Covid has redrawn the holiday map.
ince July 19, we’ve been able to take non-essential trips overseas from Ireland, using a combination of vaccination certs, tests and proof of immunity.
But where exactly can you go, what destinations remain off-limits, and where are people actually travelling?
First up, the UK and Europe are widely open. You wouldn’t call it business as usual, but passenger numbers are ticking up, new flights trickling back, and travel systems are largely working.
Prices spike around Christmas and New Year, but savvy travellers will find deals in November and December, which offer “amazing value, especially if you are travelling in the first half of the month”, says Paul Hackett, President of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA).
Going to press, his company ClickAndGo.com had last-minute deals to the Algarve and Malta from €149pp and €194pp for a week, for example. Bargain hunters should also look at January and February – particularly if your dates are flexible – and avoid the mid-term period around February 21-25.
Long-haul travel is a different story.
While destinations like Thailand and Malaysia have begun to reopen to vaccinated travellers, and Aer Lingus this month begins its first direct flights from Manchester to Barbados, the situation still feels uncertain. Sunway says typical winter and honeymoon destinations like Thailand, Bali, Vietnam and South Africa are not selling well.
Canada has reopened to vaccinated travellers, and Aer Lingus has resumed its Toronto flights from Dublin. The US says it will also open to vaccinated travellers (who must also show a negative test result) from "early November".
But “early November” is now just over two weeks away, and the industry is increasingly sweating over the first half of the month. It needs an exact date.
Long-haul trips can involve connecting flights and higher costs, so if you’re travelling for a special occasion like a honeymoon, it’s worth talking to a couple of travel agents. They will know where is open and closed, what restrictions are in place, what health forms need to be filled out, and can offer the reassurances of a protected holiday with flexible changes.
You don’t have to rule out exotic splurges. There are daily flights from Dublin to Dubai with Emirates, for example, connecting to the Indian Ocean.
“The Caribbean and Maldives are very busy already for winter as their borders have been open a fair while,” says Mags Longstaff of Tropical Sky. “Whereas the long border closure for Sri Lanka has meant people have been uncertain of when to book and most hotels have great availability, including over the festive season.”
What about cruises?
Ships were anchored all over the world during the pandemic, but many are now sailing again at around 50pc capacity and with relatively low prices over winter.
“Cruises are for vaccinated passengers only, and travellers need to be tested before they board so its safe for everyone,” says Mary Denton, CEO of Sunway, who suggests looking at all-inclusive river cruises in Europe or Med cruises in Italy or Greece.
Skiing is another option. Capacity and bookings will take time to recover, but tour operators report “a very positive ski season” at this point.
“Topflight is hearing the term ‘milestone holiday’ over and over again,” according to Michelle Anderson, who says many customers are anxious to celebrate missed birthdays and anniversaries with a splurge in the snow. Resorts in Austria, Andorra and France are proving popular.
It’s not just skiers that want to be pampered.
“We are seeing a higher per-person spend and clients are moving up to five-star more easily,” says David Slattery of Stein Travel in Tralee, Co Kerry. “We are seeing great five-star offers in early and mid-December, with Lanzarote and Gran Canaria hotels offering attractive prices. Clients are stating regularly that they wish to treat themselves after 18 months of restrictions.”
Before booking, check that your passport is in date, have travel insurance in place, and familiarise yourself with the restrictions and entry protocols at your destination (and before returning home).
Visit reopen.europa.eu and dfa.ie for guidance.
Six Winter holiday deals
Away to the Algarve
Early December is the sweet spot for deals in the Algarve. ClickAndGo.com has flights plus seven nights at the 3-star in Praia da Rocha from €149pp, for example. 4-star options start from €177pp, both based on December 6 departures. clickandgo.com
Seasonal sun in Sri Lanka
Tropical Sky has flights plus seven nights at The Fortress, Galle in November and early December from €1349pp based on two sharing. tropicalsky.ie
Northern Lights in Iceland
Wallace Travel and Travel Department are offering three-night trips, including flights, accommodation and various tours from €669pp and €799pp respectively. wallacetravelgroup.ie; traveldepartment.com
Sunway has flights with four nights room-only accommodation at the three-star Rove Dubai Marina from €638pp, departing February 2022. 4- and 5-star options are also available. sunway.ie
See Santa in Lapland
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime holiday for some, and Cassidy Travel has one-night trips from €869pp, or two-night options from €1,159pp. Package prices include activities, transfers, thermal suits and more. cassidytravel.ie
On the piste in France
Topflight has a group option departing March 26, with four sharing at the five-star White Pearl Lodge & Spa in La Plagne from €669pp. Ski package prices do not tend to include equipment hire, school fees or lift passes. topflight.ie
NB: All prices subject to availability and change. For other live offers, see itaa.ie/offers. Check dfa.ie travel advice before booking.