Agent Diary: ‘Despite a tricky journey, my first group tour for two years was a success’
Covid rules added a lot of admin for the first group tour I’ve led for two years but it was all worth it, says Thompson Travel owner Sharon Thompson.
I have just escorted my first group since March 2020. We were supposed to travel to Israel in October 2020 so the feeling of relief was great.
I have travelled to Israel 21 times without worry. This time, my concern was the forms, positive PCRs and airports.
I always think of my travels as starting at the airport, so I try to enjoy that experience. For this trip, we’d been bumped to a later flight within days of travel, so everyone’s pre‑departure Covid test would have been invalid and we would miss our first day’s itinerary.
We’d been bumped to a later flight within days of travel, so everyone’s pre‑departure Covid test would have been invalid
I was lucky to find alternative flights from Dublin on a busy St Patrick’s weekend. Everyone took my advice and brought hard copies of documents, while others stood aside to search for electronic passes and certificates.
At Tel Aviv, our airport escort is always helpful, regardless of Covid and PCRs. From disembarkation to coach took one hour. Our itinerary in Israel went well and the rainy weather did not dampen spirits.
Returning home was a different story. We left our hotel at 3am to fly via Heathrow to Belfast City airport.
In Israel, security is always tight but usually efficient – not on this occasion. There were four security belts rather than 15 and it took every minute of our three-hour check-in to get through.
At Heathrow, we discovered we had a five-hour wait but it meant I could sort boarding passes and connecting baggage information.
There were four security belts rather than 15 and it took every minute of our three-hour check-in to get through
On arrival in Belfast, one of our group had a suitcase missing. This seems to be a common problem on the final domestic leg of flights home.
I know Covid has magnified the hassle, and I know it’s hard to get staff at the moment, but all in all we need the journey to be easier.
Nevertheless, despite the hitches, I had good feedback from my group.
One couple said: “I love that you have the experience needed to guide a large group and, when something needed sorting, it wasn’t a big deal for you.
“The flights seemed to take a long time, but I did appreciate that we were escorted through with you very quickly on arrival.
“Thank you for being able to sort flights at such short notice.
“There did seem to be an awful lot of preparing to go on holiday this time compared to a couple of years ago. But it was great that you were able to help us and others with all the paperwork and PCRs.
On the downside, the timing of the trip meant I missed the Globes as I had to get my PCR, but it looked fab
“The hotels were great. The food was great. And everyone got on really well, starting as strangers and ending up as friends.”
About the flying experience, they said: “The airport and airlines could make life an awful lot easier by inventing something better than boarding passes, passport, baggage IDs etc – show it here, not here, here, not here. It’s all a nightmare – too fiddly.
“But overall, we were very impressed with how the trip went.”
On the downside, the timing of the trip meant I missed the Globe Travel Awards as I had to get my PCR, but it looked fab. Congratulations to Travel Weekly and the award winners, especially those from Northern Ireland.
Israel was an inspiration
In Israel we toured through the country and visited Netanya, Galilee, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. I had 30 people in my group. Hoteliers were glad to see us, sites were open and it was lovely to see travellers from all over the world in our hotels.
We were prepared for the poor weather after seeing the forecast before we left but it was still a bit of a shock.
But nothing, not even the weather, could have deterred us from fitting in everything we’d been waiting to see for the past two years. We also really enjoyed seeing how hard hotels had worked to renovate and upgrade while they had free rooms. Everything was fresh and new!
Hoteliers were glad to see us, sites were open and it was lovely to see travellers from all over the world in our hotels
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