Europe’s summer abroad canceled as staycation bookings soar

Europe’s summer abroad canceled as staycation bookings soar
Above, the scenic west coast region of Connemara in Ireland, where availability of summer cottages has been tight. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 February 2021

Europe’s summer abroad canceled as staycation bookings soar

Europe’s summer abroad canceled as staycation bookings soar
  • Holiday accommodation being snapped up by cautious domestic tourists already resigned to another staycation summer

CONNEMARA, Ireland: Up until late January Terry O’Toole was fielding a trickle of enquiries from Irish holidaymakers happy to settle for another summer at home in one of the cottages he manages in the scenic west coast region of Connemara.
But when a government minister said on radio that it was very unlikely Irish people will be able to go on foreign holidays this summer, “the trickle became a torrent.”
From Connemara cottages to Berlin houseboats, Sweden’s ski slopes to UK activity parks, holiday accommodation is being snapped up by cautious domestic tourists already resigned to another staycation summer, amid fears of foreign travel bans and quarantines.
Availability is very tight, said O’Toole, the managing director of Love Connemara Cottages.
“Like last year ... you have the entire Irish market trying to squeeze into only a set amount of bookings.”
People still want to holiday and they’re forced to stay in Ireland, he said, something that makes for a slightly begrudging clientele who would usually be off in the sun.
O’Toole expects 80 percent to 90 percent of Love Connemara’s 100 holiday homes to be fully booked for July and August within the month. When COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in the same period last year, he could have rented each property three times over.
Holiday home owners across Ireland are reporting similarly strong demand thanks to “a sea change in people’s expectations,” said Jacinta Doolan of the Irish Self Catering Federation. “They just want a change of scenery,” she said.
It is the same story in the United Kingdom, although its faster vaccine rollout will likely give operators a longer season with bookings looking good, especially after May, according to Martin Sach, head of The Holiday Home Association.
Center Parcs, the holiday park operator whose sites offer activities from horse-riding to painting, said bookings for May onwards were very strong with a rise in interest recently.
With self-catering accommodation perceived by some as a safer way to vacation, Airbnb’s UK office said that in the last week of January searches for summer staycations on its website more than doubled compared to the same time last year.
Domestic searches in Ireland quadrupled last week compared to the first few weeks of January, Airbnb said.
With beach resorts in Spain and Greece possibly shut to some foreign tourists, the remote peninsula of Cornwall in the south-west tip of England is anticipating huge demand in 2021.
Renowned for its sandy beaches and old-fashioned fishing villages, bookings for summer accommodation are 50 percent to 100 percent up on where they would normally be at this point, said Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, the tourist board.
“Your home, which was your sanctuary, is now your workplace, your classroom and your open prison,” said Bell. Like O’Toole he noticed some domestic tourists booking much longer stays than they would have pre-pandemic.
The staycation trend spells a second lost summer for Europe’s hard-hit airlines. With little idea of what to expect, scheduling for the main holiday season is a guessing game for carriers.
But other companies are benefiting from the shift in holiday plans. For Sweden’s XXL, the Nordic region’s biggest sporting goods retailer, the boom in trips to the local countryside has led to a rapid recovery after the mild winter a year ago forced it to sell off stock.
It managed to turn an operating loss of $18 million in 2019 into a profit of $42.8 million in 2020.
In Germany, the unpredictability of the pandemic has made the idea of holidaying on a house boat so attractive that Europe’s biggest rental company, Le Boat, is busy building more canal boats to meet demand.
With bookings up 60 percent last month, Le Boat is increasing its German fleet by almost 20 percent, partly by shifting boats from France to Germany.
“I believe there will be a boom in the summer,” Germany’s tourism tsar Thomas Bareiss said, as COVID-19 restrictions are eased.


We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
Updated 20 min 24 sec ago

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
  • "We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again," Johnson told reporters
  • Johnson's travel regulations have angered some of Britain's European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he wanted to get the travel industry moving again with a simple user-friendly system to allow for trips abroad without importing new variants of the coronavirus.
“We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again,” Johnson told reporters. “We want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it.”
Britain has double vaccinated a higher proportion of its population against COVID-19 than most other countries, but the government has prevented travel to many destinations by imposing rules that the travel industry says are hobbling the economy.
Johnson’s travel regulations have angered some of Britain’s European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons and brought warnings from airports, airlines and tour companies.
In a letter to Johnson that was leaked to media, finance minister Rishi Sunak called for an urgent easing of travel restrictions.
The Times newspaper reported that Britain planned to warn holidaymakers against visiting popular tourist destinations such as Spain because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a step could trigger an exodus of about a million British tourists already abroad, cause further damage to the travel sector and deal a new blow to southern Europe’s summer tourist season.
A spokesperson for Britain’s transport ministry declined to comment on The Times report, published on the day when rules were eased for double-vaccinated travelers from the United States and most of Europe.
Under rules to be reviewed on Thursday, double-vaccinated travelers can return without quarantining from countries rated “amber” on a “traffic-light” list assessing the COVID-19 risk.
Those returning from red-list countries — the most severe risk — must pay 1,750 pounds ($2,436) to spend 10 days in a hotel.
An amber watchlist was due to be signed off on Thursday but a split in the government could delay a decision, The Times said.
Citing the threat posed by the Beta coronavirus variant, England has maintained quarantine rules for double-vaccinated travelers from France, while scrapping the requirement for travelers from other medium-risk “amber” countries.
France has complained, saying the bulk of its Beta variant cases come from the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.


Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 38 min 24 sec ago

Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead after stabbing 2 people
  • Family say he could have been arrested before attack

LONDON: The family of a terrorist who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London are expected to question whether his life could have been saved by being arrested earlier.

It will be the first time relatives of an Islamist terrorist in Britain will ask in court if the killing of their relative was necessary.

The inquest into the death of Sudesh Amman, 20, who stabbed two random members of the public on Feb. 2, 2020, is due to open on Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Amman was being closely observed by undercover reconnaissance officers when he was seen purchasing items for a fake suicide vest, which he put together in his probation hostel.

The next day, while being followed by officers, he quickly grabbed a knife from a shop and stabbed two passers-by in south London.

Both of his victims survived, but Amman was shot and killed by the armed team that was tracking him a minute after his rampage commenced.

His prison release on Jan. 23 meant that he had spent just 10 days in a probation hostel before he was killed.

At a pre-inquest hearing in July, Amman’s relatives queried if the police and MI5 could have arrested him before he was able to conduct the attack.

MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, has applied for intelligence about Amman to be given public interest immunity, which would limit its use in court or any inquiry.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the Amman family, argued that immunity should not be given if the material “goes to the state of mind of any relevant police officer or security service agent, as to what Sudesh Amman was planning or contemplating.”

The lawyer said his clients have objected to a statement by a police officer known as HA6, who was the senior investigating officer on the “priority” operation against Amman.

The officer said police “could not effect an arrest,” but Menon argued that they “knew the day before that Amman had bought items that could be used to make a fake suicide vest.”

At the hearing at the High Court, he added: “We will be making the point that the police knew more than enough to effect an arrest and should have done so.”

At the time, investigators and surveillance officers feared an attack by Amman was imminent, keeping him under constant observation.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: “This is not a case of signs being missed. It is difficult to imagine a higher grade response, short of arrest and you will be aware of what HA6 says about why that was not feasible.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is writing a supplementary report to cover the operation against Amman from January 2020.

The IOPC said on June 17 that during the investigation, “it is not anticipated that any concerns will arise as to the conduct of any police officers.”


In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
Updated 02 August 2021

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
  • Temperatures reached 45 C in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries
  • Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions

ATHENS: A heat wave baking southeast Europe has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and threatened the national grid in Greece as governments scrambled Monday to secure the resources needed to cope with the emergency.
Temperatures reached 45 C (113 F) in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries and are expected to remain high for most of the week.
Battling deadly wildfires along its coastline for a sixth day, Turkey broadened an appeal for international assistance and was promised water-dropping planes from the European Union. The fires have been blamed for the deaths of eight people in recent days.
In Greece, workers with health conditions were allowed to take time off work, while coal-fired power stations slated for retirement were brought back into service to shore up the national grid, under pressure due to widespread use of air conditioning.
Dann Mitchell, a professor of climate science at the University of Bristol, said that the heatwave in southeast Europe “is not at all unexpected, and very likely enhanced due to human-induced climate change.”
"The number of extreme heat events around the world is increasing year on year, with the top 10 hottest years on record all occurring since 2005,” Mitchell told The Associated Press.
“This year, we have seen a number of significant events, including a particularly dramatic heatwave in western Canada and the U.S., that was extreme even for current levels of climate change," Mitchell said. "These black swan events have always happened, but now they sit on the background of a hotter climate, so are even more deadly.”
As hot weather edged southward, Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions of the country.
A small tornado in Istria, on Croatia’s northern Adriatic coast, toppled trees that destroyed several cars, hours before a large fire erupted outside the nearby resort of Trogir, threatening homes and the local power supply.
Some 30 people were treated for light smoke inhalation in Italy’s coastal city of Pescara, after flames tore through a nearby pine forest.
“That zone of pine forest is a nature reserve, and it’s completely destroyed. It brings tears to see it. The environmental damage is incalculable. This is the heart of the city, its green lung and today it is destroyed,” Pescara Mayor Carlo Masi said.
Cyprus, recovering from a major wildfire last month, kept water-dropping planes on patrol to respond to fires as they broke out.
“If you don’t react right away with a massive response to any outbreak, things can turn difficult quickly,” forestry service chief Charalambos Alexandrou, told state-run media.
“The conditions are war-like.”


Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
  • Kandahar, Lashkar Gar on brink of Taliban capture while American forces prepare to depart
  • Ex-US military chief in Afghanistan warns hard-won rights, freedoms will likely be lost if onslaught continues

LONDON: America has deserted its responsibility to protect rights and freedoms in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, the former US commander in the country, has told The Times.

With the Taliban rapidly sweeping up territories that were until recently defended by US-led coalition troops, Petraeus warned that a “medieval Islamist regime” and the return of terror-training safe havens are a realistic possibility.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have already started fleeing their homes as the Taliban start to take ground around Kandahar, the country’s second city.

“The rest of the world will see that we are not supporting democracy or maintaining the values that we promote around the world — human rights, particularly women’s rights, the right to education and freedom of speech and press — all very imperfect in Afghanistan, to be sure, but vastly better than if the Taliban reinstates a medieval Islamist regime,” Petraeus said.

“The worst-case scenario is we could see a bloody, brutal civil war similar to that of the 1990s when the Taliban prevailed,” he added.

“If that were to happen we would likely see the return of an Al-Qaeda sanctuary, although I don’t think Al-Qaeda would be able to threaten the homeland and Europe in the near-term. And certainly, our intelligence services and military will be watching for that.

“But it would be easier for Al-Qaeda if the Taliban seize control. We would see millions of refugees flooding into Pakistan and other neighboring countries. If the Taliban do take control we will see dramatic reductions in freedoms for Afghan citizens, particularly women. I don’t think this is what the world wants to see.”

Petraeus said he is shocked by how Washington is closing down its military operations in Afghanistan.

“If we had shown the determination and will to stay, we would have been in a much stronger negotiating position with the Taliban. But if we tell the enemy we are going to leave, why would they give up anything?

“I am a little bit unclear why we didn’t think we could maintain 3,500 troops to stop the Taliban from bringing back an ultraconservative Islamist theocracy, which is not in anyone’s interest.”

Petraeus added: “The war will go on and will get much worse. Ryan Crocker (Washington’s envoy to Kabul between 2011 and 2012) once said you can get tired of a movie and leave the theater but the movie continues to roll on. We forced the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, and got little or nothing for it. But if we had 3,500 troops there to maintain situational awareness and help our Afghan partners, we would have been in a position to prevent the Taliban from bringing civil war to the country.”

Petraeus contrasted the Afghanistan policy with the US approach to Iraq, where Washington has retained a small deployment of some 2,500 troops in an advisory role.

“But they can at least help the Iraqi security forces keep an eye on the insurgent and terrorist cell remnants of the Islamic State (Daesh),” he said.

The continued presence of US forces in Iraq is undergoing examination by military planners in Washington. 

The US has been launching airstrikes via fast jets and unmanned Reaper drones in support of Afghan forces. The drones take eight hours to travel to their targets from their airstrip in the Gulf.

Fighter jets launching sorties originate from Qatar, the UAE, and an aircraft carrier off the coast of Pakistan.

“The US may try to continue providing air support. But, to do that, it would have been wiser to keep Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Now, we have to fly from the Gulf, we can’t fly over Iran, so we have to go over southwest Pakistan. We’re not going to get a base in Pakistan,” Petraeus said.

“What will happen next depends most importantly on what the US will do to enable the Afghan air force to continue flying. The Afghan air force requires highly trained mechanics and supply chains and logistical support or they will not be operationally capable.”


UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
Updated 02 August 2021

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
  • Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free

LONDON: Britain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from the US and European Union on Monday as travel industry leaders urged the government to further ease restrictions and allow people to enjoy the benefits of a successful COVID-19 inoculation program.
The new rules came into effect amid reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may add a new category to Britain’s traffic light system of travel restrictions, a move industry officials say would make many people decide to stay home.
As of Monday, fully vaccinated travelers from destinations on Britain’s “amber list” are allowed to enter the country without self-isolating for up to 10 days. The government is considering creating an amber watchlist to warn people about destinations that may be downgraded because of rising infection rates or the emergence of new variants.
“An amber watchlist will be viewed as a massive red flag, which is likely to cause bookings to those countries on that watchlist to collapse,’’ Huw Merriman, chairman of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee, told the BBC. “In my view, we don’t need any more uncertainty, complexity or anxiety for passengers or this beleaguered sector. It just needs clarity.”
British airlines and holiday companies are hoping for a late summer travel boom after the pandemic halted most international travel, slashing profits and threatening thousands of jobs. The number of passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport, the UK’s busiest airport, fell 75 percent in the first half of this year.
Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free and countries including the US still bar foreign travelers from crossing their borders.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said the British government should allow most travelers to use cheaper lateral flow tests and work with countries like the US to ease remaining travel restrictions. This is warranted by the UK’s successful vaccination program, he said.
Almost 89 percent of adults in Britain have received at least one dose of vaccine and 73 percent have been fully vaccinated.
“This is a good start, we are showing that the vaccine is our passport to freedom,’’ Holland-Kaye said. “Let’s be confident in the vaccines. Tests show they work against delta and beta variants. So let’s start to show the vaccination will get us back to our lives as they used to be.”