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    Tourism arrivals limp through first quarter

    International tourist arrivals were down 83 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place.
    However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in optimism.
    Between January and March destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year.
    Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals over the three-month period.
    Europe recorded the second largest decline, down 83 per cent, followed by Africa (down 81 per cent), the Middle East (down 78 per cent) and the Americas (down 71 per cent).ADVERTISEMENTThis all follows on from the 73 per cent fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.
    UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, commented: “There is significant pent-up demand, and we see confidence slowly returning.
    “Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”
    The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly.
    Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.
    Overall, 60 per cent expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50 per cent in the January survey.
    The remaining 40 per cent see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January.

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    UNWTO opens regional office in Saudi Arabia

    The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has opened its first regional office for the Middle East.
    At a ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, was joined by Saudi minister of tourism, Ahmed Al Khateeb, to officially open the office.
    They were also joined by tourism ministers from across both Middle East and from every other global region, as well as by leaders from the private sector.
    The first UNWTO regional office will be a centre of conversation, debate and decision-making and bring hope to many people across the region allowing them to enjoy the social and economic benefits only tourism can deliver.
    The new office will serve as a hub for UNWTO to coordinate policy and initiatives across its 13 member states in the region.
    Pololikashvili said: “The first UNWTO regional office will be a centre of conversation, debate and decision-making and bring hope to many people across the region allowing them to enjoy the social and economic benefits only tourism can deliver. ADVERTISEMENT“Work on the office began after the start of the pandemic, proof of our determination and the strong support of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
    The UNWTO also contributed expert insights to the tourism recovery summit, organised by the Saudi ministry of tourism and held against the backdrop of the regional office opening.
    Al Khateeb added: “We are thrilled to host the new Regional Office in Saudi Arabia.
    “This demonstrates our commitment to working with our partners at the UNWTO to develop a strong industry based on the principles of sustainability and opportunities for all, across the region and globally.”

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    UK sees global tourism position slip following Covid-19

    New data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shows the UK fell out of the top five biggest tourism markets in 2020.
    Figures suggest the hospitality sector suffering a punishing GDP fall of 63 per cent last year.
    The fall from fifth place in 2019 to eighth position in 2020 saw it sustain one of the biggest collapses of the ten largest tourism markets, due to continuing travel restrictions, and what the WTTC called “unnecessary and crushing quarantines”.
    Meanwhile, the US maintained its position as the largest global tourism market, despite suffering a 41 per cent fall in GDP last year.
    China also kept its position as second biggest tourism market, but experienced a harder GDP fall of 60 per cent, with Japan slightly improving its ranking – from fourth to third – shouldering a GDP fall nearly half that of China, of just 37 per cent.ADVERTISEMENTGloria Guevara, WTTC chief executive, said: “With positive news from across Europe about the gradual reopening of borders we hope to see many more countries adopt a more risk-based approach.
    “This will restore mobility safely through rapid testing and health and hygiene protocols to support the vaccination rollout.”
    She added: “However, the UK was one of the most heavily impacted of the major tourism markets, falling out of the top five to eighth position due to the damaging and ineffective quarantines and unhelpful continuing travel restrictions.
    “Despite the restrictions designed to curb the spread of the pandemic, the US and China maintained their respective positions as first and second biggest tourism markets.”

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    UKinbound calls for risk-based framework for tourism reopening

    UKinbound has presented the government with three key critical asks ahead of the prime minister’s expected announcement on the re-opening of international travel, due in April.
    The asks were included as a key component of the association’s global travel taskforce submission.

    Create a risk-based reopening framework – including both short-haul and long-haul travel and the removal of quarantine via the introduction of digitalised entry documentation.
    A bilateral travel agreement with the US – our most valuable inbound travel market, where there is significant pent-up demand to holiday in the UK by vaccinated Americans.
    A four nations approach to lifting restrictions – international visitors expect and want to visit multiple countries in the UK and different restrictions could mean a trip to the UK is not taken.

    UKinbound’s response citied that the industry cannot afford a stop-start recovery, as this would shatter international confidence in travelling to the UK, and that domestic tourism will not make up the revenue gap left by international visitors.
    International tourists spend on average £685 a day in the UK, domestic tourists spend just a third of this, according to the Office for National Statistics. ADVERTISEMENTThe need to remove quarantine for all but those arriving from high-risk source markets was highlighted, along with a fundamental need to ensure that UK borders are resourced adequately to ensure smooth processing of passengers, which means the digitalisation of entry documents such as Covid-19 certificate, testing and passenger locator forms.
    Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, commented: “We have one chance to get the reopening of international travel right and the Prime Minister’s announcement on April 12th will be make or break for the inbound tourism industry.
    “How the taskforce communicates its findings and suggestions will fundamentally shape how successful the restart of international travel is.
    “We 100 per cent support a risk-based approach to reopening, but our industry simply cannot afford for just short haul to come back, or a stop start approach similar to what we saw last summer.
    “There is confidence to visit the UK in markets such as the US, and there is only a short window of opportunity to maximise this competitive position.”
    Image: Andrew Catterall/Alamy Stock Photo

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    AITO critical of government comments on summer holidays

    The Association of Specialist Travel Companies (AITO) has criticised the UK government for discouraging the booking of international holidays this summer.
    All trips are currently banned until May 17th,
    Speaking over the weekend, defence secretary Ben Wallace refused to rule out an extension to the ban in order to control the spread of Covid-19.
    Wallace said that booking a trip abroad would be “premature”.
    The remarks follow those of a scientist on the government SAGE advisory body who had argued holidays overseas are “extremely unlikely” because of the risk of travellers bringing variants to the UK.
    The UK faces a “real risk” if people travel abroad, Mike Tildesley said.ADVERTISEMENTHowever, AITO chairman Chris Rowles said it was too early to predict what the situation would be, saying the industry was awaiting a report from the Global Travel Taskforce on April 12th.
    “They are all jumping the gun,” he said.
    “The travel industry deserves better, quite honestly. 
    “We have fought now for 13 months, without respite, to keep our heads above water, refunding our clients often from our own pockets, without any sector-specific support, despite the Office of National Statistics declaring travel to be the worst-affected sector of all.”
    AITO members have reported a dramatic slowdown in bookings this weekend, just as confidence had picked up with the success of the vaccination programme.
    Rowles added: “It seems to have been overlooked that May 17th, the earliest date for international travel to restart, is more than two months away. 
    “Destinations are working hard to ensure that visitors and locals alike will be safe when travel recommences – subject of course to one and all wearing face masks, socially distancing and hand washing, as recommended, for the foreseeable future.
    “All we ask is for some common sense to be used.”

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    TUI launches Aruba winter sun holidays

    TUI UK has launched its first-ever winter holiday programme to Aruba in an attempt to give customers even more choice for some winter sun.
    Flights from London Gatwick start today, with the first departure fully sold out.
    The Dutch Caribbean island is on the quarantine-free list – meaning holidaymakers do not have to self-isolate on their return home.
    In response, the travel company is launching with an immediate programme of seven- and 14-night holidays.


    Richard Sofer, commercial and business development director at TUI, said: “Aruba is a quality destination with amazing hotels, fantastic beaches and guaranteed winter sunshine. We know our customers need a holiday now more than ever, so we’re really excited to be extending this destination into winter, giving our customers more choice.”
    TUI has previously only ever operated to Aruba in the summer but has decided to add Aruba flights to ensure UK travellers have even more exciting holiday options this winter.
    Aruba Tourism Authority chief executive, Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, commented: “In a year which has been so challenging for our vital tourism industry – and that of destinations around the world – this is wonderfully welcome news.
    “TUI have been a great supporter of Aruba over the years and their quick decision to fly here this winter is exciting news for the island, hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry.”
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    WTTC: Hospitality cannot wait for Covid-19 vaccine rollout

    The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and major international industry bodies have joined forces to call for the immediate restoration of international travel using proven processes and without waiting for, or requiring, vaccinations.
    WTTC has joined with Airports Council International (ACI), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), to argue the world cannot wait for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
    Officials said they recognised that public health is paramount and welcome the recent roll out of the game changing vaccines, which in the long-term will play a major role in combating coronavirus and restoring international travel.
    However, they must not be a requirement to travel as this will further delay the revival of the already ailing tourism sector, which needs to restart now to save millions of jobs and help restart the global economy.
    Getting people back to work will also provide enormous health benefits to those around the world, whose livelihoods have been affected by the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.


    The safe opening of existing travel corridors such as London Heathrow–Dubai, with appropriate testing and hygiene protocols, demonstrates international travel can already take place at minimal and acceptable risk.
    Together the bodies have identified four key measures which need to be implemented to restore international travel safely; globally recognised testing regimes before departure, common health and hygiene protocols that are aligned with globally-established standards set out by ICAO, a risk management regime and internationally consistent and recognised travel passes.
    WTTC and the industry bodies warn against the introduction of so-called ‘health passports’ – as opposed to internationally-recognised travel passes currently being considered – which would only further delay the recovery.
    Gloria Guevara, WTTC chief executive, said: “WTTC welcomes the incredible developments and hugely encouraging medical advances on COVID-19 vaccines which has seen the beginning of coronavirus vaccinations.
    “The vaccines currently being rolled out are truly game-changers, and hopefully just the first of many which could transform the world, mark the beginning of our return to a more normal way of life and see the return of safe and confident international travel.
    “Safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines will be critical to combatting Covid-19 and restoring confidence for people to interact with one another.
    “However, it will take considerable time to vaccinate the world and for the vaccines to have a significant effect on the global population, and the global tourism sector simply cannot wait.
    “Vaccination must not be a requirement to travel but should co-exist with testing regimes and be considered as a progressive enhancement to already safe travel.
    “Governments must now demonstrate leadership by opening bilateral travel corridors on key international routes with countries that apply the same robust risk management processes.”
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  • in to step up refunds following CMA probe has agreed to repay more than £7 million owed to customers whose package holidays were cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis.
    More than 9,000 customers are waiting for refunds, and the move follows pressure from the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).
    The government watchdog is currently chasing more than 100 package holiday firms to get refund commitments.
    The holiday firm was told to repay customers after hundreds of complaints it was delaying repayments owed to passengers.
    The firm has agreed to repay at least half of customers by December 16th and the rest by no later than the end of January.


    Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive, said: “Online travel agents have a legal responsibility to provide prompt refunds to customers whose holidays have been cancelled due to coronavirus – irrespective of whether the agent received refunds from airlines and accommodation providers.
    “Our action today means that customers whose holidays were cancelled by will receive their money back without undue delay.
    “The CMA is continuing to investigate package holiday firms following concerns that people are not getting the refunds they are entitled to when bookings cannot go ahead because of the pandemic.
    “If we find that businesses are breaching consumer protection law, we will not hesitate to take further action.”
    In October, the CMA received a commitment from Virgin Holidays to refund all customers “without undue delay” after hundreds of complaints were made over delayed payments.
    The watchdog also wrote to more than 100 package holiday firms earlier in the year to remind them of their refund obligations, and got commitments from Tui, Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals to repay customers.
    Package holiday customers are legally entitled to refunds within 14 days for cancelled trips.
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