COVID-19 Updates from RMI
Rocky Mountain International is a small business based in Wyoming and rooted in the travel and tourism industry. We offer our ongoing support of the industry – local, national and international – as we look to navigate this unprecedented situation affecting all of us. Take care of yourself and your families. We will get through this together and we will be stronger as a result. #TourismStrong
We continue to remain informed on the current situation as it relates to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its impacts on the travel industry. Working alongside our overseas offices, we are implementing appropriate responses across our programs for our clients and partners real-time, and developing short-term and longer-term approaches by market.
Please refer to the below resources for current updates from U.S. health authorities, and travel destinations.
- Industry Guidance for Promoting the Health and Safety of All Travelers (U.S. Travel Association)
- Center for Disease Control
- Dept. of Homeland Security
- US Travel Association
- Brand USA
- Western Governors’ Association
RESOURCES BY STATE:
Rocky Mountain International is working closely with our overseas representatives to receive regular in-market updates on the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the tourism industry. Refer to this page on a regular basis, as we’ll be posting updates here as they become available.
As of April 9 (via KBC PR)
Snapshot: England’s road out of lockdown
Current status: “Stay at home” requirement remains; however, children now back in schools
March 29: Outdoor gatherings of six people or two households allowed; outdoor sports facilities reopen
April 12: Non-essential retail opens; outdoor serving at hospitality venues allowed; Travel Taskforce to report on next steps for restarting international travel
May 17: Indoor hospitality and accommodation sector reopen; indoor sporting events allowed with limited numbers; earliest date for restarting international travel
June 21: All legal limits on social contact removed; remaining sectors of economy reopen
*Above steps are earliest dates possible and depend on four strict conditions on vaccines, infection rates and coronavirus variants to be met at each stage. Dates and sequences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland vary from the English roadmap.
UK’s Global Travel Taskforce publishes framework for international travel restart
The UK government’s Global Travel Taskforce outlined its framework for the restart of international travel on Thursday, April 8. Some questions remain unanswered, but the latest announcement gives us some additional detail.
It is possible that there will be no confirmation until May 10 on whether international travel can restart at the earliest possible date of May 17. As announced earlier this week, recommendations include a three-tier “traffic light” system for grading countries according to risk, with an initial list to be published by early May.
While there is huge speculation as to which countries will be on the “green” list, the government has not yet been fully clear how this will be determined, so such speculation is essentially worthless. It has said key factors in the assessment of countries will include the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing. We just don’t know yet where the bar will be set in any of these categories.
The requirements for green, amber and red list countries were confirmed as follows:
Green: Passengers will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on or before Day 2 of their arrival back into the UK, but will not need to quarantine on return (unless they receive a positive result) or take any additional tests.
Amber: Passengers will need to take a pre-departure test then quarantine for a period of 10 days on returning, with a PCR test on Day 2 and Day 8 after return. They will have the option to pay for a private test on Day 5 to end self-isolation early, under the “Test to Release” scheme.
Red: Passengers will be subject to restrictions currently in place for “red list” countries, which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750 per person, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on Day 2 and Day 8 after return.
The status of countries within the traffic light system will be kept under constant review, with formal reviews of all restrictions to take place on June 28 and at “checkpoints” no later than July 31 and October 1.
Other key points
The cost of PCR tests: As it stands, all passengers – even those fully vaccinated – will be required to take the “gold standard” PCR test on return. They cost around £120 per person, adding nearly £500 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four. However, the Global Travel Taskforce did commit to assessing options for reducing costs, including the use of cheaper tests on return and government funding for pre-departure tests. There is huge pressure on the government from the travel industry, consumer groups and in the political arena to make the restart of travel as affordable as possible.
“Permission to travel” form removed: To ensure the reopening of travel is as accessible as possible, the current “permission to travel” form will be removed alongside the easing of restrictions, meaning passengers will no longer need to provide a valid reason for leaving the country.
The “Green Watchlist”: A watchlist system will be introduced to highlight countries at risk of moving from the low-risk green category to mid-level amber. This should, in theory, give UK travellers more notice of changes to the status of their chosen destination, and reduce the prospect of last-minute scrambles to return from vacation early before new on-arrival restrictions are implemented. However, the taskforce report said the government “will not hesitate to act immediately should the data show that countries’ risk ratings have changed.”
Greater digitization: The taskforce says the UK will play “a leading role in the development of international standards around a digital travel certification system,” with ongoing assessment of how certification could ease outbound and inbound travel. The current Passenger Locator Form, which all passengers need to complete within 48 hours of arriving in the UK, will be further digitized, enabling checks to take place at e-gates by autumn 2021.
“No change” to UK vaccination program despite temporary drop in supply
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted England’s roadmap out of lockdown is on track despite a drop in vaccine supply. Johnson said England’s progress toward removing restrictions on daily life was “unchecked” by supply issues, attributed to fewer doses arriving from India than initially expected.
It was revealed this week that COVID-19 vaccination sites in England have been ordered to scale back plans for jabs beyond 29 March, after National Health Service officials confirmed a four-week slump in vaccine supply will “significantly constrain” rollout. However, the government remains on course to offer a first dose to all adults over age 50 by mid-April, with the remaining population expected to be offered a first dose by the end of July.
To date, nearly 26 million people across the UK – just short of 40% of the population – have received a first dose, with nearly 2 million having received a second dose. Given the vaccine supply issues, priority in April will be given to administering second doses to the most elderly and vulnerable members of the public.
Vacations top the list for £50 million post-lockdown “splurge”
UK households will go on a £50 billion shopping spree when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, according to a new report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). Its research suggests that households are sitting on an extra £192 billion after a year of repeated lockdowns that restricted spending opportunities, but plan to spend 26% of the money they have saved during the pandemic.
The researchers interviewed 4,000 adults as part of their study. They learned that 34% of those who plan to spend more money this year would put it toward foreign holidays and 29% would spend more on domestic breaks. A similar number said they would be eating out in restaurants and cafés, and 19% said they would spend more in pubs and bars.
Separate research by accountants EY also found a “significant pent-up demand for consumer spending post-pandemic.” However, the spending boost may be delayed until later in the summer, “when larger numbers of consumers have been vaccinated.” The EY future consumer index found that 43% plan to spend more on a holiday, 37% on going out and 29% on personal care, such as a haircut. However, 55% believe the virus will only stop affecting their lives after most people are vaccinated.
Still too early to predict a May 17 travel restart, say travel industry sources
Sources close to talks with the UK government say it is “too early to tell” if travel will restart on May 17, after the government confirmed its Global Travel Taskforce report will be published on April 12. Transport secretary Grant Shapps told MPs he would “make the report public the same day” it goes to the prime minister, giving the industry extended notice of the recommendations.
However, coordination among the devolved (and generally more risk-averse) administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland appears no nearer. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced this week that international travel “may well not be possible” from May 17 and pre-departure and post-arrival testing may remain “for some time.”
Senior UK government officials told The Sunday Times: “The EU vaccine chaos could hit summer holidays [to Europe]. Even if we’ve all been vaccinated, it will be difficult to go elsewhere.” However, in a boost to short-haul operators, Turkey confirmed this week that it would be open to UK holidaymakers without vaccination certificates; Jet2 and Jet2holidays reported that bookings to Turkey doubled in the subsequent 24 hours.
EU sets out plans for vaccine passports
British hopes of summer holidays in the European Union were raised this week after Brussels set out plans for vaccine passports. The European Commission said its digital green certificate, effectively a vaccine passport, would eventually be open to tourists from non-EU countries like Britain and potentially by summer. The certificate is designed to facilitate travel within the EU by showing information including whether someone has had coronavirus, been vaccinated or had a test. It comes in the form of a QR code on a smartphone or in print.
U.S. “most sought-after” destination once travel restrictions lifted, says ABTA
Almost two-thirds (63%) of people hope to book a foreign holiday in the year ahead, with the U.S. the most sought-after destination, new ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) research reveals. The classic European hotspots of Spain, Italy, Greece and France are also high on people’s wish lists, according to the poll of 2,000 consumers.
Current booking trends from association members point to holidaymakers either choosing to return to familiar destinations in Europe or opting for a more adventurous, bucket list trip – particularly for departures in 2022. Those making plans to visit the U.S. cited New York, Las Vegas and the beaches and theme parks of Florida as just some of the memorable experiences they hope to share with travel companions.
Virgin Atlantic makes transatlantic reopening plea
Virgin Atlantic is urging the reopening of UK and U.S. borders to enable vital transatlantic flights to resume. The call came exactly a year since the U.S. closed its borders to UK and Irish citizens and the week that the airline secured £160 million in additional funding in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. North Atlantic routes represented around 70% of the airline’s pre-pandemic network, with 4.2 million passengers flown between the UK and US in 2019.
In 2019, the airline averaged 23 transatlantic passenger flights per day, with New York, Orlando and Los Angeles its top three destinations. Together, Virgin Atlantic and rival British Airways accounted for 54% of all transatlantic capacity. However, only seven Virgin Atlantic flights per day now operate to the U.S., five of which are cargo only, after all passenger flying was paused at the peak of the pandemic between April 19 and July 20 last year.
Virgin Atlantic Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen said: “The rapid roll-out of vaccinations in both countries is bolstering future bookings, further illustrating the pent-up demand for transatlantic travel.” He reported an uptick in U.S. bookings in recent weeks as customers look to reunite with family and friends, reconnect with colleagues or consider holidays in the sun.
The EU hopes the system will be ready for internal EU travel by June before opening out the scheme to international visitors. British tourists will also be able to apply for a certificate in the member state they are visiting. The certificate is free for people in the EU.
Canadian Affair to launch U.S. tour operator
Leading Canada specialist Canadian Affair has launched a tour operation selling holidays to destinations across the U.S., principally through the travel trade. American Affair will start sales on March 29, offering self-drive and coach tours, city breaks, cruises, rail tours, motorhome rental, ski and multi-center holidays.
The company will offer a price-match guarantee against all other tour operators on its tailor-made packages, and throughout April will be running a launch incentive of shopping vouchers for the travel trade for every booking made. Managing Director Chris Hedley said: “The decision to launch American Affair is a natural extension of our proven North American travel offering. Despite the current restrictions due to COVID, there is rapidly growing demand in the UK marketplace for high-quality holidays to the USA, and American Affair has been launched to meet that need.”
British Airways plans app-based travel pass
British Airways is planning to make it easier for passengers to prove they are safe to travel once they have been vaccinated against COVID. Under the plans, people who have had both jabs will be able to register their status on BA’s smartphone app.
BA’s move comes amid heated debate about the possibility that “vaccine passports” could become a feature of foreign travel and even be used within the UK to allow entry to places such as pubs or sports stadiums. Chief Executive Sean Doyle called for the UK to be a global leader in reopening international travel, urging the government to “set an example” and “be ambitious” in developing systems, including the use of digital technology to verify the vaccination and test status of passengers.
“It’s fair to say that Britain has developed a really strong leadership position in coming out the other end of the pandemic,” he said. “What we want to make sure is that we also take that leadership position into restoring travel and restoring the economy.”
Worldwide experiential luxury specialists Black Tomato report that no new destinations will be introduced for 2021 – they are focusing on new product launches, which include a new family travel collection tied to iconic children’s stories. The collection is very immersive and incorporates learning elements. One U.S. itinerary is included at launch stage: an Alaska trip linked to Call of the Wild. They anticipate multi-generational travel will be big for them with high spend as people are prepared to put large sums towards reunion breaks. Trips built around eclipses have done well recently (Argentina in 2020, Antarctica for 2021 and two more to be confirmed for 2022, which may take in some of the USA). Honeymoons are among the other big sellers for Black Tomato, and they also have an exclusive U.S. road trip collection in partnership with Auberge Resorts and Mercedes-Benz, with their Colorado/Utah combination itinerary very popular. 2020 saw them introduce “State of Flex,” a flexible booking policy that allows customers to cancel for any reason up to 30 days before travel and receive a full refund (they only have to pay the 10% booking fee). Since introducing this, Black Tomato has seen a big uptick on bookings. They have enjoyed a “positive” February and March, with longer-range bookings primarily for 2022 – the USA, Scotland and certain European destinations such as Iceland are the best sellers.
Key pointers from UK specialist operators to the U.S. during this week’s Brand USA Travel Week Europe:
There is growing confidence that travel to the USA will be possible from September onwards, with several operators reporting a growing number of inquiries and bookings coming in for late 2021 and especially for 2022. There is a feeling that definitive news on reopening of borders will lead to an immediate and significant surge in bookings.
There is enthusiasm for in-person events, although still some concern that IPW may come too soon after the reopening of borders.
Marketing activities are being chosen carefully. With budgets limited, some operators are not producing new brochures for 2021, concentrating instead on developing featured product on their websites, where it can be tailored and amended as needed. Several are focusing on their social channels to maintain presence. Most are open to co-op partnerships at the right time.
There is general agreement that self-drive itineraries will be very popular for 2022, and several operators are interested in receiving ideas for new routes.
JRNY, a crowd-funded start-up project aimed at bringing together some of the UK’s most respected freelance travel writers and photographers to produce a high-end magazine “created by travellers for those who love to travel,” has hit its initial funding target. With participants including Lottie Gross, Meera Dattani, Ben Lerwill and Jamie Lafferty, JRNY will be an A4, 250-plus-page coffee-table magazine with the team promising “more ‘exploring’ content rather than resorts. There will be a range of different travel experiences from a variety of destinations. Articles will be in the form of written features, round-ups and photo essays.”
Newspaper publisher Reach, which owns the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Express and Sunday Express as well as a number of regional titles, is planning to close offices and make most of its employees permanent home workers. The company will close its Lower Thames Street office in central London and reduce its office space in Canary Wharf from two floors to one. The majority of Reach employees will work from home on a permanent basis as the publisher aims to reduce costs by shrinking its office space. This change comes after Reach decided that remote working had been successful during the pandemic. The publisher is not expected to close any of its 110 titles, and no jobs are at risk of redundancy due to the office changes. Its reduced Canary Wharf office will continue to serve as the company’s headquarters, and it will have a further 14 “hubs” across the UK in Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Dublin, Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Nottingham, Plymouth and an office in the South East. Reach, which last year axed 550 jobs after advertising revenue sank during lockdown, reported a sharp drop in sales and profit in its latest financial results.
Popular travel trade platform TravelMole has changed its model, embarking on a “new content strategy to better serve our 270,000 B2B travel industry members and social followers.” The majority of its UK editorial team were let go at the end of February, and the platform is now pivoting to publish what it calls “relevant advertorial stories sourced from PR partners (and) DMOs, travel suppliers and trade groups.” A new TravelMole website is due to launch soon, featuring a “Partner Zone” webpage for each supplier. While TravelMole claims that posting content will be free, it remains to be seen how long this will be the case – and whether the platform retains its credibility in the long run.