How can we get home? Brits stranded abroad despair at official advice

The foreign secretary’s call for up to a million British people abroad to return to the UK immediately was met with anger and dismay by stranded holidaymakers around the world. Travellers who have been desperately trying to get home for nearly two weeks say the Foreign Office (FCO) advice, updated on 23 March, is all well and good, but with borders and airports closing and no repatriation flights, it’s impossible for many to follow the advice.

“Dominic Raab has suggested people talk to their airline about getting home. It is too late for that in many places where airlines have already stopped flying. And in others, airlines are charging rip-off inflated fares,” said Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.

“The government must improve its communication and provide British citizens, fearful of being stranded abroad, with useful advice. Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should leave no stone unturned to get these people on flights home.”

As well as facing cancelled flights and exorbitant prices for the few still operating, the holidaymakers we spoke to say they have been unable to speak to embassy staff, travel agents or insurance companies.

“We are feeling helpless, stranded and neglected by our country,” said Wendy Child, 27, who is stuck in the Philippines on a honeymoon that turned into a nightmare.

In the House of Commons on 24 March, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes berated the Foreign Office’s response so far and urged Raab to “get the process fully under way”.

We spoke to Wendy and other British holidaymakers trying desperately to get home.

Wendy and Rich Child, 27 and 31, from Bath, stuck in the Philippines

Wendy and Rich arrived in the Philippines on 8 March, on a three-week honeymoon they had spent eight months planning. On 13 March they got a message from their airline saying their flights home were cancelled. On 15 March Manila went into lockdown and they travelled from Bohol to Cebu, which has an international airport, in the hope of booking a new flight. Since then they’ve spent £2,000 on cancelled flights.

“We have been trying to get a flight home since 13 March but they have all been cancelled.”

They booked their original flights through STA and their first tour through Tripadvisor, and had planned to do the rest of their trip independently. Now they are stuck, having exhausted every option.

“Travel agents are telling us there is nothing they can do, as there are no options and no flights. We have been trying to contact our travel insurance for two weeks but are just kept on hold and then cut off. It’s the same with Emirates, STA’s emergency helpline and the British embassy in Manila.”

They’ve also contacted their MP, Andrew Murrison, and the FCO, but are unsure what to do next in the absence of any advice other than “see the government website”.

The couple are at a loss as to how to follow Raab’s advice to come home. “We are aware there are priorities in the UK with controlling the pandemic, but we haven’t even been told they will put on flights next week, or in a couple of weeks, or anything so we have no idea what the coming days/ weeks hold for us. We’re trying to remain positive but it’s proving difficult.”

Judith and David Baker from Chiswick, London, stuck in Argentina

The Bakers were 10 days into a two-month trip to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to celebrate their 65th birthdays when Argentina closed its borders and imposed a 14-day quarantine on all foreigners who had arrived from a country with cases of coronavirus within the previous 14 days. This meant they couldn’t move from their hotel in the town of Villa La Angostura in Patagonia. They are still there, unsure of their next move:

“Raab is advising us to get home but without any knowledge of whether this is feasible. We are deeply worried that the limited options to get home will disappear before we can get to Buenos Aires, and we will then be stranded here indefinitely.”

Argentina went into lockdown on 20 March, until 31 March, and cancelled international flights from countries affected by coronavirus. The Bakers are researching flights to from Buenos Aires to London via Sao Paulo or Rio, but even if they could secure one of those flights, with no internal flights, buses, trains or car hire, they have no way of getting to Buenos Aires , 1,000 miles away.

They are currently covering the cost of their accommodation themselves, after their insurance company refused to help. “We are in safe accommodation for now, but are increasingly concerned for the future, especially as the situation will no doubt get worse before it gets better,” said Judith. “We are deeply worried that the limited options to get home will disappear before we can get to Buenos Aires, and we will then be stranded here indefinitely. My epilepsy medication will run out in four weeks’ time.”

Nathan Harris, 33, from Salford, stuck in Peru

Nathan is one of more than 400 Britons trapped in Peru after it shut down on 16 March, almost without warning.

After working on a ship in Argentina for six weeks, he arrived in Cusco for a two-week holiday on 14 March, “confident that it would be OK, because Peru had minimal cases at the time”. On 15 March Peru declared a state of emergency, shutting its borders the following day and cancelling all international flights.

“On the first day of the closure we all tried to contact the British embassy, but that had closed. We all felt pretty abandoned at that point,” Nathan said.

Since the lockdown he has been staying at the Wild Rover hostel in Cusco. “I can’t fault the hostel, it is doing everything possible to make this experience less painful. There are probably about 150 tourists here at the moment. Everyone is pretty fed up. Some people are running out of cash and nobody expected the awful £3,000-plus quotes to fly home.”

On Saturday, Raab said he had secured a flight to bring back British nationals from Peru next week, but Harris is concerned that even when a rescue begins, those stuck in Cusco will be unable to reach the capital, Lima. “Just organising a flight would be pointless if none of us can make it to the airport. There are no taxis and no public transport.”

Abby Reynolds, 23, from Wakefield, stuck in Bali

Mental health nurse Abby, and her boyfriend, Jake Deane, 24, were due to return from an 11-day holiday in Bali with Hays Travel on Wednesday, on an Emirates flight, but it was suddenly cancelled a day before departure.

“We were even allocated seat numbers 30 minutes before we heard about the cancellation. We went to the airport to speak to the Emirates desk, but after waiting three hours, we were turned away. Airport staff threatened to call the police and kicked everyone out. After finding out about another flight last night for £5,000, we took out a loan. Within the 20-minute taxi ride back to the airport to pay for the new flights, they had sold out again. Our parents have been contacting our local MPs and have started an online petition. I have attempted to contact our insurer many times, but I’ve only had an automated response via email, stating they will reply in five days.”

The couple are staying in a hotel with four others who are stranded. Hays Travel has offered to cover her bill for another three nights, but after that the they will be expected to pay the bill themselves.

“We’ve tried other airlines and websites, but we can’t afford the high prices and so many routes are now closed. We are as safe and comfortable as we can be in a foreign country at this scary time, supporting each other and trying to stay positive. But it’s unsettling not knowing when we are going home.”

Abby is also keen to return to her work, supporting “very vulnerable people … Given the current social crisis and isolation at home, they need support now more than ever.”

Grace and Ellie, 22 and from Lancashire, stuck in New Zealand

Grace Murray, from Preston, has been backpacking for the past four months with her friend Ellie Taylor, from Lancaster. They are currently stuck in New Zealand, one of the last stops of their trip. They were due to fly to Fiji on 13 April, and on to Bali with Emirates. Due to coronavirus, they moved the Fiji flight forward to 23 March, but have faced multiple cancellations.

“We spent the remainder of our money on this flight, but within 45 minutes it was cancelled, and we are yet to get a refund,” Grace said. “After hours on hold, we managed to get through to our travel agent, STA, who booked us another flight home via Australia and Dubai – paid for by the credit from our original Fiji and Bali flights.”

However, shortly afterwards transit restrictions were enforced for Australia, and they were informed they could not transit longer than eight hours, while around the same time Dubai closed its borders, and so, yet again, the flight was cancelled. They say the British embassy in New Zealand has been “vague” and that “everyone is just passing the blame”. The advice was to stay where they are for now and wait for more commercial flights to become available, but it is unclear when that will be.

“We have had to book into a hostel for the foreseeable future,” Ellie said. “However, they are only selling private rooms, to minimise social interaction, so it is more expensive.”

The situation is complicated further by Grace needing to get more prescription medication: “My boyfriend was meant to meet us in Bali with more medication for me. I only brought enough for five months, knowing that he was coming out with more,” Grace said. “It is going to be hard [for him] to get here, as New Zealand is in lockdown.”

“Everyone is just feeling a bit down, shocked and bewildered about how the situation has escalated here,” said Ellie. “All anyone talks about is coronavirus, there’s no escaping it. It’s very tiring.”

Tips for those stranded abroad

From Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel

Crucially, don’t accept a refund from your airline while you are stuck. The airline has a legal responsibility to get you home – either on its own planes or those of another airline – and that ends once you’ve accepted the refund. This may seem academic in some instances where airlines have withdrawn all services, but it’s important in places where flights are still running.

If flights are running but your airline won’t rebook you on a flight home, buy a new ticket with any airline at any price. You have the right to claim for this new ticket from the original airline. Fly as soon as possible, as flights are continuing to shut down.

Don’t expect a great deal of help from the embassy or FCO, but it is important you register with them if you are completely stuck, in case rescue flights are subsequently organised.

People stuck in many destinations, including Peru and Cambodia, have set up support groups for stranded British and Irish travellers. These are useful for updates and support. Look for hashtags on Twitter, such as #stuckinperu, #stuckincambodia, #getushome or groups on Facebook.

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Marketing during a crisis coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has thrown travel marketing departments
into disarray as they navigate a world in which travel is stalled indefinitely,
borders are being closed and the public is being asked to hunker down. 

Marketing experts offer different takes on how brands should
react in terms of scaling back and adjusting their message, but most seem to
agree that falling off their target market’s radar is not a good option. 

Robert Li, director of the U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism
& Hospitality Research at Temple University, said brands should not shut
down completely, but he added that strategies should differ depending on the
sector and situation. 

“I think destinations cannot simply abandon marketing at
this point,” he said. “Right or wrong, you have to keep some kind of
communication with your source markets. … In some cases, it also helps to
clarify some of the messages, such as travel bans. Always be genuine and

For the cruise industry, which has taken an outsize hit so
far as a result of the outbreak, Li said, “Maybe taking no action at this point
is the best action. The situation remains rather complicated, and sending
premature marketing messages at this point could further complicate the
situation and could even be misinterpreted in some cases. Maybe in that case
you should not say or do too much. But always listen to your customers and
monitor the market sentiment and try to keep your bond with the community and
target market and show your social responsibility.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. did just that early in the crisis,
before the industry grounded its fleets for 30 days by planning to use some
ships moved out of Asia to offer cruises to first responders in the U.S. and

Cruise executives said they have adjusted both their spend
and message.

“I think marketing has to change while we are all in the ‘pause’
phase in our industry,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and
trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International. “I think major
advertising must be placed on pause and we all go back to the basics of true
one-to-one connecting. That means calling our past clients, checking in with
them, emailing, snail mail. After all, it is so rare these days to receive a
card in the mail.” 

Freed said sensitivity is important. 

“Selling them hard during this period is not appropriate,”
she said. “Let your clients lead the interest in vacation planning.”

James Rodriguez, Oceania Cruises’ executive vice president
of sales and marketing, said Oceania is scaling back its marketing, but “looking
for new and creative ways to connect with our guests and travel advisors via
social media and personal messaging.”

“Given the current global environment, brands must stay in
sync with the emotions and mindsets of their guests and partners,” Rodriguez
said. “This doesn’t necessitate a change in strategy or philosophy but does
require us to think differently in our approach in how we consistently
communicate the right message at the right time. While our ships may not be at
sea at the moment, our guests and travel partners are relying on us to keep
them dreaming about their next voyage. And that’s what we intend to do.”

Freed said travel advisors can also keep their clients
dreaming. One way to do that, she said, is to host a virtual cruise night that
people can join from home. 

“It allows clients to dream about that vacation, and when
they are ready to truly vacation, they have more knowledge about the product,”
she said. “No hard sell, just educate.”

The point is to stay top of mind. 

“It is important to market yourself during this time frame
and not become a hermit,” Freed said. “Staying in front with your clients and
prospects is the key to the rebuilding process. The stress that the world
events are creating for us today will encourage people to take a break and

River cruise lines are in a somewhat different situation,
since the crisis unfolded before their main Europe season had started. 

Even before the U.S. shut down travel from Europe, Rudi
Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways, said the company was planning to continue
with already-contracted efforts, but “new marketing right now is on hold. We’d
rather spend the money later.”

AmaWaterways also held off on sending out its new brochures
this season.

Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River
Cruises, said it was also holding off on new marketing, as “It would just fall
on deaf ears right now.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out how to get out of their
vacation,” he said. “They are not going to jump into new commitments.”

But Pamela Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways,
said it is important not to take one’s eyes off the long game.

“This is a short-term problem, and we are in a long-term
business,” Hoffee said. Like Freed, she expressed the hope that when this crisis
passes, there will be huge pent-up travel demand. 

Hoteliers are faced with deciding whether or not to launch
new brands and properties this spring that have long been in the pipeline.

“There’s just so much that goes into any new launch,” said
Oscar Yuan, president of Strategy3, a consultancy owned by market research firm
Ipsos. “You may have media you’ve purchased, employees you’ve hired. And you’ve
maybe built the financial forecast around a launch or opening, and it’s really
difficult to just back out of those types of things. To stop and then later
restart something completely from scratch is an enormous investment.”

Some hotel groups are sticking to existing launch and
opening schedules.

Aman debuted Janu this month, the first new hotel brand to
join its portfolio since its 1988 founding. That same week, fellow luxury
player Capella Hotel Group unveiled Patina Hotels & Resorts, a lifestyle

Even as occupancy is in free fall in key markets
worldwide, Mama Shelter is among the brands still opening new locations. Its
Mama Luxembourg is still slated to open this spring. 

Yuan approves of this. 

“The whole industry needs to try to keep things
business-as-usual to the extent that they’re able to,” he said. “The worst
thing a travel brand can do is to create any extra hysteria around things and
ruin any chance they have of coming back later in the year completely. We know
there’s going to be impact, but I think demonstrating stability and consistency
as this pandemic is sorted out is probably one of the best things that can be

He also said that delaying an opening could mean ceding a
chance to ride a potential rebound later this year.

“If all the planning and preparations have gone ahead for a
hotel to open, then they might as well have the opportunity to get some revenue
this year,” Yuan said.

Max Starkov, an adjunct professor at New York University’s
Tisch Center for Hospitality, takes a contrary stance.

“Launching a new hotel brand or new product now is simply
counterproductive and a complete waste of money,” he asserted. 

The best approach, he said, is to follow the strategy of the
producers of the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” who have postponed its
release until the fall. 

Otherwise, he said, “For a brand to be positioned correctly
and to be able to relay the right value proposition is just impossible at the

Christina Jelski and Jeri Clausing contributed to this

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Which countries currently have coronavirus travel restrictions in place?

International travellers are facing tighter restrictions at airports as the number of countries denying entry to passengers who have recently visited China, Italy and other regions with reported cases of coronavirus increases.

Coronavirus: man from Diamond Princess cruise first Briton to die from illness – latest updates

Cases of Covid-19 have now been confirmed in 58 countries. Restrictions are becoming more widespread, and major airports are putting preventive measures in place. A document featured on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website, lists countries where restrictions are in place.

Anyone who has recently travelled to or transited through China (usually within the last 14-28 days)

Complete ban on entry to Australia, Bahamas, many Caribbean islands, India, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Turkey, USA and Vietnam, among others.

Anyone who has visited Italy (in the last 14 days)

Complete ban on entry to Aruba, Cook Islands, Fiji, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritius, Mongolia, St Lucia and Seychelles, among others.

Passengers travelling from the UK (in the last 21 days)

The only country with a ban on people coming from the UK is the South Pacific island of Nauru (along with travellers from many other European countries and the US), while those coming from the UK face immediate quarantine in the Solomon Islands.

How the coronavirus outbreak is affecting travel in Europe

Overall, European countries have few travel restrictions in place, except Poland, which requires anyone travelling from China, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea or Macao to fill in a health declaration form.

At a press conference on Tuesday at the Ministry of Health in Rome, EU Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides said the commission welcomed “keeping the borders open” across the EU, instead of “resorting to what could be considered disproportionate and inefficient measures”.

Some of the world’s largest and busiest international airports have announced preventive safety measures. Prague has designated separate gates for all passengers arriving from Italy or China. People travelling from those countries also face screening at Bratislava airport in Slovakia. Similar procedures are currently in place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Albania and Turkey.

In the UK, airports are acting on the advice of Public Health England (PHE) and have introduced advanced monitoring at airports with direct flights from China. There are also health experts at Heathrow ready to support anyone arriving from China who feels unwell. The current advice from PHE also notes that as “most people who develop symptoms will get them after leaving the airport” the priority is now focused on making sure UK residents and travellers know what to do if they experience symptoms.

What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US has increased screenings at 20 airports, including travellers having their temperature taken and filling out a questionnaire. Anyone with symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing has to undergo an additional health assessment. Passengers arriving in the UAE, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea will also face screenings, with each country varying in terms of flight origin.

Several airlines have begun adjusting schedules with fewer flights to Italy due to a drop in demand, including WizzAir, BA and easyJet. While other major carriers, such as Cathay Pacific, Delta, American Airlines and United, among others, have drastically reduced the number of flights into mainland China, with many governments around the world now advising against all but essential travel to the country.

New research released last week by IATA found that the coronavirus could cost the aviation industry $29bn in passenger revenues.

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EasyJet the latest airline to slash flights to Italy amid coronavirus outbreak

EasyJet has become the latest airline to cancel flights to Italy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Eleven villages across northern Italy, in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, are currently in quarantine.

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to these villages, which have been isolated by Italian health authorities.

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EasyJet said it had seen a “softening of demand”, with fewer people flying in and out of northern Italy, which was the reason behind the flight cancellations.

The budget airline also added that it had seen slower demand for travel across Europe generally, and would continue to monitor the outbreak.

EasyJet follows British Airways and Wizz Air in cancelling flights to Italy.

The British flag carrier has cancelled 22 return flights between London Heathrow and Milan’s Linate airport over the next two weeks due to reduced demand.

A BA spokesperson said: “We will be contacting customers on cancelled flights so we can discuss their travel options including alternative British Airways flights within two hours of their original departure time, full refunds or booking for a later date of travel.”

Wizz Air has cancelled flights on specific routes to Northern Italy between 11 March and 2 April 2020. During this period around 60 per cent of total Italian capacity has been cut.

The airline has said affected passengers will be “accommodated on an alternative route at the earliest possible date, but at least 14 days prior to the original date of the flight” – customers can opt for the rebooking, a full refund or a 120 per cent refund of the original fare in airline credit.

Meanwhile, regional airline Flybe is allowing passengers booked to Milan Malpensa to postpone their journey or choose a credit to the value of their ticket to be used in the next year.

The virus outbreak, which was first detected in China, has since spread to Europe, with cases confirmed in countries including the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and France.

Almost 3,000 people have died from the virus, with tens of thousands more infected.

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