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Hotels see rise in holiday inquiries – but fears are raised easyJet could pull out of Jersey if border plan is delayed

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JERSEY has seen a spike in interest from potential holidaymakers following the announcement that borders could reopen on Friday – but hotels are still facing one of their toughest ever years.

Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (28727168)

And the industry was hit with further uncertainty yesterday when backbenchers lodged a series of amendments to the borders plan which could see travel restricted by a further week.

In response, Chief Minister John Le Fondré said that airlines such as easyJet could pull out if there were further delays.

Currently, only those granted essential travel status are permitted to travel in or out of the Island.

However, during this week’s States sitting Members are due to be asked to back a Council of Ministers’ proposal to reopen the borders from Friday.

The visitor economy was worth around £280 million to the Island last year and it has been estimated that Jersey is currently losing around £500 per minute while the sector remains effectively shut down.

But Keith Beecham, chief executive of Visit Jersey, said that interest from potential visitors to Jersey had increased significantly as the Island moved through its lockdown measures and border reopening became an increased possibility.

He said: ‘In simple terms we have seen over the last few weeks a strengthening in potential visitor sentiment. We have had more activity happening on our website and more people searching for information.

‘Certainly we can say there has been significant sustained growth in inquiries and visits to our website. That gives us some confidence that people are dreaming about their holidays and looking at what Jersey can do to provide wonderful experiences.’

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Under government plans, the borders would reopen from Friday and anyone entering Jersey will be required to take a test to determine whether they have contracted Covid-19 or provide evidence of a negative test taken within 72 hours of travel to the Island.

Anyone fulfilling those requirements will not be required to self-isolate on arrival to Jersey. A trial border testing programme has been taking place at the Airport on the lifeline flights to and from the UK. A total of 868 people had been tested as of 24 June with no cases of coronavirus having been identified among incoming passengers.

Lawrence Huggler, the owner of the Club Hotel and Spa, said that there had been an increase in bookings since the announcement last week that borders may reopen but the lost trade so far this year would be virtually impossible to recoup.

He said: ‘We have seen an increase in bookings but still at a very low level to where they would normally be. We should run July at 95% occupancy. This year it is unlikely to be above 20%, and at lower rates, as with flights only slowly starting it will not be in time to help July much.

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‘At present we are looking at revenues being at least down 50% for the whole year. Having lost three months closed during the strong spring period now the summer season will be badly down on last year. Even with opening next week, there will be very low levels of flights for weeks to come and then we are back into the winter.’

Last week a JEP online poll revealed that 69% of people who responded were in favour of borders reopening in July as long as adequate testing was in place.

Mr Beecham added that once flights and sailings begin to resume, Visit Jersey plans to target UK visitors in a bid to boost the struggling tourism trade.

‘We are seeing a very moving situation as the ferry company and airlines begin to reintroduce their operations.

‘We need to move as those routes are opening, working alongside the Ports and government. British Airways and easyJet have made some preliminary announcements and we need to understand where the connections are.

‘We are working with a number of different organisations and we hope we can go back and remind people why they love Jersey, particularly in our UK market.

‘We want to demonstrate that Jersey is part of the British Isles and that it is a good, near, holiday destination for our friends in the UK.’

The recent campaign designed to promote Island staycations and activities has been well received, according to Mr Beecham, but could never adequately make up for the loss of three pivotal tourism months.

‘It is not the answer to the visitor economy,’ he said. ‘It is wonderful that Islanders are rediscovering the Island and it is a really helpful step on the way to getting back to a holiday market. Our hoteliers and restaurateurs have been really grateful for that.

‘We know that in order to get some of the season back we need to get visitors coming – £280 million was spent by visitors last year which is over £500 per minute that is not coming in to Jersey. That impacts on everybody. It is £280 million of which about £14 million goes to GST that provides the services we all enjoy. It is money that is sorely missed.’

Another twist was added to the agenda for today’s States sitting yesterday afternoon when backbenchers lodged a series of amendments to the ministerial proposition to open the borders.

Politicians from the Scrutiny Liaison Committee have proposed delaying the resumption of travel by a week to Friday 10 July in order that the proposed testing regime can be improved and to allow more scope to analyse transmission levels in the UK.

Committee chairman Kristina Moore said there would also be an amendment demanding clearer rules for arriving passengers about isolating until they received the result of their test.

Senator Moore said backbenchers would also be seeking support for other amendments, including the provision of dedicated transport from the harbour or airport for those who needed it and the development of a list of ‘safe’ countries to be monitored by public health experts and updated on the government website.

Politicians were warned by the Chief Minister during a scrutiny hearing about the potential consequences of any delay, saying airlines like EasyJet could postpone services to the Island.

‘If they are trying to juggle 500 routes and one of them, let’s say London to Jersey, hasn’t got certainty attached to it the risk is they will say “we love doing business with you but we have to get ourselves sorted out” and they won’t come back to us until sometime later in the year, if we’re lucky,’ he said.

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