Holidaymakers and travel agents 'hacked off' by short-notice travel changes

After a wretched 15 months frustrated travel agents and would-be holiday makers have been left scratching their heads over the latest disruption which saw thousands of people scrambling to return from Portugal.

Portugal was on the Government's green list at first, but has since been relegated to the amber list
Portugal was on the Government's green list at first, but has since been relegated to the amber list

When restrictions on holidays were eased on May 17 Portugal was one of the few countries on the UK Government's 'Green List', making it an immediate favourite for sun-starved travellers seeking a post-lockdown pick-me-up.

The situation was thrown into chaos last week as the government moved Portugal onto the 'Amber List' – requiring 10 days quarantine when you return home – at short notice.

As a result many travellers scrambled to book flights, allowing them to get back before the need for quarantine kicked in.

The situation is the latest frustration for travel agents, who questioned why a planned 'watch list', which would have provided at least two weeks notice of the changes, was not used.

Roger Blake, managing director of Liberty Travel in Oswestry, said the experience was making it impossible for the industry to attract new customers.

He said some clients had now shifted holidays 'three or four times', before getting fed up waiting and taking the £40 hit on their deposit.

Roger Blake, Director of Liberty Travel in Oswestry, talks about the frustration after Portugal being moved into the amber list

He said the industry, although able to benefit from furlough and some government grants, had also received no sector specific support – something which has been even more problematic with firms not having actually taken any money for more than 12 months.

Mr Blake said the most recent Portugal episode was also destroying consumer confidence in booking holidays – with worries that even if they can leave on holiday they might be forced back at short notice.

He said: "The government said there would be a watch list and people would be given lots of notice and they completely went back on that with Portugal and enforced something in just four days.

"We had customers in Portugal at the time but the ones we had there were due to come back before the amber list came into force so fortunately we did not have anyone who actually had to fly back before the quarantine became a necessity.

"But its after effects have left people feeling that the government has not improved from where we were last summer."

He added: "The impact rolls on too. At the moment we are up to where people should be paying the balances on September holidays. It is that crunch time and they are thinking 'is September going to happen' and most are transferring to next year or cancelling and choosing to lose the deposit.

"It has created that much uncertainty that people are thinking 'September, is it feasible?."

Holidaymakers have been left frustrated by the changes

Mr Blake said that all travel operators had been starved of income and he felt frustrated on the behalf of customers who want certainty in their plans.

He said: "We have examples of people who have had three, four transfers of their holiday and they are so hacked off with it they say 'we will lose the £40 deposit and will think about it when it has settled'.

"We have managed to persuade them three or four times but they reach the point where they lose patience."

Mr Blake added: "People have to book something knowing it may or may not happen. their money is protected, it is just how invested you are in wanting that holiday."

Looking to the future Mr Blake said he expected it to be some time before international travel returns to normal.

He said: "I can see European travel might start by the end of the year and maybe the ski seasons but I cannot see the long-haul travel to Australia and New Zealand, they do not look like they want to let any tourists in.

"South America we are not sure how they will recover and the cruise industry, they are still finding their feet."

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