Travel sector calls for 1 April restart of non-essential travel
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Travel sector calls for 1 April restart of non-essential travel

Credit: Belga/Tony Cuadrado

An association of tour operators, travel organisers and travel agents, called ‘SOS Travel #Save or Sink’, is calling on the Belgian government for the restart of non-essential travel from April.

Over 500 self-employed people and small business from the travel sector – such as tour operators, travel organisers and travel agents – have united in the ‘SOS Travel #Save or Sink’ group to demand perspective.

“If perspective is possible for the hospitality sector, then also for the travel sector,” Christel Somers, spokesperson group and manager of travel operator Montana, told the Belga press agency.

“We are well aware that completely free travel is not possible right away, but we ask the authorities to sit down with us and work out a step-by-step plan,” Somers said.

Reopening the borders to non-essential travel is crucial, according to the group, to convert vouchers from cancelled trips into new bookings and to save part of the summer season.

“If we have to wait until everyone is vaccinated, the travel sector will remain closed for quite a while,” said Somers, adding that 26 tour operators among them decided in early February to stop offering non-essential travel until 1 April.

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At the time, the ban on non-essential travel was in force only until 1 March, but the tour operators wanted to “send a signal of solidarity and cooperation towards politicians, virologists and consumers.”

The SOS Travel #Save or Sink group’s planned “to be able to resume holiday travel in safety and confidence” from April, but had not foreseen that the Consultative Committee would extend the ban until the last day of the Easter holidays (18 April).

However, that is too far ahead, according to Somers, who stressed that “now, it is time for the restart,” as it requires some time before things run the way they are supposed to again.

Replacing Belgium’s current travel ban with an obligatory ten-day quarantine period after the trip is not a solution either, as the sector fears that people will not travel as long as a quarantine period is needed, and that the travel sector will remain de facto closed.

“We hope for the rapid tests,” Somers said, adding that SOS Travel #Save or Sink is also in favour of the ideas of the EU’s digital travel pass, and the so-called travel corridors between different countries.

Additionally, Brussels Airport CEO Arnaud Feist is calling for travel to be made possible again, with coronavirus certificates.

“It is crucial today to speed up the vaccination process and to re-authorise non-essential travel to and from Belgium,” he said. “Travel should again be possible with a Covid-19 certificate, so that the free movement of people that is essential for citizens and businesses in Europe can be restored.”

The latest figures showed that the airport received 165,456 passengers in February, or barely 10% of the number of passengers in February last year.

“This is the lowest passenger figure recorded since the first lockdown in April and May 2020,” Brussels Airport said. “The figure is also lower than in November last year, halfway through the second lockdown.”

The Brussels Times