Although plans to roll out a Covid passport programme for large events have now been put on hold, they are still required for entry into some theatres. What does it mean for group travel organisers and what do they need to make their members aware of?
When GTO Marian Durbidge was booking her group’s theatre trips for later this year she discovered that most theatres were asking for everyone to show a Covid certificate, otherwise known as a pass. Marian, who runs Herts Theatre Club, was initially concerned that the certificate would either have to be on a smartphone app or that members would only be able to get the certificate online. Fortunately, she found out that you can call 119 to ask for a hard-copy of the certificate to be sent out in the post and will now be asking all of her members to make sure they have done this well in advance of the trip if they are unable to use the app.
Marian said: “I was really worried at first because we thought this may cause an issue but it’s good that members have the option of requesting the form in the post. All of the theatres we have booked, along with the Royal Albert Hall and Cadogan Hall, and I think most other venues, will be asking for this and I wanted to let people know. We are advising our members to apply for the letter straight away as it may take a week or so to come through. We don’t want to get caught out.”
A statement on the Royal Albert Hall’s website says that the Government has “encouraged” the venue to have a system in place to check the Covid status of audiences. It reads: “You may be asked to show your Covid status (negative test result, proof of double vaccination or proof of natural immunity) through the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App, NHS.UK, or as a letter”.
The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), which operates 58 venues across the UK and overseas including the Bristol Hippodrome and the Liverpool Empire, requires proof of Covid status to gain entry to its venues.
The lowdown on the Covid Pass
- The Pass is available for anyone aged 18 or over who has been double-vaccinated.
- It shows your vaccination details and test results and may be required to gain entry at selected venues and events.
- Find out about, and get the NHS App, at www.nhs.uk/nhs-app/ or by searching on your smartphone. Or go to www.covid-status-service.nhsx.nhs.uk to get your pass.
- If you download your Pass, the barcode on the PDF will only be valid for 30 days.
- If you don’t have access to a smartphone or tablet, you can request a hard copy in the post by visiting the NHS website or by calling 119 (select the NHS Covid Pass service). The letter will take approximately five working days to arrive.
- The paper version (known as a Covid post vaccination letter) only shows that you have been vaccinated against Covid. It does not show test results.
But how straightforward is this in practice and are group travel organisers prepared to build this into their check-lists for groups if the requirement becomes mandatory in September? GTOs have told us that they are discovering that the rules vary from venue-to-venue.
Having not been on a group trip since Friday 13th March 2020, a trip that Marian says she will never forget – to St Bart’s Hospital – she’s looking forward to seeing her group enjoying themselves again.
She said: “Hopefully we’re going to make up for lost time and make people happy. We’ve got all the big shows booked that we think will give people fun and enjoyment, the likes of Cinderella, Pretty Woman and Mary Poppins, we can’t wait. We’ve also got a few seaside and day trips booked too.”
We spoke to a number of GTOs about their views on the Covid Pass
Many will be applying for a paper version of the Pass. June Barnard, who runs Just June Trips and Events in Shepperton, says the idea of having to produce a digital version filled her “with horror” because many of her group are in the 60-90 year-old age bracket and don’t use smartphones.
Richard Preston, The Valentine Club in Bicester, says he doesn’t know enough about the Covid Pass yet but hopes it would be “fairly straightforward” and down to individual members to present it at venues. “We know all of our group (85 members) have been vaccinated and we are keen to get out and about again. It must be a nightmare for any venue trying to get people back in though,” he added.
Brenda Peace, Codsall Outings Group in Wolverhampton, believes that most of her group would be in favour of showing vaccination status because “it’s protecting themselves and other people as well”. In the event of any technical hurdles, she said she would advise her group if they needed help with the digital version.
Ticket solution needed for theatre-loving group
Clive Roylance, who runs Lordship Leisure Groups and arranges a number of theatre trips, got in touch with GLT about challenges with getting tickets printed out.
He told us: “We’re trying to get back to normal with our theatre visits but it’s not being made easy.
“We’re concerned about the decision made by London and provincial theatres to discontinue printed tickets. We don’t think we could continue with our current level of activity if we’re expected to print and distribute all tickets in future and the complications of sending individual e-tickets out to our members sounds even worse. We were told by another GTO that they were sent a single QR code covering different dates and shows.
“Since we’ve raised the issue, all the major group agencies have now said they will try to find a way around the problem even if it means printing the tickets in their office and posting them to us, although one agency did say that there may be an extra charge for this.
“We believe voluntary groups like ours help the theatre industry and genuinely increase their market. We’re asking them to give some thought to these volunteers and don’t make our job even more difficult by implementing policies like this without consultation or considering how it might affect us.”
Barbara Tester, Day Explorers Group in Belper, is in favour of the Covid pass. She said: “I think it’s a good idea and my group would be happy to go along with it. I’d send an email out about it and they’d do it – they’re very well trained! I don’t see anything wrong with making that the rule. Just because 19th July has come, people think everything is going to be tickety-boo. There’s nothing wrong with still taking precautions.”
Gloria Young, C.O.A.C.H Tours, is concerned that people will end up being penalised if they’re unable to be vaccinated. She adds: “It’s complicated because the rules are different everywhere. I will wait to hear what the update is from the Government.”