Cath Bates looks at what the future of dive travel might look like. With the advent of a Coronavirus vaccine looking likely, will it all be plane (geddit?) sailing……?
During Lockdown part 1 we were all dreaming of getting away to sunnier climes and doing something less boring instead (©Why Don’t You - circa 1980). Dive magazines and social media teased us with images of turquoise water and coral reefs but the uncertainty of not being able to travel for 3 (or even 6) months hung in the air. The list of possible restrictions we might face by travelling abroad was confusing.
When Malta was introduced as a travel corridor in July, no negative test result was required upon arrival. That meant no hassles with obtaining swab kits and worrying about whether your certificate would arrive in time. It also meant no additional costs or the risk of a positive test result. You could land back in Blighty without having to quarantine and go about your daily business. The Maltese dive centres were ecstatic! Sadly, the elation was short-lived and as the Maltese infection numbers rose, that corridor swiftly closed early in August. FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) advice changed to “against all but essential travel”.
There was another glimmer of hope in October when Grenada opened its borders to foreign tourists. It had been on the UK travel corridors list since July, but we had so far been unwelcome. While a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test was required within 72 hours of travel and a second test after 4 days (in a Ministry of Health-approved resort), it did mean that a tropical Caribbean holiday might be on the cards. Despite having to stay in resort diving was permitted – result! No quarantine was necessary on return to the UK and direct flights were readily available to a country whose COVID-19 record was impressively low.
Just a few weeks later on the 22nd, the Canary Islands were granted travel corridor status with no quarantine required either on arrival or return. A short haul, affordable dive destination with some cracking topography and marine life was open for business!
In addition to Lanzarote, we welcomed The Maldives – an Indian Ocean tropical paradise. While not every island resort decided to accept tourists, there was a niche selection available and great liveaboard deals to be had. After all, a liveaboard would be a pretty secure bubble would it not? Especially as your fellow divers have just disembarked a plane holding a negative PCR test result no more than 96 hours old. More warm water diving opportunities!
That is…….until Boris decided to confiscate our toys. Within just a few hours of many people booking their first trip abroad for nearly 8 months, we all sat in front of the telly box listening to the news of Lockdown part deux. With the threat of fines for anyone leaving home for travel other than business or education, our gills would be forced to dry out once again.
On the morning of the 10th November the country awoke to the news that vaccine trials have been successful and life is expected to be back to some kind of normal by the first quarter of 2021. Hallelujah! So what could that mean for dive travel?
First of all while there are those happy to travel against FCO advice and quarantine on return, some of us still have to wait for government honchos to allow us to enter destinations we love to go diving in. Much of the world - including South East Asia - looks set to stay shut for a bit longer. This may be down to the lack of reliable testing being carried out or leaders refusing foreign tourism as a precautionary step. Will they get a vaccine as quickly as the West? Either way it could be awhile before we get to see the Coral Triangle in all its glory again.
For those countries that will welcome us with open arms and where the UK deems safe, the following topics should be taken into consideration:
- PCR testing might be required for some time, even if you have had the vaccine. Ask your tour operator where these can be obtained but please note it is YOUR responsibility to ensure it is done within the required time frame and results obtained. If you test positive and your flight is scheduled to go – this is not their fault.
- Quarantine – if you really want to go away but can’t afford a direct flight, please note that transit entails you getting off a flight and mingling with other people. Do check if the transit airport -as well as your final destination- is classed as a travel corridor. If not, you may need to self-isolate on your return to the UK.
- A further test abroad. You may land at the airport where a rapid test is carried out. You may have a further test after a few days in your resort. Please be aware that if these tests are positive you will a) not be entitled to a refund and b) you may need to self-isolate in your resort for longer than your holiday was originally planned. A replacement flight could be needed and that is an additional cost that you are responsible for.
- Insurance. While many insurance companies refuse to cover for COVID-related issues you can still get travel and diving insurance for destinations not on the travel corridor list. It is crucial to arm yourself with enough cover for a diving related accident when you are away from home. This is even more important if you are in a remote location and especially by liveaboard. Ask your tour operator for advice, but they are not insurance brokers – this responsibility is down to you.
Us divers are incredibly passionate about our hobby. If we need to jump through a few extra hoops to get away and enjoy our fishy and rusty friends under the sea, then so be it. We are after all used to wearing masks! PCR tests will become less expensive (or we might simply need to travel with a vaccine passport), COVID-19 could get covered by insurance and resorts will have blinding special offers on. Eventually - the world will once again be our oyster.