living with quarantine – through the eyes of a travel agent

Following from my previous post, where I explained what it was like living in a safe bubble-like island with no coronavirus cases… I wanted to get a different perspective from someone working in an industry, in Guernsey, that relies on that bubble being popped, safely.

Luckily, in the UK, things are looking up for my industry in Travel PR. Clients are receiving more media coverage as journalists are able to visit their hotels and the hotels themselves are increasing occupancy. But those travellers are just from the UK, because in Guernsey it’s a different story.

There’s no confusing ever-changing list of destinations that islanders can and can’t travel to. There’s still a 2-week quarantine restriction on wherever you land from on this small island of 67,000 that thrives on hospitality and tourism. It’s a sector that’s been massively hit. And as an island of keen travellers eager to escape the safe haven and find excitement in far flung communities and cultures, travel agents usually thrive here too. But with isolation requirements such as those in Guernsey. It’s tough.

So to find out what it’s like living and working in a place that has such restrictions, I spoke to Personal Leisure Travel Counsellor, Chris Roberts, who co-owns the Travel Counsellor’s Franchise in Guernsey.

When did you first notice Covid-19 would have an effect on your work?

The affects of Covid-19 crept up slowly for the travel agency side of our industry in Guernsey, my first experience was concerns for clients travelling to China, cancellations and refunds, followed by briefings for other clients travelling to or through Asia as it spread to other countries. Of course there were other concerns at that time – European travel post-Brexit being one, but one particular client, who we later had to rescue, was briefed on coronavirus whilst we delivered their tickets.

Was this new to you? Warning of potential dangers?

It wasn’t new. These particular clients we briefed on forest fires in Australia before they left and also about flooding in New Zealand the day they arrived, all in a days work as we say! I’ve been in the retail travel industry for over four decades, and have seen a lot, from volcanic ash clouds to a tsunami, from 911 to increasing tour operator failures and the most airline failures in aviation history during 2019. But little had prepared me for the global impact and the sad loss of life, stretched resources and a stop of all travel the World over, which has been devastating in so many ways.

What did you have to do to help?

So as cancellations were made, clients rescued from far flung corners of the World with virtually nothing available, working and even calling clients at all hours of the day and night in order to achieve getting everyone home, assisting with insurance claims, refunds (our company have given over 30 Mil in refunds now), to customer service swapping our clients plans to next year, it’s been a busy time. But I consider myself lucky, many of my industry colleagues and friends have been made redundant or furloughed, but despite no salary since this started we have had purpose and have never closed, having our clients to look after.

My colleagues at Travel Counsellors I have to say have been very inspiring and mood lifting, with Facebook chat groups sharing funny stories, to keep fit and Rate my Plate, for those brave enough to share images of their meals for colleagues to comment on. I was also very fortunate as Travel Counsellors being a large agency and tour operator in numerous countries had extensive resources, with training and staff available round the clock to assist us. We even won the Queens Award for Enterprise whilst all this was happening.

Congrats!
And lastly, in your opinion, should Guernsey mirror the UK introducing travel corridors?

Conflicted is the feeling currently. I’m pleased my UK colleagues have something to sell and clients there who wish to travel can do so, do I want something to sell? Well when it’s safe yes. My clients many of whom have become friends and quite a few elderly I care for greatly and I don’t want them going anywhere until we know travel and the destinations I sell are safe. So with our borders potentially closed beyond even the 1st September, we are happy in our bubble and we watch eagerly for further air bridges and the new normal being workable, so we can have all experience the joy that travel brings us all once again.

The island that became covid-free

When I permanently lived in Guernsey, we used to say it was like living in a bubble. A place that was safe, secure and a sense that you were somewhat disconnected from the real world. But never did we think this would become such a reality as when coronavirus arrived.

Guernsey became the first island in the British isles to become Covid-19-free thanks to the incredible work of the Director of Public Health, Dr. Nicola Brink and her team, alongside the Guernsey Government who helped to lockdown the island and track down cases. Dr. Nicola Brink told UK media she trained her whole life in anticipation of a virus such as this. Studying virology, she knew the potential of a virus such as Covid-19 and when the island had it’s first case she recalls the moment, standing up in her office, turning around to her team and saying “we know what we have to do”… And that she did.

An incredible track and trace system and an island lockdown allowed the island with a population of 67,000 to become the safe haven it is today. I returned 4 weeks ago to visit family and myself had to quarantine for two weeks before being able to experience the pre-covid environment we all dream of. And I’ll say this honestly, it’s almost as if covid never existed here. From crowded pubs to dinner parties to shaking hands after a game of tennis – everyone here knows they’re safe.

But this island’s little bubble needs to be popped one day or another. With an economy that thrives on tourism the skies will once again need to open again and the risk returns. Uncertainty looms over the heads of the safe islanders, but I have to say, a taste of the “old-normal” was a treat I hope everyone gets to experience again.

Closest Pub to a Church in the British Isles

The ability to touch a wall of a pub and a wall of a Church at the same time is not common… So uncommon in fact that the ability to do this in the British Isles only comes around in one location… Guernsey.

Guernsey in the Channel Islands is a 9 by 5 mile island situated between England and France. Populated with 65,000 people there are many pubs on the island – but not many with such close proximity to a Church.

The Albion pub in St Peter Port is a tavern style pub with dark interior and carpet floors. But its not famous for its interior – or even the picturesque harbour it sits along – it is instead known for its neighbour… The Town Church which has only a narrow pathway which separates them both.

See below my friend from Birmingham visiting this photo opportunity for the first time:

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Tunnels connecting the Channel Islands. Fantasy? One man thinks not

Transport links between the Channel Islands have been a long-standing issue. Whether it be the long delays at the airport with the drowning fog that the small 20 row planes can’t land in… or maybe the hottest issue this season is the overpriced tickets making every venture off island 100 pounds + more expensive.

Guernsey, in particular, struggles with this debate. A longer runway is one idea but a tunnel seems to be the new dig.

Research

Based on his research of the Faro Islands… one man believes that their success creating tunnels of a similar distance between their islands…means its a mimic-able task.

I contacted one of the lead researchers of the tunnels connecting the two islands of which had names I could never pronounce… (Skálafjørður og Tórshavn). He confirmed, in broad terms, that it could be done following a similar distance tunnel they have in the making. But one thing.. the ground we have beneath our channel is different to there’s. So who really knows?

How?

Well a solo project in Guernsey, has a plan. A slideshow of a plan in fact which I had the pleasure of seeing. Slide one… a dual carriageway tunnel between Jersey and Guernsey running under Herm and Sark, with the possibility of a stop off point in sark with a lift for safety, island access, and rest point.

Why?

The island would increase GDP by sharing trade, decrease the cost of government with linked strategy and even shared a hospital to offer patients more specialist doctors, quicker appointment time and so on. The slides also add that there would be increased social cohesion… something that possibly could take some working on given the rivalry of the “crappos” and the “donkeys”.

General response?

Never going to happen is the initial thought. But after looking at what could really be shared between the islands… maybe there’s light at the end of this tunnel.