Industry leaders have hit out at the government over Brexit uncertainty amid clear evidence it is affecting bookings despite clarity emerging on flights, visas and passports.

Analyst GfK reported summer 2019 bookings down 10% year on year in the week to Saturday, February 2, leaving season-to-date bookings just 3% up on a year ago. That followed a 9% decline the week before, triggered by media headlines warning of cancelled flights and invalid passports.

Abta has updated its Brexit contingency-planning guidance for members and information for consumers amid continuing fears the UK could exit the EU with no deal on March 29.

Tourism Alliance chairwoman Deirdre Wells, a former senior Whitehall official, declared the lack of answers as “disgraceful”, while Hotelplan UK chief executive Paul Carter complained of a “vacuum of information”.

But agents and operators can reassure travellers on most key issues despite doubts over whether there will be a deal.

Abta head of public affairs Luke Petherbridge told a Brexit briefing in London: “We know about flights. There will be basic connectivity, [and] the European Parliament has stated any cap [on capacity] should be removed.”

Brussels had proposed UK airlines’ services to the EU be capped at the level of summer 2018, but this now appears unlikely.

The EU also confirmed last week that UK citizens will not need visas to travel. It had already confirmed UK passports will need to be valid for six months from the date of arrival – not 15 months as widely reported in the consumer press.

Petherbridge said: “On the European Health Insurance Card [Ehic], we expect bilateral arrangements to be in place very quickly in the event of no deal.”

He added that consumer rules “will remain in place” and reassured Abta members: “On VAT, the Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme will remain, but it will be zero-rated on EU holidays – so that is good news.”

A growing number of firms are offering price promises and ‘Brexit guarantees’ or incentives to try to reassure consumers.

A Thomas Cook ‘Brexit Price Guarantee’ promises no surcharge on holidays if costs increase as a result of Brexit, and Riviera Travel has offered repeat passengers £150 towards bookings on selected river cruises after March 29.

PR Week editor-in-chief Danny Rogers said: “There is a belief that customers are worried about booking post-Brexit. Businesses are addressing this head-on. They are acting in a mature way.”

Brexit: What to tell your customers

Regardless of a deal or no deal:

• UK-EU flights will operate – the EC has confirmed UK airlines can fly

• Ferry services and cruises will sail – shipping rules are mostly international

• UK passport-holders won’t need visas for the EU – an electronic visa-waiver scheme for the Schengen area is due in 2021 but would happen anyway

• Passports must be valid for six months from arrival date

• Package customers will enjoy full protection

• The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) won’t be valid. Abta recommends adequate travel insurance

• UK drivers in the EU will need an International Driving Permit – available from the Post Office for £5.50

• Pets will be able to travel, but owners should consult a vet in advance about documents and health checks

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