With the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak now declared a worldwide pandemic, scuba divers are facing the same uncertainty as other travellers – but proactive UK dive-tour specialists have been quick not only to allay the fears of divers undertaking overseas trips, but to point out opportunities arising from the situation.
“Let’s keep calm and go diving” is the message from long-established tour operator Scuba Travel, which says it is adopting a flexible approach in the coming weeks. “We’re offering lower deposits and delayed final payments,” says the company’s Angela Nordin. “In terms of financial security, we are an ATOL-bonded and ABTOT-bonded tour operator.”
Bonded operators fund ATOL, the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence run by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, to provide assistance in emergencies, refund travellers’ costs and arrange repatriation if necessary. ABTOT, the Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust, provides financial protection for UK and Irish specialist tour operators. Along with suitable travel insurance, booking packages involving flights with an operator that offers such cover is a basic precaution.
“Going on a diving holiday is not going to raise your risk of infection beyond that of staying in the UK,” says Nordin. “Scuba Travel works only with experienced and responsible liveaboards, resorts and transfer companies throughout the world who take our customers and staff health and safety as their highest priority. All of these operators have already put in place strict protocols to prevent the spread of the virus, including deep cleaning and staff training.
“As standard, if there is any disruption with your destination we will offer a suitable alternative destination or offer alternative dates of your choice,” says Nordin, adding that stringent sanitising measures on airlines meant that it remained safe to fly.
Phil North of the associated tour operators Dive Worldwide and Regaldive says that they are operating their holidays in accordance with the advice provided by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. “The vast majority of our trips are currently operating as normal,” he says. “Should clients be unable to travel to their chosen destination due to FCO advice, we will offer them the choice of an alternative holiday, or simply a full refund.
“Divers are a remarkably resilient bunch, and it is very much business as usual here with our team on hand to offer their expertise, with a whole host of fabulous offers for those looking to grab a great deal!”
The possibility of exceptional deals is underlined by Caribbean Fun Travel, which is encouraging divers to look ahead and take advantage of an unusually high level of discounting in Caribbean locations. The company’s Douglas Durrant says that in the current climate it is receiving special offers on 2020/21 holidays from resorts “hourly”, and describes it as “a unique occurrence for resorts to offer such huge discounts – 35-73% up to 20 months in advance.
“As a Caribbean specialist we are encouraged by the fact that the islands have had the opportunity to introduce careful screening and strict containment efforts far earlier than European countries were able to do,” says Durrant. “The major airlines have reacted quickly, with prices dropping dramatically and offering to change dates, with no fees, should the situation demand.”
Raf Jah of the African & Oriental Travel Company emphasises that while the coronavirus “will peak at some stage, it will also abate. No one wants to become unwell, and precautions are sensible, but we must keep this in perspective,” he says.
“None of our destinations are red-zone nations, but where a client feels uncomfortable, we are being very flexible with date changes. We are continuing to book holidays in the coming months, but with minimal deposits agreed with our local operators, with whom we are working to be extremely flexible with final payments.
“We are taking more long-term bookings and using the airline sales and offers that are now prolific, and we are holding off on buying air-tickets for clients until just before travel.
“Even if one wishes to remain at home for now, now is the time to book your dive holiday,” says Jah, warning that once coronavirus abates “prices will shoot up”.
For Sportif Dive Holidays, Jane Faughnan says that divers can book with flights for full ATOL protection and, if travel restrictions are later applied on FCO advice, they will be offered an alternative holiday or full refund. Balances are payable on top of deposits 12 weeks before travel.
Earlier this week Divernet Travel News reflected the response to the pandemic of liveaboard specialist Blue O Two, which reassured divers making new bookings up to the end of April that they would still be able to cancel liveaboard space and receive a full refund or move their trip to a later date should COVID-19 disrupt their travel arrangements.
Blue O Two also said that it had implemented health and safety measures aboard its vessels to minimise the possibility of infection.
Another dive operator, Emperor, has also temporarily amended its cancellation conditions to make it easier for UK divers to plan trips to its operating areas of Egypt, the Maldives and Indonesia.
It promised that if the UK or governments of the three destinations should impose travel restrictions, affected travellers who had made new bookings up to 30 April would be able to cancel and collect a full refund. And it went further by saying that if any new bookings made between 1 May and 30 June were affected, travellers would be allowed to either cancel the trip or be rebooked free of charge up to 14 days before arrival.
Emperor also said that it would be prepared to extend its temporary cancellation conditions depending on how the pandemic unfolded.
For the latest travel advice for specific destinations, check the FCO website.