The last tourist in Northern Ireland? I may be. On Thursday evening I was literally drinking in the last chance saloon. Fortunately, there is no better pub in which to sip a pint of stout than the Crown Liquor Saloon in central Belfast
This Victorian gin-and-Guinness palace, all intricate stained glass and smoke-darkened wood, is owned by the National Trust. But its Covid-friendly booths will be closed to drinkers until, at the earliest, Friday the 13th of November. Unlucky for us all.
Northern Ireland closes down to tourism at 6pm for a four-week “circuit breaker”.
"No unnecessary travel should be undertaken," says the Executive.
It was clear that things were not going well from touchdown in the capital of the Republic.
Normally a traveller arriving at Dublin airport, who wants to hire a car for the drive to Northern Ireland, needs only conspiratorially sidle up to one of the rental desks at the airport and ask if they want any vehicles returned to Belfast. There were always a couple, and it was an excellent way to avoid the international drop off fee.
Right now, they are not doing any such thing. Northern Ireland’s entire hospitality sector is closing down, apart from deliveries and takeaways. And things in the rest of the UK will, in the words of the health secretary, “get worse before they get better”.
Not quite as catchy as the slogan that swept Tony Blair to power in 1997. While travel and tourism businesses are predisposed to believing “Things can only get better,” that is not the current trajectory of the industry of human happiness.
The seasoned travel veteran Seamus Conlon said of the travel industry this week: “A lot of people have been using optimism as a strategy.” The same applies to travellers, who after all are accustomed to paying cash in advance for aspirational adventures.
Those who committed to holidays in Italy over the October half-term discovered, also on Thursday evening, that their dream trips in the very near future had suddenly changed into something of a nightmare.
Italy, the last great, uncomplicated Mediterranean nation open to British holidaymakers, was unceremoniously placed on the no-go list.
The Department for Transport’s weekly ritual, in which the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, names and shames the latest nations to be placed off-limits, surely cannot go on much longer? Germany, Sweden and most of Greece do not an atlas make. And with Jersey now operating a postcode policy of quarantine for visitors from the UK, we are now right up there with the other sick men of Europe.
For you, traveller, the year is over. Or is it?
The one crumb of good news from Mr Shapps on Thursday was that Crete was finally removed from the no-go list. Hellenophiles may feel that is a pointless gesture, given that the Greek islands traditionally close to tourism at the end of October. Yet there is talk on the larger Greek islands of extending the season for a couple of weeks into November. Last mover advantage, I’d call it.
For British holidaymakers whose local lockdown rules allow the possibility of heading abroad, this looks a tempting opportunity.
I predict that by some time next month, the evident futility of the government effectively banning travel to countries that have lower rates of new coronavirus infection than the UK will result in yet another change to the quarantine policy – and hopefully open up destinations in time for Christmas and the New Year.
For the traveller – and the hundreds of thousands of excellent professionals who depend on our journeys for their livelihoods – the one certainty is that things cannot stay as they are.