
    The new itineraries have been introduced by Riviera for the first ever time.
    They comprise a five-day Northumbrian Coast, Durham and Lindisfarne tour, with four nights in the four-star Doxford Hall Hotel including breakfast and dinner. ADVERTISEMENTIt features guided tours of Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral; visits to Alnwick Garden, Cragside National Trust property, Bamburgh Castle and Durham for afternoon tea; and a scenic drive to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh.
    Also on offer is a five-day Edinburgh, St Andrews and the Royal Yacht Britannia tour, with four nights in the four-star Mercure Edinburgh Haymarket Hotel including breakfast.
    It features a guided tour of Edinburgh; visits to St Andrews, the Royal Yacht Britannia, Stirling Castle and a whisky distillery; a lake cruise around Loch Katrine; and a scenic drive through the Trossachs.
    Both itineraries have a total of five departures, running from May to October.
    An expert tour manager will be on hand throughout.
    Joanne Lynn, head of European Product at Riviera Travel, said: “We have been thrilled with the positive feedback we have received, from both the trade and guests, for all of our tour itineraries following their introduction last year.
    “As interest shows no sign of slowing down, we’ve added these two new options to give even more choice and variety.
    “With a wealth of stunning sights and scenery to explore, our tours offer a captivating experience for guests wishing to holiday closer to home.”

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    IATA chief blames government overreaction for latest travel slump

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed that the recovery in air travel continued in November, prior to the emergence of Omicron.
    International demand sustained its steady upward trend as more markets reopened.
    Domestic traffic, however, weakened, largely owing to strengthened travel restrictions in China.
    Total demand for air travel in November 2021 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometres or RPKs) was down 47 per cent compared to November 2019.
    This marked an uptick compared to the 49 per cent contraction seen in October last year when compared to 2019.
    Domestic air travel deteriorated slightly in November after two consecutive monthly improvements. ADVERTISEMENTDomestic RPKs fell by 25 per cent versus 2019 compared with a 21 decline in October.
    Primarily this was driven by China, where traffic fell 51 per cent compared to 2019, after several cities introduced stricter travel restrictions to contain (pre-Omicron) Covid-19 outbreaks.
    International passenger demand in November was 61 per cent below November 2019, bettering the 65 per cent decline recorded in October.
    “The recovery in air traffic continued in November.
    “Unfortunately, governments over-reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant at the close of the month and resorted to the tried-and-failed methods of border closures, excessive testing of travellers and quarantine to slow the spread.
    “Not surprisingly, international ticket sales made in December and early January fell sharply compared to 2019, suggesting a more difficult first quarter than had been expected.
    “If the experience of the last 22 months has shown anything, it is that there is little to no correlation between the introduction of travel restrictions and preventing transmission of the virus across borders.
    “And these measures place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
    “If experience is the best teacher, let us hope that governments pay more attention as we begin the New Year, ” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.

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    Balcombe to step down from VisitBritain leadership

    VisitBritain chief executive, Sally Balcombe, has announced that she is stepping down from the role in spring this year.
    Balcombe, who has been chief executive, first of VisitBritain then of VisitBritain and VisitEngland, for more than seven years, is leaving the national tourism agency to pursue new opportunities.
    She said it had been an honour to lead the national tourism agency.
    “When I joined, in 2014, we were already a high performing agency supporting a world-class, successful industry.
    “Until the pandemic, our industry went from strength-to-strength, attracting record numbers of both visits and spend, creating jobs and economic growth.ADVERTISEMENT“Then Covid-19 struck, hitting our industry first and hardest.
    “Our sector has always been able to adapt, and Covid-19 was no different, with conference centres becoming hospitals and museums and attractions taking their collections online.
    “As we enter 2022, our industry continues to be confronted by many challenges and our focus is to drive immediate tourism recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic by building back visitor spend as quickly as possible and supporting the industry.”
    British Tourist Authority (BTA) interim chair, Judith Macgregor, will lead the search for a replacement.
    She added: “On behalf of the BTA Board and VisitBritain/VisitEngland I would like to extend our huge thanks to Sally for her outstanding and creative leadership over so many years of successful development and for steering the agency through the difficulties of the pandemic, setting its priorities and longer-term strategy to support this hard-hit industry through crisis to recovery and beyond.
    “Sally has made a significant and lasting contribution to the UK’s tourism industry, not only during her tenure as chief executive of VisitBritain/VisitEngland, but with a career spanning more than 40 years in travel. We wish Sally all the very best for the future.”

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