Portugal is to do everything in its power to welcome back British holidaymakers this summer without the need for quarantine or additional testing, its tourism minister has said.
Rita Marques was speaking after the European Union agreed to push forward with plans for a bloc-wide coronavirus passport to kickstart Europe’s travel industry.
She told an online conference Portugal would try “at all costs to avoid quarantines and additional Covid-19 tests” for international arrivals, adding that she believed the UK will remain its largest inbound market. More than 3million Britons visited Portugal in 2019, before the pandemic.
“The Portugal brand is strong, particularly among the British,” Marques said.
The EU is set to discuss the introduction of its travel pass next month before the UK moves forward with the next stage of its roadmap, when overseas holidays could resume on May 17.
Greece has already said it will permit entry to British visitors who have been vaccinated against coronavirus or can prove a negative test.
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What happened today?
The key headlines:
Portugal to avoid quarantine and tests with travel pass plan
Gov under pressure to stop 'rip off' fees for travel Covid tests
Northern Ireland to open outdoor hospitality from April 30
Greece reopening a 'pilot' scheme, says government
Gov needs to sort out airport queues before May 17, warns airline group
More data needed before travel to South Africa to be allowed
Catch-up with the rest below, and join us tomorrow for more travel news.
'Spontaneity makes for the best holidays – travel will be dull without it'
Booked-up Britain is the opposite of summer fun: the best holiday memories are formed from sketchy plans and last-minute trips, writes Emma Featherstone.
Organised fun has always been an oxymoron, when laced pandemic precautions it’ll be all the more so. I like my holidays to be more twisty caper than predictable rom com. My leave-it to-the-last-minute approach to life has served me well in travel anecdotes.
Self-catering cottages enjoy bookings boom
The Cotswolds is an ever-popular domestic holiday destination and, after months of closure, self-catering accommodation providers are glad to have welcomed back guests this week.
Among the Cotwolds' rental cottages is Cotswolds Cottage Gems, which takes bookings through eviivo. Gemma Conway, from Cotswolds Cottage Gems, said:
We’ve already had an overwhelming response to the re-opening of hospitality with an amazing influx of bookings, all nine of our self-catered cottages for this week have been occupied by guests. We now have bookings right up until September which we’re so pleased to see after the long hiatus over lockdown.
We’ve been really excited to reopen and have gone to every length to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests is of the highest priority. In alignment with the rules, we're welcoming up to six people from a support bubble into our self-catered cottages. Our guests are all provided with hand sanitisers, and additional cleaning products as part of their accommodation stay. In line with the government's procedures, we’ve also adapted our self-check-ins and check-out process with all payments being made online to minimise contact. Nonetheless, we’re always on hand and reachable for requests from our guests over the course of their stay if needed.
Cornwall's beaches: welcoming holidaymakers – and their dogs
Here are a couple of sunny scenes ahead of the first weekend since domestic holidays resumed in England.
Pictured are Raich Keene, Jack Porter and Raphael the retriever at Chapel Porth, Cornwall.
Russia extends ban on UK flights
Russia has extended a ban on flights to and from the UK until June due to a variant of the Covid variant first detected here.
The news was reported by the TASS news agency on Thursday citing a statement by Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency.
In bloom: tulip festival returns to Japan
The Tanto Tulip festival returned to Toyooka, Japan this year after it was called off in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Here, a couple walk around the art of more than a hundred thousand tulips forming a shape of Amabie, a folklore creature said to have defended people against illness.
Every year, one million tulips of three hundred varieties attract visitors to the Tanto Flower Park.
Northern Ireland to open outdoor hospitality from April 30
Restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and beer gardens in Northern Ireland will be permitted to open on April 30, PA reports.
Hotels and indoor hospitality are set to reopen on May 24, under new date agreed by Stormont ministers on Thursday.
'My pilgrimage to a royal pyramid – in the Aberdeen countryside'
Above Balmoral Castle, Victoria and Albert's 'dear paradise of the Highlands' is home to a series of curious royal memorials, writes Janice Hopper.
One cold crisp morning I set off to research the Balmoral Cairns, a series of monuments erected by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert within their ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’. The most famous of which is the Prince Albert Cairn, a striking granite pyramid commemorating the prince after his death of 1861. Measuring 41x41 feet at its base, this grand pyramid is a curiosity you’d never expect to stumble upon in rural Aberdeenshire.
Setting off on this six mile hike I kept my camera, notepad and directions close by. Whilst accessible to the public, these cairns are tucked away on discreet hillsides and unsignposted woodland paths, so visitors need to know what they’re looking for and follow a clear route.
Having passed Crathie Kirk where Queen Victoria’s loyal servant John Brown is buried, navigated a shaky suspension bridge over a fast flowing river, and followed various paths through the trees, the first granite cairns I hit upon honoured the marriages of two of Queen Victoria’s daughters: Princess Helena to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866; and the betrothal of Princess Louise to the Marquis of Lorne in 1871. So far so interesting, but the third monument packed more of a punch.
Silversea puts new flagship itineraries on sale
Siliversea cruise line has unveiled the debut sailing programme for its new ship Silver Moon.
The 596-passenger vessel will first depart on 10-day round-trip cruises from Piraeus, Greece with calls at Santorini, Paros, Mykonos, and Crete, as well as visits to Haifa in Israel and Limassol in Cyprus.
Silver Moon's maiden voyage will sail from Piraeus on June 18, calling at Syros, Paros, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion, and Mykonos. Prices start from £5,200 per person.
Both passengers and crew will be need to be vaccinated against Covid to join the ship.
'Wales deserves more respect – its language is as old as the hills'
Kerry Walker has weighed into the debate over the use of Welsh language announcements at Cardiff airport.
The Welsh travel expert writes:
When you cross the Severn Bridge and see the fins of the Brecon Beacons raised in a wave of welcome, it’s a sign you have reached a wilder, more mountainous land. As you cruise on along narrow single-track lanes, tailgating tractors and letting your gaze drift across sheep-grazed meadows, hills and swooping valleys, the place names and road signs are a reminder that Wales – or Cymru – is very much its own country, with a distinctive language and culture.
So when Simon Calder grumbled about Covid announcements made in Welsh on a recent flight to Cardiff, his gripes, deemed ‘insensitive’ and ‘ignorant’ by some, reignited the old English-Welsh divide. For years, the Welsh have been the butt of many a joke and their language has been dismissed. Still today, many visitors talk about Wales as if it were nothing but an appendage to England – a county rather than a country.
Tui asks Cyprus to cut cost of Covid tests
Tui has urged Cyprus to offer cut-price tests to British holidaymakers this summer.
Helen Caron, the tour operator’s purchasing director, said travellers would not be “able to bear the cost” of multiple Covid tests for a holiday.
She told a virtual conference hosted by the Cyprus Hotel Managers Association that the island should “focus on reducing the burden of the cost of these tests”, adding: “You should consider ways to cap the cost of tests or provide them for free.”
The Travel Trade Gazette reported that Caron said Cyprus should ensure they can provide a “seamless process” in terms of testing and vaccination passports.
The island is due to welcome back British travellers from May 17. Currently anyone entering the country from the UK must present a negative Covid test and then test again on arrival.
'Very demanding' schedule to reopen Notre Dame by 2024
On his visit to Notre Dame to mark two years since it was badly damaged in a fire, French President Emmanuel Macron has praised efforts to rebuild the Paris cathedral.
He said "immense" restoration work had already been accomplished since the blaze, but that there was plenty of work left to do.
"We are also looking to the three coming years because we will have to meet our targets, and therefore there is a great mobilisation of planning that is very demanding and rigorous," he said.
Rocky Mountaineer delays Canadian restart
The train operator, the Rocky Mountaineer, is delaying the start of its Canadian travel season until July 5, due to continuing uncertainty over restrictions.
Customers affected will be offered a credit voucher worth 110 per cent the value of their trip.
Peter Armstrong, founder and CEO of Rocky Mountaineer, said: “We are extremely disappointed to be forced to delay the start of our season, but we remain very optimistic about restarting travel in July.
“Our team is eagerly working to prepare our trains for operations and we all look forward to getting back to what we do best.”
The US arm of the rail company, launched last year, will, however, run before July, and guests have the option to transfer to a route that takes in the Rockies of Denver, Colorado and Utah.
Government needs to sort out airport queues before May 17, warns airline group
The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has warned that lengthy checks at the UK border could "pose a major risk for a recovery in international travel".
The group, which represents many of the world's airlines, said the UK Government needs to ensure it is able to "digitalise the current paper-based system used to manage passenger tests and vaccine certificates".
This week London Heathrow criticised the Government for the length of queues growing at its border checks. Some travellers faced waits of up to six hours . The airport said the situation was close to "untenable" and that police had to step in on more than one occasion.
A spokesperson for Iata said: "When international travel ramps up from May 17 it’s critical that passengers are not left queuing for hours for the manual checking of vaccine and testing certificates.
"Even with limited traffic there are already reports of lengthy waits at UK Border checkpoints. This compromises social distancing measures and passenger welfare.
"With just over a month to go, it is urgent that agreement is reached on what digital systems will be accepted, trials are conducted to ensure their smooth implementation, and communication programs reach travelers who will need to arrive at the airport prepared. There is no time to lose."
Northern Ireland: ministers meet to approve reopening
Stormont ministers are meeting to discuss dates for easing lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland: it is the only part of the the UK that hasn't confirmed expected reopening dates.
When the lockdown exit strategy blueprint was first published at the start of March, the administration faced criticism for not including any indicative reopening dates. At the time, ministers insisted the health picture was too volatile to offer up provisional dates that ultimately might have to be scrapped.
With Northern Ireland having marked one million Covid-19 vaccines by last weekend and with other key health and scientific indicators going in the right direction, ministers have made clear they are now in a position where indicative dates can be provided. These are the proposed dates for reopening:
April 23: Outdoor attractions, hairdressers, beauty salons
April 30: All retail, self-contained tourist accommodation
May 10: Outdoor dining, drinking, swimming pools and gyms
May 14: Wedding guest receptions for 30 people allowed
Not before 1 June: Indoor drinking and dining and full tourist accommodation
Read more: How far can I travel in the UK?
Covid, insurance and the traffic light system explained
Travel insurance was already complicated enough before Covid; now it is a minefield. Nick Trend has picked through the best cover for every scenario.
Here's a snippet of his advice on securing cover for cancellations:
Note that I couldn’t find any policies which would cover cancellation because of the imposition of a national or local lockdown or a change in FCDO advice here or intended destination. This relates to when your “green” holiday destination, as defined by the Government’s traffic light system, turns “red”, either shortly before travel or while you are away. It similarly might involve a situation where you will forced to quarantine in a hotel on return to the UK, if a country turns “red” while you are away. It is hoped the Government will give more notice on such changes than it did last year when closing travel corridors, giving everyone who wishes to return to the UK the chance to do so.
The mitigation for this risk is that so many airlines and tour operators have introduced flexible booking policies which enable you to postpone or rebook your travel until a later date. In some cases – British Airways, for example – these are as late as the opening of check-in just before a flight departs. This means in effect that the financial consequences of cancellation are much lower than they used to be. Since you are much better off booking with an airline or operator which offers such flexibility, then you don’t need to worry so much about this aspect of the policy.
No 10: Airports have 'right level of staffing' given travel restrictions
No 10 has reminded the public that foreign holidays are still not permitted following reports of lengthy queues at airports.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said:
The first thing to say is that at this stage with where we are on our road map in this global pandemic, people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.The Border Force has staff there to check passengers are compliant with our border health measures and we continue to ask that passengers completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK in advance - things like purchasing testing packages, et cetera.
With regards to looking forward, we are constantly trying to improve the processes at the border which maintain the checks we need to carry out to keep the public safe, while also maintaining an efficient border that doesn't place undue wait on the public. We're continuing that work and there will be more details set out ahead of the earliest date of May 17.
The spokesman said the Border Force has the "right level of staffing" given the current restrictions in place on travel.
Read more: Travellers face six-hour queues at Heathrow
Jet2holidays reports high demand for 2022 trips
More holidaymakers are booking trips for over 12 months ahead of time than they have in previous years, according to Jet2holidays.
The UK's second largest tour operator also said that a "materially bigger" proportion of sales than ever before are for Atol-protected package holidays.
Steve Heapy, Jet2holidays chief executive, said: “There is a huge desire amongst UK holidaymakers to get away on their holidays and this is clear in the demand for both summer ‘21 and summer ‘22 holidays.
“Customers are continuing to look ahead with real confidence and as well as booking in their getaway for this summer, it is clear from the bookings data that they are also looking to secure that all-important holiday for summer ‘22.”
The company recently pushed its restart date back to June 24 following the Government's Global Travel Taskforce report.
Greece reopening a 'pilot' scheme, says government
A little more - though not much - detail has come out of Greece on its plans to reopen to vaccinated travellers, as we reported yesterday.
AFP reports that a government spokesperson, Aristolelia Peloni, said the resumption would be a “pilot opening”.
The scheme is part of a test project to allow entry to people with the so-called vaccine passports, an exception until now open only to Israeli visitors. Under the initiative, travellers will be able to avoid a seven-day quarantine currently imposed on visitors.
The European Union has said it wants to get a vaccine passport off the ground for travellers, though plans have not yet been formalised.
"[The scheme] involves visitors coming either with vaccine certificates or following PCR tests," said Peloni.
Peloni said the scheme was open to "European and certain other countries" without giving further detail.
Portugal’s plans to reopen, as mentioned in the main story, are based along the same EU plan.
Video: How the traffic light system should work
UK National Parks need wilder areas, say campaigners
National parks need wilder areas to boost declining wildlife, campaigners have urged ahead of the 70th anniversary of the first designated park.
The Government should adopt recommendations in an independent review of national parks and other designated landscapes that called for them to have wilder areas to help restore nature, campaign group Rewilding Britain said.
The call comes as the Peak District National Park marks its 70th anniversary on Saturday as the first UK national park, designated on April 17, 1951. Rewilding Britain's policy and campaigns co-ordinator Guy Shrubsole said national parks should lead the way on rewilding landscapes to help make Britain wilder and more nature-rich.
The UK has been described as one of the most nature depleted countries on Earth.
Mr Shrubsole said: "Our national parks need to be leading the way towards a wilder Britain, with a massive expansion of rewilding to tackle climate breakdown, reverse the decline in species and boost rural economies.
"While the state of nature in Britain might be even worse were it not for our protected areas, huge areas of our national parks are now ecological shadows of what they could be, when they should be bursting with wildlife."
In pictures: Spring festival arrives in Nepal
Airbnb blocks 80,000 'party house' bookings
Airbnb says it has blocked nearly 80,000 bookings from young people without enough positive ratings as part of a drive to crack down on antisocial behaviour.
The accommodation platform said the rules introduced last August as a pilot scheme, which prevent anyone under the age of 25 from booking an entire home in their own neighbourhood if they have fewer than three good reviews, are designed to stop the reservation of “party houses”.
It said, too, the rules should not prevent young people from booking accommodation “outside of their local area”.
Patrick Robinson, director of public policy at Airbnb, said: “While the overwhelming majority of guests are responsible neighbours, we are committed to tackling potential issues of antisocial behaviour on the Airbnb platform.”
Splurge or save? Your post-Covid holiday plans
More than half of UK households who saved money during the pandemic plan to hold onto their savings and (when international travel restrictions lift) 32 per cent expect to fly less regularly than they did before, according to research by comparethemarket.com.
Vote in our poll to let us know how Covid will affect your holiday budget.
France mulls lockdown easing as death toll passes 100,000
France's coronavirus death toll is expected to pass 100,000 on Thursday after a year of hospital tensions, on-and-off lockdowns and personal loss that have left families nationwide grieving the pandemic's unending, devastating toll.
The country of 67 million will be the eighth in the world to reach the symbolic mark, and the third in Europe after the United Kingdom and Italy.
As such, the country is still deep in its lockdown, with easing still a way off on the horizon, including for overseas travel.
An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since mid-December, and all France's restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.
Schools are set to gradually reopen starting on April 26. The government is anticipating that other restrictions will start being lifted around mid-May, when the situation is expected to improve.
President Macron is to hold on Thursday a meeting with government members to get the nation prepared for the gradual reopening. Authorities expects 20 million people, about 38 per cent of the adult population, will have received at least one shot of vaccine by that time up from 11 million now.
In pictures: Notre Dame marks two years since fire
Marella to resume UK cruises on June 25
Marella Cruises has revealed the details of its cruises from UK shores this summer, with the first ship setting sail from Southampton on June 25.
Marella Explorer will sail seven new UK itineraries, with ports of call including, Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool. The voyages are open to passengers of all ages but anyone aged over 18 will be required to show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19. All guests must also provide proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding the ships at the start of the cruise.
Marella Explorer 2, the lines' adult-only ship, will also offer UK sailings from Newcastle from July 10.
Chris Hackney, the UK and Ireland managing director of, said: "The safety and well-being of both our crew and passengers remains our priority which is why we have vaccination and testing protocols for all sailings from UK ports this summer.
“Domestic sailings are a great step for the cruise industry and has given us the opportunity to take our customers to new destinations full of culture and history whilst still being close to home. We’re looking forward to this new adventure on the British seas and are dedicated to making sure our customers have the most memorable and exciting cruise with us.”
Marella Cruises confirmed it will continue the 'pause' in operations for Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2 until July 31.
Spotlight: the progress of Portugal's vaccination programme
Ireland hopes to reopen hotels in June
Ireland is on track to ease restrictions from May 4 to allow the phased reopening of all retail stores and hairdressers and will also develop a plan for further reopenings in June and July, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.
"We're on track to ease restrictions from May 4. What we're planning is allowing more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and personal services but what we'll also do at the end of April is develop the plan for June and July," Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE.
"That's looking good."
The government said last month that it hoped to be able to reopen hotels in June but was criticised by restaurant and bar owners for not giving an indication of when they will be allowed to trade beyond just takeaway services.
All visitors to Ireland must quarantine for 14 days.
Pandemic accelerates move towards cashless holidays
More three quarters of Britons will shun cash on their next trip overseas, according to new research, with one in five believing they could contract Covid-19 from bank notes and coins.
A survey by FairFX also found that one in 10 has “no idea about different currencies” from around the world, as society moves cashless.
There was, however, a gulf between the views of old and young. Two thirds of those over 45 would use cash on their next trip abroad, compared to just 10 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34.
Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of FairFX, said: “Our research has highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on the way people are likely to use cash once they’re able to head abroad again. But it’s clear the steady decline of cash we’ve seen in recent years has also impacted our knowledge of different currencies used around the world.
“While taking a large amount of currency abroad may have once been the norm, people now favour card payments in day-to-day life and this has no doubt impacted our spending habits while abroad, too. Less awareness when it comes to spending overseas also leaves holiday makers at risk of being ripped off by hidden charges and poor rates, so it’s important Brits make sure they’re choosing the right payment method for them.”
15 most perfect Greek islands to visit in 2021
Greece looks certain to be one of our summer holiday options, with its government confirming plans to reopen to vaccinated Britons next week (late-April). Britons hoping to visit will need to show evidence of a Covid vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours.
A Greek island holiday sounds like just the tonic after the bleakest of winters. Who could possibly turn down a week or two of reliable sunshine, and simple but delicious food served in rustic seaside tavernas? To help you start planning your perfect escape, here are 15 of our favourite options.
More data needed before travel to South Africa to be allowed
A travel ban between South Africa and the UK is set to remain in place until there is more data on vaccine efficacies against new variants.
This is the view of Nigel Casey, outgoing UK High Commissioner (Pretoria).
When asked about lifting travel restrictions between the two countries, he told News24 in South Africa
The challenge we are facing at the moment is there is very little hard data on efficacy of the vaccines, particularly the ones we are using in the UK vaccination programme – against the new variants that were discovered, particularly the one that was first sequenced in South Africa.
It is likely South Africa will be on the UK's 'red' list should a traffic light system be introduced on May 17, banning travel to the country.
Thailand sees fourth record case rise in a week
Thailand is wrestling with the emergence of new clusters, putting at risk its plans to reopen to international visitors in July.
The country says it wants its holiday island of Phuket to open up first so long as it can vaccinate the bulk of its population.
Thailand reported 1,543 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the sharpest increase since the start of the pandemic and the fourth record rise this week, amid a third wave of infections in the Southeast Asian country.
While Thailand has up to now managed to keep case numbers relatively contained compared to many other countries, the new outbreak comes as many have travelled during the country's Songkran new year holidays and with vaccination rates still low.
When asked whether lockdowns would be imposed, health official Chawetsan Namwat said measures were being formulated based on case numbers in each area and would be proposed to the coronavirus taskforce for approval on Friday.
"We have to divide up the areas based on seriousness, which is different and so measures have to be suitable for each area," Chawetsan told a briefing. Authorities have already urged people to limit travel and begin working from home.
Thailand has vaccinated less than 0.4% of its population, trailing neighbours like Malaysia with 1.5% and 14.6% in Singapore, according to a Reuters estimate.
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Government under pressure to stop charging travellers 'rip off' fees for Covid tests
The Department of Health is under pressure to stop charging travellers and holidaymakers “rip off” fees of more than £100 for PCR Covid tests.
Travel industry and private testing firms said the charge by the Government was exorbitant at more than double the rate of the cheapest PCR tests.
They warned it was effectively sanctioning PCR test costs that were unaffordable for many travellers, adding at least an extra £400 to a holiday for a family of four.
The Department of Health claimed it was charging at that rate because it did not want to “undercut” the private sector even though Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has demanded companies bring down their charges which currently average £120 to £130.
“The Government needs to get a grip. They are not going out of their way to help recovery in the travel sector. They should be reducing costs as much as possible for consumers in order to encourage wider take up of testing,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency.
The UK's most popular destinations
Spain is the most popular destination for the UK, and it has long been thus, but news that Portugal is keen to welcome back tourists this summer will be music to the ears of more than 3.3million Britons.
In the last year of full data pre-pandemic, 2019, Portugal was the eighth most popular destination for the British.
Here are five stories we expect to follow today:
Greece to reopen to Britons from next week
Middle seat on planes a Covid risk, says CDC
British Airways is poised to restart US flights
Cost of PCR testing is beginning to fall after pressure on 'profiteers'
UK continues to book up as staycation popularity soars