River cruises exempt from blanket travel ban following pressure from Telegraph

Benjamin Parker
FCO still advises against ocean voyages, but Britons are now free to board a river cruise this summer - istock

River cruises are not covered by the blanket guidance advising against cruise ship travel, the Foreign Office (FCO) has confirmed, paving the way for Britons to enjoy a holiday on the water this summer.

The updated guidelines, which previously only stated that the FCO “advises against cruise ship travel at this time”, now make clear that cruise ship travel is defined as “staying overnight for at least one night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households.”

Voyages on rivers are generally considered more low-risk than rather than ocean cruises. They tend to be shorter itineraries, sailing only in one or two countries, and have fewer passengers on board, which mean new health and safty protocols are easier to manage.

Declan Treanor, chairman of Arena Travel, described river cruises as “much more like staying in a hotel”.

Telegraph Travel have asked the FCO which factors influenced the decision to allow travel on river vessels.

It's not clear whether cruises around Britain are also exempt from official guidelines, which apply to “international travel on a ship” – which means Hurtigruten’s planned September sailings around the British isles, which caused a ripple of excitement among eager cruisers last week, may still be in doubt. It also means that itineraries in Europe may mean Britons are only allowed to stay in one country per cruise.

The Department for Transport has been approached to clarify the situation regarding cruises in British water.

The new statement from the FCO comes just hours after The Telegraph published an exclusive revealing the emergency meeting between Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry body, and river cruise lines, during which they discussed how they could lobby the Government to ease restrictions on river sailings.

Andy Harmer, CLIA's UK and Ireland director, said: “This latest change to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s advisory regarding cruise ship travel provides a very welcome boost.  We are seeing a gradual, phased-in approach to resumption of cruise operations across Europe, initially domestic and regional.

"CLIA is continuing its constructive dialogue with the Department for Transport and Public Health England to finalise the road map to resumption of international cruise travel."

A Foreign Office source denied that it was change of policy, insisting that the update was a clarification of scope based on guidance from Public Health England.

It looked like summer sailings for Britons had been written off before the FCO updated its advice

A Government spokesperson said: “We will continue to keep cruise ship travel advice under review based on the latest medical and scientific evidence, and encourage people to check our travel advice pages for the latest information.
 
“We recognise the significant impact of the pandemic on the cruise industry and are working with cruise companies to support them in restarting operations that are COVID-safe for their passengers and crew."

All travellers are encouraged to check the FCO advice pages for any country they intend on travelling to – or through – to ensure they follow the latest guidance, the spokesperson added.

Ellen Bettridge, the president and chief executive of Uniworld River Cruises, previously described the FCO’s announcement as “nothing short of a scattershot approach [that fails] to take into consideration many factors.”

She was among those who welcomed the clarification.

“We are thrilled that the FCO listened to the river cruising segment and quickly removed us from the ban,” she told Telegraph Travel.

“The differences between ocean and river are so vast that they must be in separate categories.  I believe the highly engaged service and all-inclusive experience we provide will continue to attract the UK market as a leading holiday choice.”

Cruise writer Dave Monk said: “After last week's devastating blanket advice against cruising, this step by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is heartening news for lovers of river cruising, which has already started coming back in France, Germany, Portugal, Austria and Italy.

“On top of that, the new advice holds out hope that round-Britain cruises – such as those planned for September by Norwegian line Hurtigruten – can also go ahead with government approval.”

It appears that “behind-the-scenes lobbying by the cruise line body CLIA is beginning to pay off,” he added.

The Government’s advice means that ocean cruising is still effectively banned for Britons, even if they depart from a foreign port, as the FCO advice makes it difficult to purchase travel insurance. Ferries or privately-rented boats are not affected by the guidance.

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