Despite the easing of Covid restrictions, and some countries now appearing on the government’s ‘Green’ list of safe destinations, business has not returned to normal for UK-based overland travel operators.
LRO’s Adventure Club (operated by Protrax) and Atlas Overland are two tour providers not expecting to run overseas trips before September. Atlas Overland, which specialises in Moroccan tours, has adapted by introducing a two UK tours in Northumberland (3-10 July and 7-14 August) – both of which were booked up within a few days. Meanwhile their European tours which had been scheduled for spring and summer are now postponed to 2022.
‘We did have a full programme of tours lined up, but when the second wave hit we realised we couldn’t go ahead,’ says Peter Girling, owner of Atlas Overland. ‘We’re hopeful that our tours to Morocco in the Autumn can go ahead, but I wouldn’t say confident. I think we’re 12 months too early to expect things to start getting back to normal.’ (Customers are offers full refunds on deposits for any trips that have to be cancelled.)
Why is it so difficult?
Most European countries – including France, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands – are included in the UK government’s ‘amber list’, meaning that travel is permitted provided certain conditions are met, including quarantine in the UK for 10 days upon return to the UK. (Find the full regulations regarding foreign travel, plus Red/Amber/Green lists, here.)
However, Peter advises that the traffic-light framework is essentially ‘meaningless’ when deciding where tours can be arranged, as it does not correlate with local regulations or other complications. ‘All ferries between Spain and Morocco are suspended due to a long-term dispute, and Morocco isn’t letting anyone in due to Covid.’
Twelve countries moved to the green list on 17 May, but even these are problematic for travel, advises Peter. ‘Of the 12 countries, only Portugal and Iceland will actually let you in. And once you’re in the country, you’ve got to ask yourself if you’ll be able to travel freely. Put yourself in their shoes – I think most of us wouldn’t want people from other countries having free reign in the UK at the moment.’
Will things get back to normal?
The EU is considering allowing entry to those ‘fully vaccinated’, plus an updated list of ‘safe’ countries, which the UK is not currently on. However, overland travel to North Africa is likely to be difficult for longer.
This past week, thousands of immigrants arrived illegally in the Spanish town of Ceuta (in North Africa), sparking what has been described as ‘one of the biggest crises in relations between Spain and Morocco since 2002’, and decreasing the likelihood that travel will become possible any time soon.
‘It may be that North Africa ends up being off the cards for the foreseeable future,’ advises Peter. ‘If Morocco becomes impossible then we’ll look into arranging trips to Tunisia. It’s very different from Morocco – both the terrain and the people, and it’s about 10 years since we’ve been there, due to the Arab Spring. If that’s not possible either, we’ll focus on Europe.’
Has there been a silver lining to the downtime provided by Covid? ‘Not really,’ says Peter. ‘We’d rather be working!’