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When the pandemic took hold almost two years ago, most would have thought that booking a holiday in 2022 was a fairly safe bet.
But the turbulence of successive lockdowns and COVID variants have taught us that it’s much harder to get out of a global pandemic than we initially thought.
There’s no doubt that foreign holidays are universally missed, but with so many postponements already, is it really safe to book one for the early part of 2022?
How is COVID affecting the tourism sector?
The tourism sector has been hit hard by COVID, and many travel bosses have been outspoken in their condemnation of confusing government messages. Using terms like “deathknell” and “body blow” to convey their impact on an already bruised sector.
Popular online travel agent On the Beach is the latest to report its annual losses – around £18 million (€20 million). Chief executive Simon Cooper says “the shape of recovery for the sector remains uncertain.”
Looking ahead to January and February, what do experts really think about the likelihood of your holiday going ahead? Where are the safest destinations for a winter break, and how can you protect yourself against the unseen?
Are travel restrictions likely to change between now and February?
Countries around the world reacted swiftly to news of the omicron variant – imposing travel bans and new testing requirements. World leaders are waiting to discover more about the threat that omicron – labelled “a variant of concern” by WHO – poses, and will adjust their rules accordingly.
The UK’s next regular travel update is due today, 9 December, and a three-week review of the new omicron measures will take place on 20 December.
Richard Sinclair, director of skiing travel operator Sno, believes that the UK government wants to reduce testing to “save” the travel industry, but “they’ll probably only do that once omicron accounts for a large percentage of domestically transmitted Covid.”
“We’ll likely have to wait until the review on the 20th, by which time omicron should account for perhaps a quarter of UK cases, before even the most COVID-timid can see travel restrictions can’t possibly have any effect.”
At this point, he predicts the rules will revert to a single lateral flow test for British arrivals – on day 2, for the vaccinated.
That could mean that post-Christmas travel in January is considerably easier. Sinclair has observed that many customers are choosing later dates this winter, with the UK half-term week in February almost sold out and the Easter fortnight following suit.
Which are the best destinations for 2022?
In the short term, winter ski holidays are still looking popular – especially for long-term skiers eager to hit the slopes again.
“The admin quickly fades to a small detail once you feel the biting cold air on your face, the achingly clean air in your nostrils and the surreal joy of floating down the mountain again,” says Andy Sturt, managing director of VIP SKI.
And having weathered the constant changes, travel operators are “better equipped than ever” to support customers, CEO of Inghams Joe Ponte says, adding that their winter Lapland experience holidays are a great winter option.
With the realisation that the pandemic is not going to be ‘over’ anytime soon, many travellers are done delaying their overseas adventures.
Zina Bencheikh, EMEA managing director for Intrepid Travel says, “we’re noticing that, rather than staying in the UK or Europe, people are opting for more far-flung destinations for next year.”
During a recent cyber sale, the carbon neutral company found that its ‘Classic Costa Rica’ journey was far and away their best-selling trip. Higher-end trips to Iceland and Sri Lanka are also proving popular – with people willing to splash out more for quality assurances.
“There’s an element of people being used to this new environment and accepting that their plans may have to change,” adds Bencheikh.
How to book a holiday in 2022
It’s tricky to know where exactly is a safe bet – as the speed with which travel restrictions were imposed on southern Africa shows – but one tip is to keep an eye on infection rates in the countries you’re considering.
Factor in the time frame of COVID tests for your destinations as well as the tests you’ll need to take on your return, to work out where’s feasible to travel to and for what length of time.
If the admin and uncertainties of travel are still putting you off, it could be worth employing a travel agent. “It doesn’t cost the customer any more to book via a travel agent – it’s the travel supplier who funds their services,” explains co-founder of Not Just Travel, Steve Witt.
“Yet if travel arrangements change, it’s the travel agent who takes on the hassle of amending bookings or chasing refunds on your behalf.”
Should I get COVID travel insurance?
Almost all travel experts we spoke to underlined the importance of travel insurance. But not all insurance policies are the same, or provide blanket protection – so how do you know which is the right one for you?
“The most essential thing travellers must do is get travel insurance which covers cancellation if they catch COVID,” explains Sinclair. “If your tour operator can’t provide the holiday (due to lockdowns or restrictions) they have to refund you, but they won’t do that if you get sick yourself and can’t travel, just like any other illness when travelling.”
Founder of OVO network Tim Andrews also advises looking closely at the booking policy of the company.
“The changing landscape has emphasised more than ever the importance of having the right travel insurance in place for international travel,” says Katie Crowe, director of communications at battleface.
The travel insurance company uses an algorithm to rate countries, and if a country is high risk when you quote and lower risk when you buy, you may see a lower premium for your policy, Crowe explains.
“Right now, the map keeps changing. What may be an approved destination at the time of booking could be under advisory by boarding time.”
Battleface therefore encourages travellers to consider buying travel insurance a little closer to departure to ensure that they have adequate cover for the destination country at the time of their trip.
You can find out more about COVID travel insurance in our handy guide.