Group coach travel and the new Rule of Six

Group in front of coach

Travel and tourism industry bodies have been taking stock of the implications of the new ‘Rule of Six’ restrictions on social gatherings, and how they affect group travel and the activities of coach and tour operators.

There are different interpretations of whether it means that traditional group trips can take place at all, or if they do, how the members of the group need to behave to keep themselves below the ‘six persons’ threshold.

It seems that for the travel elements of trips, the existing guidance about bus, coach and train travel will still apply, with the Coach Tourism Association saying that they have had advice from the Department for Transport that operators will still be able to run tours based on their own business risk assessments concerning the number of passengers per coach, although when visiting an attraction or venue, passengers will need to remain in households and in groups of no more than six.

This interpretation would seem to work if those taking the coach trips are not members of a single group, but individuals or families taking traditional  seats on coach excursions, rather than being pre-organised groups expecting to do things together under the supervision of a GTO.

Coach Tourism Association chair John Wales said :-

“This is an encouraging and practical step by the Government to balance people’s freedom to enjoy a holiday, whilst keeping to the rules. It is also a huge relief for the coaching industry that can now carry on with its UK tour programmes and day tours for this Autumn and Winter.”

The Tourism Alliance has also confirmed this, saying of the Rule of Six:-

“It will have no direct impact on the number of passengers that can be carried in a vehicle and operators should continue to follow the Safer Transport Guidance for Operators issued by DfT in accordance with their own risk assessments.”

There is separate guidance about how people should be managed at tourist attractions, heritage properties and other leisure venues.

The Tourism Alliance advises:

  • Coaches, and other modes of transport, can still operate to their Covid-secure capacity provided that each individual party using the mode of transport complies with the Rule of Six and social distancing remains between each party.

  • Once off the mode of transport, each individual party must stay socially distanced and enter any attraction/accommodation as an individual party complying with the Rule of Six.

  • A tour guide can still take up to 30 people from the coach, or other method of transport, on a walking tour around a destination – but again the people must stay in their individual groups that comply with the Rule of Six with social distancing between them (and any rules in place at the destination).

The Coach Tourism Association (CTA) has also reacted to the recent tourism 90-minute debate in the House of Commons in which the coach tour sector was mentioned 42 times.

John Wales said :-

“The strong support expressed in the House of Commons debate was  heartening, with evidence that many MPs understand the plight of the coach sector. Coaches are a critical part of the tourism industry. However coach tour operators, who are predominantly family-run businesses, have been left high and dry for the past six months and most of them missed out on government support because of the failure to recognise them as part of the leisure and travel sector.

We would urge the government to consider extending a furlough scheme to tourism businesses which would be perfectly viable if able to operate without the current restrictions. Coach tour operators deliver huge amounts of tourists and leisure spending to regions across the UK and need continuing support to get through a challenging winter.”

CTA is also supporting recent proposals from the Confederation of  Passenger Transport for the government to ensure that operators are given support by extending finance holidays for the next 12 months to avoid the potential repossession of family homes of business owners.

Individual coach and tour operators have been posting their interpretation of the new rules on their websites, and here’s the way it’s been expressed by Johnson’s Coaches.

Businesses and venues following COVID-19 Secure guidelines will be able to hold more than 30 people, subject to their own capacity limits, although any individual groups should not interact with anyone outside of the group they are attending with.

In other words, group events are permitted when professionally organised by businesses who have made risk assessments and put in place good practices for COVID safety.

Rule of Six in the four countries of the UK

The Rule of Six varies confusingly, depending on where you live in the United Kingdom.

In England, the limit of up to six people from multiple households meeting up applies both indoors and outdoors, and to all ages.

In Scotland, a maximum of six people from two households can meet. Unlike England, children under 12 – from those two households – will not be included in the total.

In Wales, the Rule of Six only applies indoors. Children aged 11 and under do not count in the total. Up to 30 people from different homes can still meet outside.

Northern Ireland allows up to 15 people to meet up outdoors and six indoors from two households.

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