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To go or not to go? EasyJet Holidays believes it has the answer

The Man Who Pays His Way: The holiday business is turning into a nightmare lottery

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 25 September 2020 10:48 BST
Options open: easyJet believes it has the answer to holiday uncertainty
Options open: easyJet believes it has the answer to holiday uncertainty (Simon Calder)

Another three bite the dust. As of 4am on Saturday, any traveller with the temerity to visit Denmark, Iceland or Slovakia must stay at home for a fortnight on their return.

The UK government deems the European trio unsafe for British visitors, “based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”.

Certainly infection rates in the Danish region between Copenhagen and Hamlet’s home town, Elsinore, are worryingly high. And in Iceland, more than 100 recent cases have been traced to just two bars in the capital, Rekyjavik.

You and I should no longer stray to Slovakia, our government says, because the new-case rate of about 25 to 30 per 100,000 is significantly above the “high-risk” threshold of 20.

Yet with the UK soaring to about 50 on the same scale, we would be safer in Bratislava than in Birmingham.

Yes: the government is warning citizens not to visit countries where they will be at significantly less risk of contracting coronavirus. The same no-go status applies to Bulgaria (score 14) and Croatia (32), both rated in the same danger category as parts of Afghanistan and Somalia.

At least the transport secretary, when he made the announcement, finally took my advice to drop the ludicrous assertion that the measure will “keep everyone safe”. Grant Shapps previously trotted out that nonsense when putting nations on the no-go list.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t,” said Polonius in Hamlet.

But I cannot detect any method in the madness. We are currently on the fifth model of quarantine in six months, and I expect another version within a few weeks. It may revert to the government’s original and very sensible quarantine policy: targeting arrivals from specific locations that present a high risk. 

Don’t hold your breath. If this illogical, scattergun and counter-productive approach is intended to extinguish all confidence among travellers and suppress holiday sales, the government is succeeding magnificently.

“We have never seen such awful forward bookings,” Michael O’Leary said this week. The Ryanair chief executive revealed sales for November and December are just one-10th compared with this time last year.

Amid the tangle of travel restrictions, Britain’s holiday industry is still trying doggedly to persuade you to invest in a much-needed escape to feel the sun on your face and the sand between your toes.

Anticipation is a valuable component of any holiday. As a gloomy – and for many travellers, chaotic – summer slumps into autumn, looking forward to an escape is all the more essential. Yet many thousands of people with forward bookings for October half-term holidays or Christmas breaks are instead feeling sick with worry.

One hundred times a day, prospective travellers ask me: “Will Italy/Turkey/Corfu join the no-go list?” – or the converse question, “Will Cyprus place the UK on the ‘red’ list?” And 100 times a day, I confess that I have no idea.

Matt Callaghan believes he has the solution. “The way we book holidays will never be the same,” he told me. 

He is customer director of easyJet Holidays, the package-tour offshoot of Britain’s biggest budget airline, which this week unveiled an unprecedented offer.

The essence of the firm’s “Protection Promise”: you need not pay in full until four weeks before departure. If you lose your nerve and cancel altogether at least 28 days in advance you will even save your £60 per person deposit (though as credit with easyJet Holidays rather than actual cash).

It’s a shrewd offer that Mr Callaghan’s operation is singularly well placed to make. Unlike many struggling holiday firms, he has the benefit of easyJet’s formidable financial padding. And if you decide to abandon your Italian adventure with a month to go, the parent airline has a month in which to re-sell your seat to Rome or Venice.

Will the move turn the tide and overcome commitment phobia? I hope so, because both the holidaymaker and the travel industry deserve a break. But I wonder if even the 28 day-deadline is too long?

If a week is a long time in Britain’s increasingly bizarre politics, four weeks is a lifetime in travel. 

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