Need a holiday? Book with caution

Being told once more to stay at home by the government in an effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, setting off on holiday has never looked more attractive - or unlikely.

Alan and Paul Cartwright of A&P Travel

Even heading for the UK coast for a long weekend isn’t currently possibly due to the order to avoid unessential travel.

But for those of you desperate for light at the end of the travel tunnel, we’ve spoken to travel experts in the county to give you some advice on where and when to book a trip away.

When lockdown first hit in the spring of last year, all travel ground to a halt which had a huge impact on local travel companies.

Wayne Dennett, Lincolnshire Co-op Travel group manager

Hays Travel, having bought out the ailing Thomas Cook in October 2019, have been forced to close 89 of its shops - including its Boston store - due to the performance of some of its stores.

A spokesman said: "We are now discussing a number of options for alternative work for all colleagues at those stores which have an average of four staff .

"There are other Hays Travel stores near and all customers continue to be looked after by staff working from home via phone, zoom, FaceTime and other means during lockdown.

Lincolnshire Co-op is an independent travel provider and has 14 travel branches across the county, including Sleaford, Market Rasen, Horncastle, Louth and Boston.

Lincolnshire Co-op have been keeping in touch with their customers.

Wayne Dennett, Lincolnshire Co-op Travel group manager, said: “Like the rest of the national and international travel industry, the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions have presented a variety of challenges for our travel teams. Colleagues have been working hard to adapt to constantly changing circumstances to continue to provide the best support to our customers.

“Our travel experts have remained available to help throughout the pandemic and provide a personal service, even by telephone when our branches must close.

“This includes rearranging holidays, continuing to update customers on the latest guidance, and assisting customers who found themselves stranded abroad when travel restrictions were initially implemented.”

Hunts Coaches, a family run business in Alford, marked their 90th anniversary in 2020, but their celebrations were severely disrupted by COVID-19 and they only traded 10 percent of their usual business.

Hunts Coaches

We didn't rest on our laurels though," said Lindsay Linder, Hunt's business development and marketing manager, "We've put measures in place so that once we get the go-ahead, we'll be fully Covid-safe.

"We've installed an air filtration system to keep areas bacteria free and have got distancing measures in place on our coaches, and request that people wear face masks onboard to keep everyone safe.

"People are still cautious, but we're doing all we can to keep everyone safe."

It was a similar picture in Sleaford as Paul Cartwright, director of A&P Travel in Osbournby, said that their family-run coach travel company ended 2020 with a turnover of 80 percent less than 2019.

Helen Humphreys of Lincolnshire Travel Club.

“It was an awful year last year,” he said, “We mostly deal with elderly people and it's them who've been hit the hardest in my mind, we provide what a lot of them have been missing - the opportunity to socialise and travel and make friends. That's what we do.”

Paul said that the company had been looking forward to a bumper year in 2020, but then when lockdown was announced on March 23, “went into free fall”:

“We‘re a small family run business and we've got a reputation for good customer service, so we decided to tackle it head-on and contacted all customers to ask them if they wanted a refund, to swap their dates or save their money as credit.”

With the majority of the 2020 spring season under a blanket “no travel” restriction, many companies saw a huge rise in “staycations” in the summer of 2020, with many others crossing their fingers and going all out with big holidays planned for this year.

Wayne explained: “There was a huge increase in domestic holidays during 2020 but this was limited due to unprecedented high demand.

“Many customers wanted guaranteed sunshine, so decided to delay their holiday abroad until summer 2021.

“Fifty percent of 2020 customers also transferred their holidays to the following year, so this summer is filling up quickly.”

Helen Humphreys of Lincolnshire Travel Club in Louth said: “We’re seeing a lot of domestic breaks being booked for 2021, as well as more experiences are becoming more popular. People want to spend more time with their families and make memories.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of people booking holidays abroad for the end of the year and in 2022,” Helen explained, “We’re also seeing a huge amount of people booking Christmas shopping trips to New York for something a little bit more special, or Bali in October.

“People didn’t go anywhere last year so they’re booking something more memorable and with more quality, for example booking two weeks away instead of one and private transfers instead of shared."

So many of us are desperate to have a holiday to look forward to, despite a second lockdown which is set to last until Easter as it stands.

Paul said that A&P has been trying to plan trips away for their customers for next year, but a lot of hotels and attractions currently aren't open so planning ahead is tricky.

“We’ve slowly got more bookings coming in for this year as confidence is growing, but our industry can't just go back to normal with a coach full of people the next day, it takes time to plan and book.”

He said that they’ve been making the effort to keep in touch with their customers and hope that once they get the go ahead from the government, they can get up and running again.

“We need to reassure our customers that their money is safe, and we will make it through this,” he added.

“Some of the messages we've been receiving in social media are really heartwarming. One lady said that it was the thought of our trips that kept her going through lockdown.

“It's more than just a job to us, we're a community.”

The experts said that many holiday-makers are taking a gamble and booking spring and summer breaks now in the hope that restrictions will be lifted in time.

If you decide to take the plunge and book that much-needed holiday, our experts have provided their best advice on the best way to go about it.

Helen said whether or not you book a holiday this year depends on the time of year you want to go, and the type of holiday.

“If you want to book a domestic UK break then now is the perfect time to do so, before it gets busier, and a lot of people will be looking to book soon,” she said.

“It’s very important that you book with a travel company that will give you 100 percent protection, and don’t buy a holiday just based on price - now is not the time to be booking a break just because it seems a good deal. Make sure you have travel insurance to make sure your money is safe in case anything gets cancelled.”

Wayne at the Lincolnshire Co-op added: “If you have a holiday departing in spring 2021, speak to your agent for advice. Hopefully customers will be able to travel but if not, you will be given options to amend to later.

“For those who are looking to the further future, we are already taking bookings for summer 2022 and cruises up to 2023. Lots of people are booking early so if you are planning on this, don’t leave it too late.

“When booking ahead, it’s important to use a trusted agent and ensure your holiday is covered by ABTA and ATOL. You can check membership on ABTA’s website and you should always receive an ATOL certificate with your booking. ”

And Lindsay at Hunts Coaches said: "Our advisers are available and ready to answer any questions you may have about your break, we're here for anything you want to ask."