ust a few weeks ago, it felt like 2020 holidays were a write-off. Lockdown was on everyone’s lips, and summer travel was a fairytale.

Suddenly, the mood music has changed.

Greece, Spain and Italy now say they will welcome overseas tourists from June and July. There’s talk of “travel bubbles” and “safe corridors”, and Ryanair and easyJet plan to ramp up flights in the months ahead.

Restarting tourism is “a calculated risk”, as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte puts it, but it’s now a risk countries dependent on tourism are prepared to take.

But what about holidaymakers… should they reevaluate too?

What countries will reopen first?

Italy is quickest out of the block with a plan to allow overseas visitors, without quarantine, from June 3. Its shops reopened this Monday, and movement within regions has recommenced.

Spain – Ireland’s most popular holiday destination – says it could welcome visitors from the end of next month, while Greece is targeting July 1. Portugal and Malta are quickly rebooting tourism, too.

The concept of “safe corridors” or “travel bubbles” has also been gaining traction – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have teamed up, for example, while Germany and Austria have reopened their land border.

For Irish holidaymakers, the Canary Islands and Mallorca probably offer the best hope for sun holidays. Caseloads are low in the Canaries (84 in Lanzarote, and 54 in Fuerteventura, for example), and the islands, heavily dependent on tourism, are forging ahead with new health protocols and contact tracing systems.

What airlines are starting to take off?

Ryanair says it will begin “widespread” flights from July 1… albeit with a host of changes, including face masks, temperature checks and a new ban on queuing in the aisles for toilets.

EasyJet will start ramping up from June 15, Lufthansa will bring back nine weekly flights from Dublin from June 1, and others such as KLM and Emirates have announced additions – albeit at a fraction of normal levels.

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Screengrab: Ryanair / YouTube

Screengrab: Ryanair / YouTube

Screengrab: Ryanair / YouTube

Screengrab: Ryanair / YouTube

Aer Lingus is currently operating just 5pc of its schedule.

It is likely to slowly step up over the summer, but has said a return to 2019 levels of flying might not happen until 2023.

So… should I book a holiday or not?

Don’t pack the Speedos just yet… it’s best to wait and see.

“There is no point in an airplane flying to a country if a consumer cannot have a normal holiday,” says Pat Dawson, President of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA).

“The corridor thing may work, but you can’t have a situation where people are away enjoying their holidays and suddenly there’s a lockdown. Certainty is so important in travel. That has to be really nailed down before people will have confidence”.

“We all want to get back in business. We all want to sell holidays, but not at any cost.”

Things will become a lot clearer in the coming weeks – whether second waves of coronavirus occur, what hygiene and screening measures are implemented, how Ireland’s easing of restrictions plays out, and whether countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece actually do proceed with plans to reopen.

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Should I take a punt and book a July flight?

Buyer beware! Stung by long waits for refunds or vouchers, passengers may not want to run the risk of the same thing happening in July.

Remember that if flights do operate, but the Government advises against non-essential travel, you may not be eligible for a refund under EU/261, nor covered under your travel insurance policy.

Speaking of Ireland… when can I leave?

To go on any holiday, you first have to leave home.

The Government continues to issue official advice against “non-essential travel“, and a relaxation of restrictions will confine people to within 5km, and subsequently 20km, of their homes up to July 20.

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Papagayo beach, Lanzarote

Papagayo beach, Lanzarote

Papagayo beach, Lanzarote

Papagayo beach, Lanzarote

Then there’s the return home. Currently, anyone entering Ireland is asked to self-isolate for 14 days. This quarantine will soon become mandatory, and it is unknown for how long.

Screening and health protocols also remain to be worked out before travel resumes, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it could be “months rather than weeks” before non-essential air travel returns.

Could that change?

Yes… for better or worse.

In a worst-case scenario, a second wave of coronavirus could slow the easing of restrictions or even turn the clock back.

In a best-case, however, Minister Simon Harris this week told Reuters that “travel bubbles” between countries with low infection rates was “a really interesting idea” that merits consideration.

Any fast-tracking of the roadmap will depend on public health data.

What’s all this about ‘the new summer’?

Many travel agents sense holidaymakers will remain uneasy about travel through July and August – whether it is possible or not – but say September and October could be “the new summer”.

There is “a little bit of optimism” Pat Dawson says.

“People that are booked in September or October are [keeping bookings]; they feel confident enough that there will be flying going on.”

This is possible, as airline summer schedules typically run to the end of October, there is clearly a pent-up demand for holidays, and Irish weather is one of the world’s most fickle phenomena.

However, family travel may be limited due to a return of schools, and it’s worth noting that a rush to book at this time, together with any newly limited occupancy levels, could push up prices.

What has the EU advised?

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Emirates is giving free 'travel hygiene kits' to passengers

Emirates is giving free 'travel hygiene kits' to passengers

Emirates is giving free ‘travel hygiene kits’ to passengers

Emirates is giving free ‘travel hygiene kits’ to passengers

Countries with similar rates of coronavirus infection, and comparably strong health systems, can begin opening borders, the EU has said.

This week, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) also published aviation health and safety guidelines to provide “a source of best practice” for airlines, airports and national authorities.

The guidelines are non-binding, however. Airlines, countries and airports continue largely to do their own thing – which is confusing for travellers, to say the least.

I’ve paid a deposit; now the balance is due. What should I do?

If you fail to pay the balance, you break your contract and may lose the deposit and/or pay a cancellation fee. Worse, if the trip is cancelled in the future, you will have lost any refund or rebooking options.

First up, speak to your travel agent or holiday provider about your options. Most would rather reschedule or negotiate than lose your business – and the State is now guaranteeing package holiday credit notes.

Another option, if you can afford it, is to pay the balance to keep your package holiday ‘live’ for now. It will either go ahead, or you will have more rights in the event that it is cancelled.

You can also check your travel insurance and credit card options.

What about ferries?

Irish Ferries and Stena Line continue to sail between Ireland, the UK and France, both to maintain supply chains and cater for essential journeys.

“Enhanced flexibility” is being offered on cancellations and rescheduling of travel booked to the end of June, but passengers with summer bookings are in a bind, and have complained that outstanding payments are being deducted for trips that, due to travel restrictions, they are unable to take.

Brittany Ferries is cancelling all passenger sailings from Ireland to France and Spain up to June 15.

What will future holidays look like?

Face masks are a certainty, as is social distancing.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus have both said face coverings will be mandatory this summer, and Emirates is now giving passengers free kits including masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser.

You can expect physical distancing at every stage of the journey – from airport check-ins to your resort restaurant, hotel elevators to beach loungers (Italy has a 10m zone per umbrella, for instance).

Coronavirus tests are possible – from June 15, Iceland will offer arriving visitors the option of a test or a two-week quarantine, for instance, and Greece has said testing will be a feature, too.

Holidaymakers will need to remain on high alert for virus symptoms. Temperature screenings are likely at airports and resorts – if the results are above 38-degrees, that will flag further screening.

Clearly, this could be another source of anxiety – what if you develop a temperature during travel? What if one family member tests high? Will airlines and resorts offer rebooking or holiday refunds if we can’t travel?

It’s a brave new world… at least until a vaccine arrives.

What about those ‘mega-sales’ we were promised?

No sign of those just yet.

Airlines will gauge demand and watch how screening, hygiene and quarantine measures play out before pressing the button on eye-catching sales.

Right now, for instance, Ryanair’s routes from Dublin in July start from €37.99 to Amsterdam ,or €70.99 to Faro or Valencia each-way, for example… but that’s of little use to people unable to leave Ireland.

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Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now to our free travel newsletter. ‘Travel Insider’ is written by our award-winning Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile.

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