With the introduction of the UK’s traffic light system, the need for a human travel agent has never been greater.
Clients need expert guidance through the process of booking a holiday in the current climate for reassurance, and to ensure they can make the most of their trip. I therefore felt it extremely important that, as a travel agent, I fully understood the regulations and processes to help my travelling clients – and to encourage others to book.
And there is no better way to do this than by gaining first-hand knowledge and experience, from the initial PCR test to the in-resort experience. So when Portugal was placed on the UK’s green list and opened up to British travellers, I set about organising my personal mini-fam to the Algarve.
Having researched Portugal’s entry requirements, I understood I needed a PCR certificate issued within 72 hours of travel. The timing is critical, and as I had limited time, I used my local chemist who have a 24-hour walk-in testing service, which cost £100. Cheaper postal or courier service tests, which can reduce the cost to as little as £20 with certain tour operators, are available for those occasions when time isn’t of the same essence.
Next on my check list was to sort out the tests for my return to the UK. As Portugal is on the green list, I needed to organise a lateral flow or PCR test in-resort to meet the UK’s pre-departure test requirement, and to book a day two test for my return.
PCR certificate in-hand and Portuguese passenger locator form done, the airport experience at Luton was as expected – masks, hand sanitisers and lots of cleaners on site. The experience at security was a little disappointing as there were only three belts open, creating queues. Hopefully this issue will be addressed as we move into the peak summer period.
A number of shops and cafes were open so it felt fairly normal in the terminal. Boarding was done in an orderly fashion, loading from the rear and where possible keeping social distancing. It was the responsibility of check-in staff to validate any necessary Covid travel documents prior to boarding, but even this was done quickly and efficiently.
The in-flight experience was as I expected, with masks worn throughout except when eating or drinking. There was a full trolley and duty-free service, and the crew were clearly happy to have passengers back on flights – and to be back off furlough. The flight was only half full so me and my fellow passengers were fairly well spread out, but it was nonetheless very reassuring to know everyone onboard had tested negative prior to boarding.
After a short flight, passport control at Faro was smooth and efficient; all the passport gates were open and manned, with numerous staff on hand to help. We whizzed through in less than five minutes and received an amazing welcome from the Algarve Tourist Board, who were meeting and greeting all passengers and giving out free gift boxes. The cameras were rolling and we stopped for interviews, it all felt very special – and gave you a real reminder of how important tourism is to Portugal.
Over the next few days, I toured the Algarve doing hotel inspections, and visiting self-catering resorts and tourist attractions. It was important, for me, to understand the Covid protocols in the region, especially in relation to mask wearing and with the media hype over mask wearing on beaches.
The rules are very simple; you wear a mask inside all public buildings (restaurants, cafes, etc) until you are seated, which is no different to the UK. Outside, you need to wear the mask in crowded places where social distance of two metres cannot be achieved. On the beach, you wear your mask when moving around, arriving at and leaving the beach, or to go to the bar, but there is no requirement to wear a mask while you are sunbathing, swimming or lounging on an inflatable.
There is a traffic light system operating on the beaches – green means lots of spaces, amber means limited space, and red means the beach is at full capacity.
I personally liken the wearing of a mask to the time when seatbelts in cars became mandatory; some people didn’t like them, but they were for our own safety. These days we wouldn’t get into a car without putting a seatbelt on.
There is nothing more invigorating than feeling the rays of the warm sun on your back, to walk barefoot along the sandy beaches, to hear to laughter of children playing in the pool, to experience different cultures, and to spend quality time with our loved ones.
Holidays are a much-needed break from the stresses and strains of our current extraordinary every day lives, with the guarantee of a warm sunny climate when you get there.
Jackie Steadman is director of Berkhamstead travel agency TravelTime World.