Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Airlines

Airplane Wastewater Study Reveals UK Travel Restrictions Didn’t Halt Covid Spread

5 days ago

A laboratory study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the UK’s travel restrictions last year.

Scientists at Bangor University in Wales tested wastewater on planes to monitor coronavirus infections and the general health of passengers coming into the UK from other countries.

Almost all aircraft arriving at the three monitored UK airports (Heathrow, Edinburgh and Bristol) between March 8 and March 31, 2022 had the virus in their wastewater, according to the study, published in medical journal PLOS Global Public Health.

“Despite all the intervention measures that the UK had in place to try to stop people with the illness getting on flights to the UK, almost every single plane we tested contained the virus, and most of the terminal sewers, too,” said professor David Jones of Bangor University’s School of Natural Sciences, reported Lab Manager.

“That might have been because people developed symptoms after testing negative, or were evading the system, or for some other reason. But it showed that there was essentially a failure of border control in terms of Covid surveillance.”

Wastewater sampling has been cited as a better method to monitor travelers coming from China, rather than requiring negative pre-departure Covid tests. Airports Council International Europe has argued this can shift the focus to genomic sequencing to identify new variants.

The British government spent around $585 million on implementing a traffic light system as part of its wider response to manage travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, but a Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons review in July last year found that it was unable to tell if it worked, or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused.

A review into Canada’s travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic also claimed they did little to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Bangor University helped track the spread of Covid in early 2020 by testing wastewater in major cities. Scientists at the university hope wastewater sampling will extend beyond coronavirus, allowing the UK government to establish an “infectious disease transmission surveillance network” for any future viruses, Lab Manager also reported.

Tourism

Rail Journeys Surge Past 100 Million Trips During China’s Spring Festival Build-Up

6 days ago

Chinese tourists have flocked to train stations over the past two weeks, with 109.5 million journeys made between Jan. 7 and Jan. 21 in the build-up to Lunar New Year celebrations, which took pace on Jan. 22.

That figure is a 27.3 percent increase on trips made during the same 15 days in 2022, local media reported, citing data from national railway operator China State Railway Group.

The increase is attributed to the sudden easing of Covid-related travel restrictions.

The total number of passenger trips for the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush is expected to reach 2.1 billion, which is twice as much as last year, or 70 percent of 2019, the report added.

The modernization of the country’s train stations also played a role, Global Times reported, with the number of stations carrying out online food delivery services increasing from 55 to 76.

Airlines

Beijing’s International Airports Remove Negative Covid Test Requirements — Reports

2 months ago

Beijing Capital International Airport will no longer require proof of a negative Covid result for entry into its terminals, Reuters has reported, quoting Beijing News, a newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party.

However, it is unclear if passengers need to show negative tests prior to boarding.

The relaxed rules come as the government steps down other restrictions, including parks, supermarkets and offices. The city’s other airport, Beijing Daxing International Airport, has also reportedly lifted its negative test requirement. At the end of November Beijing shut parks, malls and museums due to a spike in Covid cases.

This latest easing follows a series of protests against the state’s “zero Covid” policy.

Beijing Capital International Airport, the country’s largest, used to be one of the world’s top 10 busiest airports, and is a hub for Air China, China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines.

It handled more than 100 million passengers in 2019, and was the second busiest airport in the world, according to the Airports Council International. In 2020 it handled 35 million passengers, while in 2022 did not make the top 10 ranking.

Tourism

Qatar Drops Pre-Arrival Covid Test Requirement Right in Time for World Cup

3 months ago

Qatar will be dropping its requirement of a pre-arrival negative polymerase chain reaction test from November 1, just in time for the FIFA World Cup that kicks off from November 20.

Qatari citizens and residents coming into the country will also not be required to undergo a rapid antigen or polymerase chain reaction test within 24 hours of arrival.

Visitors entering Qatar from November 1 onwards would also not be required to pre-register on the Ehteraz health application. Registration on the Ehteraz app would only be needed to enter healthcare facilities.

The Ministry of Public Health made the announcement on Wednesday, in light of the continuing decline in the number of Covid-19 cases throughout the world and in Qatar. 

Last month, the government had said in a statement that Covid vaccination would not be mandatory football fans coming in to the country for the World Cup.

From this month onwards, masks are also not mandatory while travelling on public transport in Qatar and it was announced that masks would be optional at the eight World Cup stadiums.

However, all visitors would need a Hayya Card to enter Qatar from November 1. The Hayya Card is a mandatory document given to anyone attending the World Cup that serves as an entry permit to the Qatar and also provides stadium access along with the match tickets.

Tourism

World Cup Boosts Flight Bookings to Qatar and Gulf Nations

4 months ago

Despite the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter Qatar, flight bookings to the country for travel during FIFA World Cup — between November 14 and December 24 — have witnessed a massive boom, according to ForwardKeys’ data based on issued flight tickets, including day trips.

The flight bookings to Qatar from countries, including United Arab Emirates (UAE), Spain, Japan France and the U.S., are currently ten times the volume of pre-pandemic levels, according to data analytics firm ForwardKeys. 

The strongest-performing market during the World Cup period is United Arab Emirates, where bookings are currently ahead 103 times compared to 2016. The benchmark period for United Arab Emirates is 2016 as the Qatar diplomatic crisis stopped direct flights between Qatar and the UAE between 2017 and 2021.

Bookings from Mexico have gone up 79 times compared to 2019, while bookings from Argentina are up 77 times. The bookings from Spain and Japan have gone up 53 times and 46 times respectively.

The shortage of accommodation in Qatar and the availability of shuttle flights from cities in the United Arab Emirates will allow many people to stay in the UAE and fly over for on match days. The flight time between Dubai and Doha is a little over 60 minutes.

The UAE’s hospitality market is set to expand by 25 percent by 2030, with a further 48,000 rooms adding to the nation’s extensive 200,000 key portfolio, global consultancy firm Knight Frank noted in Sepetember.

Dubai is set to account for the lion’s share of this total, with 76 percent of all new rooms coming to the emirate, which already has over 130,000 rooms, Knight Frank fother observed.

Currently, day trips account for 4 percent of all arrivals in Qatar during the World Cup, 85 percent of which originate in the UAE.

The World Cup is set to benefit the whole Gulf region, as flight bookings to countries in the region during the competition are currently 16 percent ahead compared to 2019, and, for the initial stages of the tournament 61 percent ahead.

Many World Cup visitors would also be travelling to other destinations in the region as the number of visitors staying at least two nights in Qatar and going on to stay at least two more nights in another Gulf country is sixteen times greater than it was before the pandemic.

Set to capture 65 percent onward visits, Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend by far, followed by Abu Dhabi with 14 percent and Jeddah would be capturing 8 percent of these visits.

U.S. travelers make up 26 percent of the “regional tourists,” followed by travelers from Canada at 10 percent and British tourists at 9 percent. Around 32 percent of travelers coming in to Dubai would be from the U.S.

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most attractive drivers of travel there is, so much so, that other destinations in the Gulf will benefit, not just the host nation, Qatar.

In tourism promotion terms, the World Cup will throw a media spotlight on Qatar and help it become a more established destination, and not just a major hub for intercontinental air traffic.

“Normally, just 3 percent of travel to Doha is destined to stay in the country; and 97 percent comprises onward connections. However, during the World Cup almost 27 percent has Qatar as the ultimate destination,” said Olivier Ponti, VP Insights of ForwardKeys.

Ponti said that the UAE would also benefit substantially from the tournament because it has much more hotel accommodation than Qatar, and two global hub airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Coronavirus

Qatar Requires World Cup Visitors to Produce Negative Covid Test Upon Arrival

4 months ago

Fans attending soccer’s World Cup in Qatar this November and December must show proof of a negative Covid test upon arriving in the country, event organizers said on Thursday.

All visitors above the age of six must produce a negative result from a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure or a rapid antigen test taken in the 24 hours prior to their arrival, the event’s organizing committee said in a statement. Travelers older than 18 will also be required to download Qatar’s government-run contact tracing app Ehteraz. A green Etheraz status, which shows the user does not have a confirmed Covid case, is necessary for entering any closed indoor spaces available to the public.

However, fans traveling to Qatar for the World Cup aren’t required to be vaccinated. In addition, Qatar does not mandate travelers take a Covid test prior to departing the country. Roughly 1.5 million fans are expected to travel to the Gulf State for the tournament, which starts on Nov. 20.

Doha
Visitors to Qatar must produce a negative Covid test upon arrival in the country (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Tourism

Canada’s Travel Bans Were Ineffective at Stopping Covid — Study

4 months ago

A review into Canada’s strict travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic has claimed they did little to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The report, called Evaluating Canada’s Pandemic Border and Travel Policies: Lessons Learned, was written by four Canadian doctors specializing in infectious diseases and pandemic management, and was published just days before the country said it would lift all entry restrictions from Oct. 1.

It said that mandatory arrival and departure testing, quarantines, travel advisories, and other border restrictions did not materially reduce the spread of variants of concern across Canada.

The report echoes a review carried out in July into the UK’s “traffic light” system of travel restrictions, on which the government spent $585 million. The UK government, ultimately, did not know whether the system worked or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused, according to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons.

However, it’s worth noting that this latest study may be self-serving; it was commissioned by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada in partnership with the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable.

However, they argue that with the benefit of hindsight — namely more than two years of analysis — there was no scientific basis to apply stricter health measures to travel and tourism than to other industries.

“Enough time has passed for us to make a scientific assessment as to whether the travel restrictions introduced by the federal government were successful in containing the spread of the virus and its variants,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, Infectious Diseases Physician and Associate Professor at McMaster University.

“At best, travel restrictions are estimated to delay the impact of a variant of concern by a few days,” the report stated.

It also found there was no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.

Alternative measures, such as community wastewater testing, were also deemed to be more accessible surveillance mechanisms to identify variants without inconveniencing travelers and requiring significant government and industry resources.

Tourism

U.S. Travelers Plan to Nearly Double Number of Overseas Vacations Vs. 2019

4 months ago

A new survey has found that “affluent” Americans are planning to take nearly twice as many international trips in the next 12 months, compared to before the pandemic. Some demographics are also ready to spend twice as much too.

The 2,000 respondents in a poll, called Portrait of American International Travelers and published by marketing agency MMGY, clearly feel their dollar will take them a lot further for their next trip.

The survey, the third annual national poll of its kind, looked at the travel behaviors, spending habits, preferences and motivators of the respondents, and was carried out in July 2022. However, since then the dollar has considerably strengthened against the euro and sterling.

MMGY describes “affluent” travelers as those coming from an annual household income of $100,000, and as someone who had taken at least one vacation outside of North America during the past three years, and who plans to take at least one vacation outside of North America during the next 12 months.

Those U.S. travelers now plan to take an average of 3.8 international vacations in the next 12 months, up 72 percent from 2.2 in 2019.

While overall interest in foreign travel is up, the number of destinations U.S. travelers want to visit is down compared to 2019.

Europe, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and Canada are among the top destinations cited by U.S. travelers as places they want to visit. As expected, the study noted an overall increase in interest in visiting less-crowded destinations, and those that offer a range of outdoor activities.

As well as the number of trips, the study found boomers were ready to splash out twice as much on each trip ($7,725 vs. $3,564). But millennials seem to have a little more stamina, and plan to go on more international trips than boomers, at 5.7 vs. 1.5, over the next 12 months.

On an average basis, the American travelers anticipate spending a total of $15,364 on international trips in the coming year — a 16 percent increase on pre-pandemic spending predictions.

“It’s clear that there is a willingness and growing appetite to travel internationally, but the important thing for marketers to note is that the American traveler looks and acts quite differently than they did before Covid-19,” said Cees Bosselaar, MMGY Travel Intelligence Europe managing director.

Respondents were selected randomly, and the sample was weighted based on age, gender, ethnicity, household income, geography and education to ensure the data is representative of American high-income households, MMGY said.

The study was also carried out with the United States Tour Operators Association.

Tourism

Japan to Reopen to Visa-Free Independent Tourists From October 11

4 months ago

It’s official — Japan has finally announced that it would allow visa-free entry to independent tourists, removing the daily cap on arrivals from October 11 onwards, after almost two-and-a-half years of stringent restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement on Thursday in New York while attending the UN General Assembly.

Inbound arrivals would need to be vaccinated three times or would have to submit a pre-arrival negative result for a Covid-19 test, according to Kyodo News.

Before the pandemic, Japan allowed visa-free entry for short-term visitors from 68 countries, including the U.S.

To encourage domestic tourism, the Japanese government will also be bringing back the nationwide travel discount program that had been discontinued after the rise in Covid cases.

Dubbing the step an effort to support the tourism, entertainment and industries that have been the worst-affected during the pandemic, Kishida hoped news of the full reopening would encourage more people to be a part of the program.

While Japan had been easing restrictions in a phased manner even since it reopened to foreign tourists in June, the government still required tourists to apply for a short-term visa enter the country as part of approved package tours through a recognized travel agency.

Tourism

Hong Kong Finally Looks to Scrap Hotel Quarantine Policy

4 months ago

As Hong Kong leaders acknowledge how stringent Covid policies have hammered the destination’s competitiveness, the government might soon be on its way to scrap the controversial hotel quarantine policy for inbound travelers.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee said an announcement was impending and the destination would look to allow more activities in an orderly manner.

“I’m conscious of the need to maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness by ensuring that we have a good connectivity,” Lee said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We will be announcing the measures once we’ve made the decision about what we’re going to do.”

While doing its best to control Covid-19, Lee said, the Hong Kong government would aim to have maximum connection with the international world and reduce inconvenience for inbound arrivals.

The country’s strict Covid rules have led to the cancellation of international events like the Hong Kong Marathon and the dragon boat race that moved to Thailand.

Noting that the convenience of cross-border travel is the core of restoring economic momentum, Paul Chan, the financial secretary of Hong Kong, also admitted that the current restrictions may discourage people from coming to Hong Kong.

The city is currently reporting around 6100 cases a day. 

Hong Kong is one of the last few destinations that still follows a stringent Covid policy for inbound arrivals requiring them to quarantine in a hotel for three days followed by four days of self-monitoring. Inbound arrivals are also required to carry a negative result proof of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken 48 hours before boarding.

Having assumed office since July 1, Lee has been working to ease the city’s isolation, reconnecting Hong Kong with the rest of the world.

Immediately after taking charge, Lee ended a controversial rule that banned individual flights if they brought in passengers infected with the coronavirus. In August, he shortened the Covid-19 hotel quarantine period for all arrivals to three days from seven.

Two weeks ago, the Hong Kong government also lifted rules requiring passenger crew to quarantine in a hotel for three days on return to the city.

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