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01/08/2021

Fergal O'Keeffe: Non-essential travel allowed again this week as thousands head abroad

Column in this week's Nationalist

Tipperary Tipperary Tipperary

Balearic Islands

Over 20,000 people a day are travelling abroad through Dublin airport this week since the Government allowed non-essential travel since last Monday. Although that number is far short of the 80,000 a day that travelled during the summer of 2019.

Since Monday, travel to Ireland from the EU is permitted without quarantining if you have a Digital Cert, proof of a negative PCR from the previous 72 hours or recovery from Covid-19.

Trips abroad have less restrictions due to the distribution of the EU Digital Covid Certificate to fully vaccinated people, but the Government still advises against non-essential travel for non-vaccinated people.

The costs of expensive PCR tests were also reduced last week with the Government stating that children under 12, up from under 7, no longer need PCR tests when entering Ireland.

But when going abroad the rules around PCR tests vary from country to country – it’s 12 in Spain, 11 in France and six in Italy.

The ever changing rules and regulations for travel have caused uncertainty and worry for people intending to travel abroad this summer.

As can be seen in the UK this week when the Balearic Islands went from Green to Amber and resulted in Britain’s tourists frantically trying to change flights to get home to avoid having to quarantine.

I have a friend who had booked a family holiday at a Majorca hotel for early August, only for the hotel to unexpectedly email him last weekend to say they had been “forced to close for season 2021 amid the crippling pandemic environment”.

That underlines how regulations can change suddenly. Those hoping to travel abroad should check the rules regularly. The same goes for cancellation policies and the conditions of their travel insurance. The www.reopen.europa.eu website is a great resource to keep up to date on EU countries varying Covid rules.

Another story I heard last week that would give you pause for thought about travelling abroad this summer were the Irish teenagers in Spain who failed their PCR tests before their flights home and had to incur the extra cost of accommodation and flights while they waited for the all clear.

Another factor to be taken into consideration is that a holiday abroad this summer is vastly different than in the past. I heard one travel expert describe it like going to Spain in the 80s. In recent weeks curfews have been reimposed in many tourist hotspots including Spain, Portugal and France.

From July 21, the French Government plans to extend the use of the digital passports showing vaccination to go to culture or leisure venues and from early next month, they will be needed for indoor bars, cafés, restaurants, and hospitals, as well as for riding on long-distance public transport.

Many people are delaying their holidays this summer, due to the fact children are not vaccinated against Covid-19 amid the rise of the Delta variant of the virus across holiday hotspots of Europe, particularly among young people. As a result, the industry overall is only operating at around 20pc of what it was before 2020.

Most Irish people are choosing the staycation option again this summer. You will have heard reports of price hikes and lack of accommodation as a result.

I have found if you are able to be flexible when and where you go and are willing to wait for last minute cancellations then there is still availability and value.

It is possible to get two or three days in a place rather than booking a week. The upside of waiting until the last minute is that this allows you to follow the good weather.

The big difference I have found between this summer and last year is the fact there is no indoor dining outside of hotels. As a country we quite understandably are not geared up for outdoor dining.

In west Cork last week, I found it was often either raining and restaurants were shut or sunny and full.

It can be hard finding places to dine with a family. Restaurants have much reduced capacity and have reported that problem being exasperated due to no shows.

This has led to a lot of restaurants in holiday towns not taking bookings. A tip I would give to people on family holidays is to eat out early in the evening when there is availability.

There are challenges and hurdles for people whether they holiday abroad or staycation but if the current heatwave continues for the next few weeks, then Ireland really does look to be the most attractive option and we will be supporting our hospitality sector that has been hammered for the last 18 months.

The issues with lack of capacity will not be an issue from next Monday if the Government goes ahead with the planned reopening of indoor dining.

This would be a great help to tourists and the hospitality sector just as the summer holiday season peaks.

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