Sun, sea and uncertainty: Travel agents welcome lifting of testing rules for holidaymakers

Claire and May

From left to right: Claire Battone and May Swan-Easton. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

As the rules around travelling are set to ease, holidaymakers will increasingly put their trust in the hands of travel experts. 

That is according to ABTA - the association of travel agents and tour operators - which found 30 per cent of people are more likely to book with travel professionals post-Covid.

It is welcome news to Hornchurch-based travel agent May Swan-Easton, 60, and Claire Battone, 51, who both work under the Travel Counsellor umbrella.  

The UK government is set to relax the rules for fully-vaccinated people arriving in the UK from 4am on February 11, when travellers will no longer have to do a coronavirus test.

ABTA's research found the top reasons for wanting guidance include knowledge of coronavirus travel requirements and the security of a package holiday.   

Having worked in the travel industry for 43 years and in her current role for 14 years, May said her role of “selling dreams" is "the best job in the world”.  

May

May Swan-Easton, 60, has been working in the travel industry for 43 years. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

May said: “We’ve got teams on the ground pretty much everywhere and we've got the experience, knowledge and know-how.”  

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Claire added: “On a website you get tick boxes and it will only send you down a certain route.  

“We will tell you what’s better value for money and offer real feedback on locations, hotels and resorts selected.”  

Claire, who has worked in the industry since she was 16, said only an agent can offer “care” when booking.  

New trends have emerged during the pandemic, including “bleisure” – combining business and leisure travel in one trip – which Claire said was popular with her corporate clients pre-pandemic and is making a return to its former popularity.  

Claire

Claire Battone, 51, has been working in the travel industry since the age of 16. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

May said cruises were more popular pre-Covid, but there is now a huge demand for experiences and a desire to get away for longer, with an average of around 14 nights.

Reflecting on working throughout the pandemic, the pair agreed Mother's Day 2020 (March 22), when the first lockdown has just come into force, was the most difficult weekend.  

Claire explained: “Borders were shutting in front of our eyes and nobody knew what was going on." 

But it is in these unforeseeable situations that the travel agents get to put their expertise into practice to overcome obstacles, they said.

Travel trends in 2022  

According to independent Travel Counsellors May Swan-Easton and Claire Bottone, Greece has remained in demand throughout the pandemic.  

Other popular destinations for booking this year include Mexico, the Caribbean and New York, they said.  

Clare said Thailand is “just starting to emerge” and people are now booking holidays very last minute “as things are changing to so quickly”.  

Additionally, data released by travel association ABTA, which conducted research with 2,000 consumers online, states the limited opportunity to travel during the pandemic has pushed holidaying up clients' priorities list.

It found 49 per cent of consumers now agree that a holiday is more important to them than before.  

The ABTA data suggests consumers are choosing to upgrade their accommodation, book longer stays or head to more expensive destinations altogether.  

It said popular destinations include Spain, the US, Italy and Greece, with the Caribbean and the Maldives also rising in popularity. 

Will people in Gidea Park travel abroad in 2022?  

Angel

Director of Nurture Chiropractic in Gidea Park, Angel Turner, 39. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

Director of Nurture Chiropractic in Gidea Park, Angel Turner, 39, from Brentwood, said she is pleased the restrictions are easing.  

She said: "I don’t feel 100 per cent confident to go abroad because I don’t know if things will change, so I would rather travel and go on holiday in the UK.” 

Alex

Waiter at Kervan Kitchen in Gidea Park, Alex Desu, 42. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

Waiter at Kervan Kitchen in Gidea Park, Alex Desu, 42, from Enfield, said: “I haven’t looked at any holidays so far and I have no plans to go on holiday at the moment. 

“But it's great there is the lifting of restrictions and we will be able to gain some freedom and feel happier.”  

Alex said he might book a holiday later in the year.  

Liam

Solicitor at F Barnes Solicitors in Gidea Park, Liam Gough, 56. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

Solicitor at F Barnes Solicitors in Gidea Park, Liam Gough, 56, from Forest Gate, remains hopeful the new easing of restrictions in the UK will make travel easier following his “extremely difficult” recent trip to Thailand.  

Liam said instead of flying directly to Bangkok on his trip, he had to go via Doha and have a three-hour layover.  

The easing of restrictions means he is “much more likely" to consider travelling again this year, because the "paperwork will be less and the airlines will be more reliable”, he said.  

Liam hopes to next travel to Japan in June, but failing this, he will opt for a week in Spain in July or August.