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 September 3 (via KBC PR)
Business confidence in UK at four-year high
UK business confidence has hit a four-year high, thanks to growing optimism about the post-COVID recovery, but companies highlighted concerns about staff shortages, which could push up pay in the coming months, according to new research by Lloyds Bank. The vaccine rollout, removal of lockdown restrictions and changes to self-isolation rules all contributed to greater optimism among 1,200 firms surveyed in August.
The rebound in sentiment was widespread across the UK, with nine of 12 regions and nations reporting improving confidence. It comes as more businesses prepare to welcome staff back to worksites and offices in September after a relatively successful COVID vaccine rollout. Growth in confidence was sharpest in the services sector, as businesses including bars, restaurants and hotels have benefited from a return of customers.
The bank’s business barometer showed overall confidence rose by six points to 36% in August, marking its highest level since April 2017. Optimism over the state of the economy also rose for the first time in three months, up six points to 38%. The figures follow a rebound in UK growth in the second quarter, when GDP expanded by 4.8% as lockdown measures were relaxed. However, the economy was still 4.4% smaller than in the final three months of 2019.
The greatest monthly increase in confidence came in the services sector, rising by eight points to 36%, thanks to the easing of COVID restrictions. This represents its highest level since January 2018. Confidence across construction and manufacturing also picked up, each rising seven points to 40%, despite supply chain disruptions due to COVID quarantines and Brexit. Retail struggled to make comparable gains, posting a two-point rise to 34%. Meanwhile, figures published this week showed business sentiment across the Eurozone dipped in August, which some analysts attributed to fears over the Delta variant.
Consumer confidence boosted by “traffic light” system stability, agents say
Travel agents attributed growing consumer confidence and sales over the recent bank holiday weekend (28-30 August) to a lack of major upheavals in the UK government’s latest “traffic light” system update. The government reviews and recategorizes destinations every three weeks, with the latest having taken place on 26 August. Seven countries including Canada were added to the green list in the review, while Thailand and Montenegro joined the red list. No countries moved to amber. Testing and quarantine requirements for travellers returning to the UK from any overseas destination depend on its status on the traffic light list.
Steve Cox, sales manager at Premier Travel, reported an increase in bookings, adding: “Forty-five percent of last week’s business converted on the Friday and Saturday, which is really encouraging, especially as Saturdays have tended to be a quieter day.” He said consistent updates every third week were giving clients more confidence.
Sara Dunham, The Midcounties Co-operative’s chief officer for travel, reported “a boost in bookings and inquiries for September and October 2021” with interest in Malta, Croatia and Majorca as well as mainland Spain, the Balearics, Canaries, Greek islands and Cyprus, while retail division Your Co-op Travel saw an increase in bookings on Friday, and a “stronger Saturday” last week. “People are definitely feeling more confident,” Dunham added.
Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, said: “There was a collective sigh of relief from customers and potential customers, which led to a flurry of activity.” Nearly 60% of the homeworking group’s bookings were for 2021, which Witt said proved “there is still huge demand to get away this year.”
Unrest at cost of PCR testing for travel continues to grow …
An online petition urging the government to provide free PCR tests for travel has been backed by more than 200,000 people. The petition urges aviation workers and people planning a family holiday abroad this year to sign up, warning that the average cost for testing per trip is £236 with a family of four typically paying almost £1,000 in order to take a trip abroad.
The petition adds: “At the same time, domestic holidays in the UK have seen a sharp price increase due to demand, meaning holidays at home or abroad are extortionately expensive. To boost the aviation and travel sector, the government should offer free or heavily discounted PCR tests so that anyone can travel abroad for a fair price.”
The petition follows extensive travel industry lobbying against the need for PCR tests for double jabbed travellers, with the government under increasing pressure to cut COVID-testing requirements. A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review of test providers is likely to add further pressure to cut testing costs after health secretary Sajid Javid promised a crackdown on “cowboy companies.”
… but PCR “here for the foreseeable future,” government says
A UK government health minister has reportedly insisted that PCR testing for foreign travel will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Lord Bethell indicated to test providers at a roundtable event that the tests – which on average cost more than £70 – are unlikely to be scrapped in the near future.
Senior MPs are pushing for the PCR tests to be replaced by cheaper lateral flow tests for double vaccinated holidaymakers returning to the UK from amber and green list countres. All arrivals have to take at least one PCR test on or before Day Two of their return. New evidence has revealed that as few as 1 in 140 holidaymakers returning from green countries this summer have tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival in the UK. However, Lord Bethell’s intervention suggests government scientists and the Department of Health and Social Care will oppose calls for any relaxation of the current testing regime when it comes up for review, the Telegraph reported this week. The government’s taskforce on global travel committed to a “checkpoint” review of the traffic light system for international travel and testing by 1 October.
New National Health Service data show that just 0.7% of the 93,228 people tested after arrival from green list countries in the three weeks up to 11 August were positive. It was just 1.3% for arrivals from the amber list, and 2.5% from red countries. There were zero variants found in sequenced tests of red or green list arrivals, while 0.1% of the 442,927 people from amber countries tested positive for known “standard” variants.
Play secures $80 million funding for transatlantic push
Icelandic budget airline Play has raised more than $80 million to support its start-up as it plans for transatlantic expansion. This came as the airline saw half-year losses mount to $1.8 million compared to $1.1 million for the same period the previous year.
The airline claims to be on track to launch flights to North America in 2022 as part of a hub and spoke strategy using Iceland as a link between the rest of Europe and the U.S. Staff numbers are set to more than double from 131 to more than 300 as more Airbus A320neo aircraft are leased to give a fleet size of at least nine aircraft by spring 2023, up from six by next spring. Negotiations for additions to the fleet for 2024 and 2025 are also ongoing, bringing the total fleet to 15 aircraft by 2025.
Travel Trade Updates
Irish worldwide specialists Platinum Travel report that bookings are strong for 2022, with cruises and European package holidays leading the way. They expect to see a burst of bookings for the USA once there is any positive news about borders reopening. Personal recommendations are more important than ever for their customers, with confidence building as people travel and then report their experiences via social media and to friends and family.
Worldwide specialists The Lotus Group, whose brands include DialAFlight, report that late bookings are on the increase, with up to £150,000 a day in bookings for travel during August and September. Their biggest destinations have understandably been Europe and Caribbean, although some Caribbean islands are now insisting on children as well as adults being double-jabbed before entry, which could dampen the market. Testing remains a primary concern for customers – where and how to get tested, and how much it costs. For 2022, New York, Las Vegas and Florida are all performing well, with the U.S. West Coast not far behind. With 2022 selling well and clients tending towards spending big, they see a possibility of 2023 being a less-lucrative year, with the possible exception of those clients determined to visit Australia or New Zealand who may still face restrictions for at least part of 2022. Lotus has renewed its ATOL (tour operating licence) for the coming year, but have learned that many smaller operators are only renewing on a rolling three-month basis as they cannot predict forward sales and income. Lotus are building a new office on Croydon, south London, which they aim to open in February 2022. They will attend Brand USA Week in October.
Worldwide tailor-made specialists Trailfinders report that their European destinations have seen some big numbers for last minute bookings, with customers booking a week before travel to “green light” destinations. The Caribbean and UAE are seeing similar patterns. In North America, New York, Las Vegas and Florida are selling well for 2022. Upcoming winter season bookings for western Canada look strong, and more are anticipated so long as Canada remains open and on the UK government’s green list.
Trailfinders thinks the post-Brexit rules for travel to European destinations are an additional factor in the popularity of North American ski resorts. They have launched a USA ski program on their website; currently limited to a small number of Colorado resorts, they hope to get additional resorts including Park City online in the coming months.
In a major new development to help combat the car rental crisis, Trailfinders has gone live with a global company called “Rental Cars” to provide a wider offering to supplement its Alamo contract. They have XML links to help with ease of booking.
For 2023, they are working on getting product live so they can preview it in the January 2022 sales window. Like the Lotus Group, they anticipate that some British and Irish travellers are more likely to head to Australasia in 2023 (hoping borders will be open by then) and that Australian travellers will “close the circle” and travel to Canada and the USA.
They will be attending Brand USA Travel Week in October.
Leading travel trade title TTG has reversed its stance on providing limited access to its online news. CEO Daniel Pearce revealed this week that registered users of its ttgmedia.com website can now read an unlimited number of news stories without paid membership of its TTG+ agent community. In his editorial, Pearce said: “While news and other editorial has always remained free in TTG magazine, on social media and most recently for the first 10 stories a month read by readers, we’ve now opened up the site again after a significant number of readers told us that they simply could not contemplate paying for editorial content during the pandemic.” The move will be welcomed by industry personnel but also by advertisers and promotional partners who want as large a reach as possible for their trade-facing campaigns.
The trend toward closer alignment between publishing and tour operation continued this week with the launch of TRIPS by Culture Trip – a collection of small group adventures that can be booked directly through CultureTrip.com. Culture Trip, which has a strong audience in the UK and in North America, was created in 2011 with the aim of inspiring readers to discover the unique elements of individual destinations. It has subsequently evolved into a travel e-commerce brand and the new multi-day adventures, which Culture Trip promises will be led by local insiders, join its established curated Places To Stay and Experiences collections.
Several of the former staff of Lonely Planet magazine, which ceased publication in spring 2020, have regrouped with a new magazine project entitled Good Place. Erstwhile Lonely Planet deputy editor Amanda Canning, features editor Orla Thomas and award-winning writer Oliver Smith are among those involved in the start-up project, which is already halfway to achieving its £9,000 crowdfunding target. Described by the team as “a new travel magazine for the endlessly curious … a repository of intriguing stories,” the magazine is set to launch during the fall.
Sunday Times chief travel writer Chris Haslam this week attacked the UK government’s decisions on travel and tourism throughout the pandemic in a hard-hitting comment piece for the new Times Travel website. Entitled “The big travel inquest: 8 decisions that killed off post-pandemic travel,” the piece accuses the government of bring the travel industry “to its knees over the past 18 months, with a string of policies as inexplicable as they were infuriating.” The full piece can be read here. Haslam’s article chimes with the sentiments of many in the travel industry toward the government’s approach and track record, although his language and conclusions are perhaps a little over-dramatic. The article could also be viewed as part of a longer-term strategy to show solidarity with potential future travel industry advertisers.
As we suggested last month, the appointment of Helen Coffey as travel editor at The Independent has now led to a public shift in the platform’s editorial approach to travel, with sustainability front and center. In an editor’s letter published on 2 September, Coffey said: “We have to start doing things differently if we’re to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem: To prioritize coverage of trips whose net positive effects outweigh the negative impacts; to champion companies that started taking steps to cut their carbon outputs and change the travel industry for the better long before ‘sustainability’ became the latest trendy buzzword; to inspire and excite our readers to try something different when booking their next getaway, whether it’s adopting the slow travel ethos and taking their time, or intentionally frequenting local hotels and businesses to put their tourist pounds into the pockets of people who need it. It’s not to say we won’t ever cover long-haul destinations, or that we’ll stop keeping up with the latest airline news, or even that we’ll never write about a hotel chain again – of course we will. But we will be trying to carve a new path, one that’s baked into how we approach travel. For a start, we’ll be including flight-free transport options in all our destination features and guides, from the straightforward to the absurd.” How this approach will sit with potential travel industry advertisers remains to be seen.