Louise Hodges Q&A with Simon Calder

Planning your summer holiday? Here’s what you need to know

Travel guru Simon Calder joined us to answer all your summer holiday questions on everything from quarantine for travellers to the impact on holidays in the UK.

It seems like the 2020 summer holiday situation is constantly evolving: first we were told we had to quarantine, but now bookings are soaring as it seems ‘air bridges’ might be possible after all. We caught up with Simon Calder, industry expert and travel editor for The Independent, to find out what all the news really means. Read on for the full Q&A.

Hi Simon! So, lots of people are thinking about summer holidays at the moment. How can we book with confidence going forward?

My first rule is to book a proper package holiday. The gold-plated consumer protection you get when you book flights and accommodation in the same transaction is fantastic – you either know that you will get your booked holiday, or you’ll get all your money back. By September, I predict almost all of the restrictions – whether they come from the UK or from destination countries – will be relaxed and we will get back to holidays, well, not quite as normal but ‘the new normal’ if you like.

What do the current quarantine rules mean for our holidays this summer?

Anybody who arrives in the UK by air, rail or sea is currently required to fill in an online form before they arrive, saying exactly where they will be self-isolating for 14 days. They will then need to go to that address and stay there for two weeks. This is all part of the quarantine rules brought in by the UK government in June.

There is a list of exemptions but that’s not going to make any difference for the average holiday-maker. The whole idea is, you go on holiday, you come back, you stay indoors for the next 2 weeks. It is quite confusing though, as the FCO advice is still not to travel unless it’s absolutely essential.

Should travel companies even be selling holidays right now?

I think the UK travel industry, which is genuinely one of the economic success stories of the UK, has done valiantly well - but they are now looking at the prospect of not selling any holidays for the next couple of months, and really wondering what is going to become of the great British summer holiday.

So, in simple terms then, with the current quarantine rules, do you think we should be travelling at all, even within the UK or overseas?

Well, the implication of the new rules, if not explicit, is most certainly don’t go away at the moment. What makes it more complicated is that we don’t know when the quarantine rules will end. There will be a review every three weeks, but it leaves a lot of people thinking holidays are cancelled until further notice.

Looking now at the health side of things – How safe is flying from a contagion point of view? How can you protect yourself from coronavirus on a plane?

Anybody who’s been on a plane at a busy time of year will know that social distancing and passenger aviation are very simply mutually exclusive. You cannot be 2 meters away from your neighbour on a plane. It’s a balance – are you prepared to tolerate a small degree of risk in order to travel abroad?

If somebody’s got a holiday booked for August and they don’t want to go any more, what rights do they have to cancel that holiday now?

The short answer is do not do anything yet. I think you’ve got a 90 per cent chance of going on your August holiday based on the current situation and advice – and even if you don’t, you will get your money back.

Under the Air Passenger Rights rules, if your flight doesn’t go, you get your money back within a week. The package travel regulations say if your trip is cancelled, you get your money back after two weeks. You have to be prepared to wait because unfortunately, the travel industry can’t hand back money as quickly as it, or you, would like at the moment.

What should people do if they’ve just put down a deposit?

Pay the deposit if you can possibly afford to do it. That way you’re either guaranteed your trip or you will get your money back.

What about staycations?

There are indications that the UK tourism industry is going to restart by the first week of July, if you’re travelling in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may well have different rules and timings, but given that August is absolutely the peak month, I would be very surprised if we’re not, in our millions, enjoying staycations by then.

A lot of companies are now telling me ‘We’re putting a condition in which says that if government actions stops you from getting to your holiday cottage or apartment, we won’t give you a full refund, but we will let you postpone it’ – which I think looks like a fair condition to impose.

What can people do to secure their money in their booking?

One great area of protection is the package travel regulations which cover foreign holidays, in which you book flights and accommodation at the same time. And the other one is to book on a credit card. Under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, if you have not received the service that you expected from a provider, then you can talk to the credit card company say ‘I want to make a Section 75 claim’.

One thing I’ve really discovered from this is that it’s so much better to talk to people than to take precipitous financial action. I urge you: talk to people. Show some forbearance, understand that the travel industry is going through a really tough time and hopefully you’ll reach a comfortable accommodation. You’ll have many, many more summers to travel in.

What can we expect to happen next in terms of pricing?

This is hard to predict because we have never seen circumstances like these before. If the majority of British people who would have gone abroad are now travelling within the UK this summer, you’d expect to see a surge in prices. This is because there will be many millions more of us bidding for a fixed supply of accommodation and that leads to higher prices. At the same time, the airlines and the holiday companies are likely to be creating some real bargains to entice people overseas when they’re allowed to travel abroad for holidays again.

As we don’t know exactly how supply and demand will interact, it’s too early to say for certain how prices will be impacted but if you are patient and flexible, I’d expect there to be some great value deals around. If, however, you insist on being in the country’s top destinations – such as the Lake District and Cornwall – in the middle of the summer, you’re likely to pay a fortune!

Louise Hodges, Head of Consumer Communications at Virgin Money hosted a Q&A with Simon Calder, industry expert and travel editor for The Independentwatch the full interview here.

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