Seven months after long-haul holidays were abandoned amid a tangle of travel restrictions, a Wigan-based company is back in action – and reporting sold out tours.
The catch is that the destinations are Iraq and Afghanistan.
The final pre-lockdown trip organised by Lupine Travel was to the Yemeni island of Socotra in March. The adventure ended early with the participants flown out on the last flight via Aden and Cairo, and the company cancelled dozens of subsequent journeys.
Other worldwide holidays ended in disarray and a desperate scramble for seats on flights back to the UK. The only significant long-haul trips have been to the Caribbean, but the ever-lengthening no-go list for UK travellers has been blamed for wrecking consumer confidence.
Yet Lupine Travel has been putting trips back on – and reporting overwhelming demand.
The first trip has just been completed: a tour of Iraqi Kurdistan that also crossed into Mosul.
Dylan Harris, the founder of Lupine Travel said: “It was a success. We were able to visit all our usual spots on that tour.
“Testing at Erbil airport on arrival is a huge help. It gives group members reassurance that those they aren't going to catch the virus off those they are travelling with.
“Then during the tour when interacting with others out side the group we use social distancing measures and mask wearing where necessary.
“It felt really good to finally be able to resume tours again.”
Two new tours to Afghanistan sold out within two days, and additional departures to Kabul and beyond are being planned.
But Mr Harris said many clients are being deterred by the prospect of two weeks of self-isolation on return to the UK.
“Quarantine is definitely a major issue at the moment,” he said. “At the moment, generally the only people able to travel are people working from home or retirees. They aren't concerned about quarantining as long as it means they can travel.
“It's an issue for many of our freelance tour leaders as well as they also have other jobs, so we've had to switch leaders around for some of our upcoming trips.”
Despite the obstacles, Lupine Travel is planning a new rail adventure from Wigan to Iraq – going as far as Diyarbakir in Turkey by train, followed by a bus for the last leg of the journey.
Other destinations on the horizon include Haiti, Angola, Congo and mainland Yemen.
Meanwhile Japan is working towards restarting international tourism in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
The first stage is under way: opening borders to residents, students and business travellers. They must take a coronavirus test ahead of flying to Japan, and stay in self-isolation for 14 days.
Initially tourism is likely to be restricted to visitors from low-risk countries including Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.
The postponed Olympic Games are due to begin on 23 July 2021.