A comment on summer holidays from the UK’s Minister for Transport has rocked the travel industry, with travel agents now slamming Grant Shapps MP for his revelation that he would not commit to booking a summer holiday now. With the industry grappling to make ends meet against an extended lockdown of the UK nation by the government, future holiday plans are one of the only sources of hope for those working in the sector, but should Britons now start thinking about cancelling those future plans?
When asked about future travel plans on Friday’s Today programme on Radio Four, Mr Shapps said: “I won’t be booking a summer holiday at this point, let’s put it that way.”
His announcement sent shockwaves through the travel industry and pushed many to condemn his comments.
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“It was a thoughtless comment and not based on any facts about what we know today about the future of the pandemic, but it shows complete disregard for the UK travel industry, the hundreds of thousands of people it employs and the struggle it is facing in this current crisis,” said the Travel Association ABTA in a statement.
“It would be better if the government focused on taking the necessary steps to support the sector rather than undermining confidence in it.”
Yet, these comments don’t just act as another source to shatter the promise of more bookings, it could also be a major cause for concern for those who already have plans in place for the late summer months.
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Emma Coulthurst, a Travel Commentator from online travel price comparison site TravelSupermarket, warns that cancelling now might not actually be the best decision.
“Whatever you do, don’t cancel,” she warns.
“If you have a holiday booked for this summer, if you proactively cancel it, you will lose all of your money.
“Cancelling it yourself means that you have shown a ‘disinclination to travel’ which invalidates your travel insurance.”
Instead, Ms Coulthurst recommends travellers should “sit tight” and wait for their travel operator to make the decision to cancel.
“There is no knowing yet when restrictions will be lifted,” she points out.
“Airlines and travel companies are facing an unprecedented situation and are dealing with flights and holidays on a rolling basis.
“I appreciate it is really unsettling not knowing if your package holiday is going ahead or not but your package holiday provider or travel agent should be in touch with you two to three weeks before the holiday is due to go ahead and the airline at least a week before to confirm whether your flight is cancelled.”
In recent weeks travel companies such as TUI have cancelled holidays up to a certain date, guaranteeing their customers a refund or the option to rebook at a later date.
The same goes for airlines across the board, with Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways all slashing their itineraries – some by up to as much as 100 percent.
“Due to the sheer volume of travel arrangements which the industry is having to deal with at what is usually one of the busiest times of the year for UK outbound travel market, travel agents and tour operators are looking at people’s holidays on a rolling departure date basis,” continues Ms Coulthurst.
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“Clearly, with the UK ‘lockdown’ now confirmed for at least the next few weeks, the picture is clear for the next few weeks.”
The only time would-be holidaymakers should proactively cancel their own holiday is for medical reasons.
“Clearly, if you are one of the 1.5 or so million people who have been told to shield at home for 12 weeks and you have a holiday booked during that time, contact your holiday provider and your travel insurer to discuss rebooking or getting a refund due to not being able to travel due to medical reasons,” continues the Travel Commentator.
Yet some Britons with impending plans might owe money on their holiday, and could now be in a quandary about making the next payment installation.
“Since you don’t know at this point if the holiday is going ahead, if you want to retain your consumer rights, you need to pay the balance,” advises Ms Coulthurst.
“This is to ensure that you are protected under the ATOL scheme and the Package Travel Regulations.
“If, your holiday is then cancelled, you will have full rights.
“However, if you have decided that you definitely don’t want to travel, you could speak to your holiday provider and explain this and forgo further payments but be aware that you will lose your deposit if you do this.”
For the most part, Ms Coulter says the same rules apply to domestic holidays within the UK too.
It’s good news for those with travel insurance, who can rely on a refund with the FCO’s travel advisory as a source of reason, however, those who did not purchase an insurance policy will have to speak directly to their accommodation provider.
Many Britons in lockdown have been spending the days dreaming up their post-lockdown getaway, but customers booking now should be cautious.
“There is no knowing at this point when overseas holidays will be up and running again,” she says.
“It depends on a changing of the FCO advice when they say it is safe for holidaymakers to travel again around and from the UK as well as the reopening of borders for the country which you want to visit.
“At the moment, countries such as Turkey and Greece are saying that they hope they will be able to see travellers back by July. But we really don’t know at this time.
“Countries will want to ensure that they can keep us and their citizens safe before they make any changes to travel arrangements.
“What we do know though is that, when travel opportunities do return, there will be a desire to get out the house and companies such as easyJet are already talking about social distancing measures which they will put in place on their planes to keep people safe.”