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    Choose travel insurance wisely urges Which?

    Fewer than one in 100 travel insurance policies provide ‘complete’ cover for Covid-19 disruption, a Which? analysis of more than 250 policies has revealed.
    While some travel insurers boast of offering impressive-sounding ‘Covid-19 cover’, the consumer rights body found that this means different things for different providers.
    Which? found that many policies exclude plausible – and often expensive – scenarios, such as new lockdowns in the UK or destination country.
    The organisation looked at 263 travel insurance policies’ Covid-19 cover and gave them ratings ranging from ‘basic,’ to ‘low,’ ‘superior’ and ‘complete’.
    Just two policies, HSBC Select and Cover and Barclays Travel Pack, were rated as ‘complete’, which meant that they protected travellers against:

    Cancellation due to changes in advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) or government lockdowns prohibiting travel.
    Testing positive for Covid or being told to self-isolate.
    Medical costs and repatriation.

    Both of these policies are available to customers of these banks and can only be bought alongside other insurance products.
    A further 85 policies were ranked ‘superior’, providing cancellation cover for travellers having to self-isolate without a positive test, but not for FCDO advice changing.
    Policies with ‘superior’ Covid-19 cover included those from popular providers such as AA, AXA and Staysure.
    Just over half of the policies (142) were ranked ‘low’, including policies from Nationwide, Admiral and the Post Office. ADVERTISEMENTThis means that they offer some cancellation cover – but that does not go as far as covering travellers for cancelling in the event of needing to self-isolate without having a positive Covid-19 test result. 
    There were 34 policies ranked ‘basic’, the lowest ranking.
    Such policies provide travellers with cover for Covid-19-related emergency medical costs and repatriation, but not for cancelling a trip if a traveller contracts Covid-19.
    Among well-known providers offering some ‘basic’ policies were Direct Travel, esure and Sheilas’ Wheels.
    Every policy analysed offered cover for medical and repatriation costs for travellers that had caught Covid-19 while travelling.
    Which? is calling for the government to work with regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to make every effort to ensure all travellers adequately understand their travel insurance cover and can access cover that protects them against sudden changes to travel restrictions when they would otherwise struggle to get their money back.
    It should also be giving as much notice as possible if rules change.
    Travel and insurance providers should be giving travellers clear information about their policies, including those relevant to cancelled flights, changes in travel advice and refunds, and clearly highlighting the policies’ limitations.
    The FCA should monitor how well insurers are presenting this information.
    Gareth Shaw, head of Which? Money, said: “As the removal of Portugal from the green list shows, last-minute disruption to holiday plans can happen – and our research shows that many travel insurers don’t offer much protection if it does.
    “The government should work with regulators to ensure that travellers, should they choose to go abroad, are given clear information about what they will and won’t be covered for – and make sure that providers don’t make bold and confusing claims about their cover without being clear about the limitations. ”

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    On the Beach prepares for September relaunch

    On the Beach has seen adjusted revenue for the six months to the end of March fall to just £12 million.
    This is down 77 per cent from the £53 million reported for the same period last year.
    The company reported £22 million in losses for the first half of the year, having taken the majority of its trips off sale while waiting for the outbound market from the UK to reopen.
    Simon Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach Group, commented: “The group has experienced continued disruption through the first half, and this has remained as we head into the summer.
    “As announced on May 12th, the board took the decision to extend the group’s off-sale period from June 30th to August 31st.ADVERTISEMENT“Given the recent change in status of Portugal from green to amber, the board is pleased to have taken this decision early, so as to avoid customers suffering yet more turmoil and disappointment.”
    Looking ahead, On the Beach said booking volumes for summer 2022 remain low, but are “significantly ahead” of normal trading patterns.
    This was partially due to the early release of flights for next year by most major airlines, a statement explained.
    Cooper also offered praise to the authorities for enforcement action taken against airlines he said had been mistreating customers.
    He added: “On the Beach has long championed the rights of both its customers and wider holiday consumers and the board was pleased to see that the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has opened cases to investigate whether certain airlines have broken consumer law, by failing to offer refunds for flights customers could not legally take, thereby leaving people unfairly out of pocket.
    “It is pleasing to see increased regulatory scrutiny on the travel sector and I would like to see this taken one step further with other travel companies establishing trust accounts, similar to ours, so that all customer monies are ringfenced and can be immediately returned should their holiday be cancelled.”

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    UKHospitality warns of job losses if Covid-19 restrictions are extended

    The government must stick to its roadmap and lift all restrictions on June 21st or risk further jeopardising the future of thousands of hospitality businesses and the jobs they provide, UKHospitality has warned.
    The statement comes amid growing expectation restrictions will be extended for a further month in order to allow for more vaccinations to take place in the coming weeks.
    The trade association however, argued any delay would be devastating for the sector and around 300,000 jobs would be put at risk – including those still on furlough.
    Hospitality has been the hardest hit during the crisis, losing more than £87 billion in sales, leaving businesses deeply in debt and at risk of suffering “economic long Covid-19” if the right support is not forthcoming.
    Even now, with partial reopening, sector sales remain down 42 per cent.ADVERTISEMENTA one-month delay to restrictions lifting would cost the sector around £3 billion in sales – but would also have a knock-on impact on bookings throughout the summer and into the autumn.
    Alongside the impact on revenue, businesses are now facing a jump in costs with business rates payments set to recommence and employer contributions to furlough kicking in.
    UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “The government has a balance to strike but due to the amazing efforts of the NHS in rolling out vaccines, it is time to lift the restrictions that are crushing businesses.
    “A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably.
    “If the government decides it has to keep some restrictions in place after June 21st, then it must prioritise those that do the least damage to business and commit to further supporting the sector.
    “Confidence has been shaken so it is imperative that government postpones business rates payments until at least October and extend the rent and debt moratoria for hospitality businesses while a long-term solution to Covid arrears is found.”

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    ABTA releases new Travel Day of Action information

    Updated information on the activities around the Travel Day of Action has been published by ATBA.
    The event is scheduled to take place on June 23rd across the UK.
    Luke Petherbridge, director of Public Affairs at ABTA, said: “The Travel Day of Action is an opportunity for the whole industry to urge the UK government and devolved administrations to speak up for travel.
    “Throughout this entire pandemic the UK travel industry has had nowhere near the level of support needed to deal with the devastating impact this crisis has had on people’s jobs, livelihoods and businesses.
    “Figures don’t do justice in explaining the financial and emotional toll this has taken on those working in travel.”ADVERTISEMENTHe added: “It has been fantastic to see such great support and interest in the Travel Day of Action, and there are lots of different ways that people will be able to get involved – including via social media, meeting with their MPs or joining events in London, Edinburgh or Belfast.”
    There is more information on what to expect during the event here.
    Petherbridge continued: “It is really important that people strictly follow the rules and requirements around Covid-19 and arrangements for the day.
    “We want the Day of Action to generate positive sentiment and constructive support for the industry.”
    He concluded: “Anyone wishing to attend the organised lobby on College Green, Westminster, must register in advance via their trade association.
    “We have permission for 400 people to be on College Green at any one time and have two time slots, meaning we could have up to 800 people – including press, MPs and organisers.
    “If you move beyond College Green then you will need to abide by all of the usual social distancing measures, including no groups of more than 30 people together outside.”

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    Titan Travel appoints Constable as chief executive

    Titan Travel has confirmed the appointment of John Constable to the role of chief executive.
    He will take up the role on June 21st.
    Constable is an established leader in the travel industry with a wealth of sector knowledge and leadership experience at chief executive level.
    Most recently, he was executive group general manager of Helloworld, one of the largest travel distributors in Australia and New Zealand.
    Prior to that spent five years as the global chief executive of STA Travel. ADVERTISEMENTConstable has also held senior roles within TUI UK and Austravel.
    He will join Titan later this month with both Andy Squirrell, managing director, and Steve Jenkins, chief financial officer, reporting to him.
    Titan Travel non-executive chairman, Richard Bowden-Doyle commented: “John’s appointment as chief executive comes at exactly the right time for the business, as we emerge from the pandemic with bold and ambitious plans for recovery and growth.
    “We’re buoyed by the incredible loyalty shown by our customers and their clear desire to make new travel plans, so we are ready to get back to doing what we do best – giving Titan customers perfect travel experiences time after time.”
    Titan Travel is one of the leading escorted touring specialists in the UK.
    With over 40 years’ experience, the brand offers more than 200 itineraries to over 60 countries and all seven continents.

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    Which? warns over poor quality Covid-19 testing

    Listings with misleading pricing information and firms that did not offer testing services at all have been allowed to appear on the list of travel test providers from the UK government, a Which? investigation has found.
    Amid concerns about prices, regulatory oversight and the capacity of the system when mass travel resumes, the consumer champion investigated some of the companies on the testing for travel list that claimed to offer some of the cheapest services.
    Which? looked at the ten cheapest providers of tests for people entering the UK from an amber list country at the end of May, with prices being listed between £60 to £98.
    However, a number of the tests listed among the cheapest providers turned out to be much more expensive than their initial listings suggested, while others were simply unobtainable.
    On May 25th, the three cheapest providers on the list for entry into the UK appeared to be Biograd Diagnostics (£60), Screen4 (£60) and Book A Travel Test (£79.99).
    But on further inspection, it transpired that these prices were either for booking one at-home test, or for booking a single test carried out in a clinic, rather than both Day 2 and Day 8 tests that are required for returning from an amber list country.
    After Which? contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the prices for tests from these providers were amended to show prices ranging from £100 to £160, and the three companies no longer appeared in the top ten cheapest providers.
    Both Biograd Diagnostics and Screen4 told Which? that there was an issue with how the DHSC recorded price information, suggesting that the incorrect prices had been listed by DHSC.
    Since then, Which? has seen other companies jump to the top of the list by appearing to be among the cheapest, with the price for just one test quoted, rather than the two needed.
    Which? also uncovered test providers listed on the government’s website that were not actually offering testing services at the time they were listed.
    At the beginning of June, the list included five providers – 01 Test, 1010 Labs, Expert Medicals, Nationwide Testing, and Star Medicals – that appeared to be linked, with almost identically worded refund policies, and Expert Medicals telling Which? they were due to begin working with three of the four other labs, raising questions about competition between providers and the impact on consumers’ ability to make informed choices.
    The labs claimed to charge between £85 and £89 for the tests needed to return from an amber country.ADVERTISEMENTHowever, three of those companies – 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals – provided little information about their services, did not answer calls to the numbers they provided, and Expert Medicals told Which? that while it was due to start working with them, the companies had not yet started offering tests.
    After the consumer champion asked DHSC why companies that could not yet provide tests were on the list, 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals were all subsequently removed.
    When Which? checked again in the week beginning June 7th, Expert Medicals and 1010 Labs were both still listed among the cheapest on the list, at £93 and £79 respectively.
    However, the £79 1010 Labs listing was only for a single test, rather than both tests required for return from an amber list country.
    Expert Medicals also had a large number of complaints and very poor ratings on Trustpilot, while 1010 Labs had not yet appeared to have been reviewed anywhere at the time of the investigation, and was also found to be listing incorrect information on its website.
    The 1010 Labs website initially said that it was offering cheap tests at various Premier Inn hotels around the country, but when Which? contacted Premier Inn, it told the consumer champion that this was not the case.
    Premier Inn said it had been informed by 1010 Labs that the hotel chain had been listed by mistake, and that the tests are actually being carried out at Holiday Inns.
    The consumer champion contacted Holiday Inn, which also said that it was not aware of the firm. However, it did say that some franchise hotels may have agreed to work with the test provider.
    Taken together, these issues highlight serious flaws with the government’s current testing for travel system, with a clear lack of regulatory oversight that is desperately needed before mass travel resumes.
    Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Weeks on from some international travel being allowed to resume, it’s very concerning to still be uncovering such serious problems with the government’s testing system for travellers – problems that could have easily been ironed out well ahead of travel restarting, had proper regulatory oversight been ensured early on.
    “As it stands, travellers risk being left at the mercy of rogue operators who, at best, attempt to profiteer off of those looking for testing services to allow them to travel, and at worst, risk leaving them out of pocket for services that don’t even exist.
    “The government needs to urgently sort out these problems before mass travel resumes, or it will create chaos for travellers who have to rely on the system.”

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    IATA praises reopening of borders in parts of Europe

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has welcomed the relaxation of Covid-19 border measures for vaccinated passengers by Spain and France this week.
    The body also praised the broader use of affordable antigen testing adopted in the European destinations.
    This is tempered, however, by ongoing disappointment at the failure to implement harmonised measures across Europe and deep frustration at the lack of coordination among governments worldwide for a data-driven risk-managed approach to re-establishing the freedom to travel.
    As of Monday, Spain opened its borders to most vaccinated travellers from around the world and allowed EU travellers to enter the country with a negative antigen test.
    Furthermore, passengers coming from low-risk countries (including the UK) can enter without any restrictions.
    From Wednesday, France opened to vaccinated travellers from all but those countries assessed as “high risk”.
    Vaccinated travellers from “medium-risk” countries will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 antigen or PCR test, and unvaccinated people must still self-isolate for seven days.
    “It’s encouraging to see more European countries taking steps to reopen borders.
    “They recognise the opportunity created by vaccination and are making travel more affordable with the use of antigen testing. ADVERTISEMENT“But this approach is not universal across the continent.
    “Many European states have yet to significantly relax borders at all.
    “This fragmentation should be replaced with a unified approach that is consistent with the recommendations of the EU to which they belong.
    “People, businesses and economies would all benefit from greater alignment across Europe in relaxing measures and restoring the freedom to travel,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.
    A consistent approach across Europe is required if the EU Digital Covid-19 Certificate is to be implemented effectively by July 1st.
    And around the world, governments need to allow digital certificates to be integrated in passenger applications such as IATA Travel Pass, in order to relieve pressure on airports and at borders from more complex passenger processing as the number of travellers ramps up, a statement added.
    These moves by Spain, France and other European states are a step in the right direction, but restoring global connectivity requires far more than regional or individual state initiatives.
    “Connectivity needs countries at both ends of the journey to be open.
    “Many of the world’s largest air travel markets, such Australia, China, the UK, Japan, and Canada remain essentially closed with no clear plans to guide a reopening.
    “Data should help these and other countries to introduce targeted policies that keep populations safe while moving towards a normality in world with Covid-19 for some time to come.
    “The G7 has an opportunity later this month to set a risk-managed framework for re-establishing the freedom to travel in a way that is both affordable and practical. It’s critical that they take up the challenge,” said Walsh.

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    WTTC launches new Reunited tourism campaign

    A new campaign has been launched by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) calling on governments around the world to restart international travel and enable the world to ‘Reunite’ once again.
    After more than a year of lockdowns around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the new campaign will showcase the importance international travel has on individuals and businesses.
    It will also encourage travellers to share with the world, the positive impact travel makes to their lives and mental well-being.
    Through its social media channels, Reunite will urge people from all corners of the globe to share their own stories of how tourism has made a difference and changed their lives.
    WTTC believes whilst tourism makes a significant contribution to economies around the world, it also provides an essential way for individuals to connect, experience and discover cultures around the world.
    The campaign launches with a feelgood and positive video showing how now is the time to get the world moving again, to reunite families, friends, colleagues and communities.ADVERTISEMENTAs vaccination rollouts advance in many countries around the world and as cases begin to drop, it is important for governments to recognise what tourism brings to the economy and the population as a whole.
    It is equally as important to recognise that some regions and countries are still battling to put the pandemic under control, and that the majority of vaccinations have been in developed countries.
    This means that the pandemic will continue to spread in those countries that do not have equal access to vaccines.
    Virginia Messina, WTTC senior vice president, said: “Travel gives us memories which last a lifetime and the most amazing experiences to share, so we are excited to launch a campaign that gets to the heart of what travel means to people.
    “Travel has a hugely positive benefit upon the world, far beyond the immediate pleasure it brings to those who are able to explore and discover people, places and amazing experiences for themselves.
    “Right now, so many people have been separated from their loved ones for months if not over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
    “For the past year WTTC has been hugely invested in advocating for the social and mental benefits of tourism.
    “Through this campaign we are hoping to help kickstart the recovery of our sector through a truly worthwhile experience: reuniting with those who matter most to us.”
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