Guidance has been issued confirming that the new ‘rule of six’ restrictions do not affect coach or tour operators in England. 

Coach travel

Group organisers have told GLT magazine that the ‘rule of six’ doesn’t mean they can’t still plan day trips and holidays. 

There has been some confusion after the rule came into effect from Monday 15th September banning gatherings of more than six people due to a rise in Covid-19 cases. 

The Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport and the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy has now updated its guidance for the visitor economy including information for coach tourism. 

It states that for coach tours: 

If it is possible to ensure that groups of more than six (or larger if they are from one household) do not mingle on a tour, it can go ahead. People must stay in their own group on all parts of the tour – for example whilst in hospitality settings and when visiting attractions as well as whilst on the coach. Legislation does not place any capacity constraints on public transport services, private hire vehicles or leisure tours. Operators should continue to provide Covid-secure transport services which can accommodate multiple groups of six people. DfT will update the transport guidance shortly to clarify and assist passengers and operators.

And for guided tours: 

If it is possible to ensure that groups of more than six (or larger if they are from one household) do not mingle on a guided tour, it can go ahead. People must stay in their own group at all times throughout the tour. Tours may take place indoors or outdoors provided businesses undertake risk assessments in line with this guidance document and put any necessary mitigations in place

The Coach Tourism Association said that operators should continue to follow the Safer Transport Guidance for Operators. It said that when visiting an attraction or venue, the new restrictions mean that passengers will need to remain in households or in groups of no more than six. 

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Coach Tourism Association (CTA) chair John Wales: “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 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.”

John Wales, CTA chair

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), has also issued clarification. Director Bernard Donoghue told Group Leisure & Travel: “Group travel, and especially coach tourism, is vital to attractions and to local, regional and national tourism economies.

“I have raised the confusion generated by the ‘rule of six’ with the Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston and have made sure that ALVA members know that not only group business can take place - in a Covid safe environment, adhering to the rules and guidance, and appropriately social distancing - but that it should take place.”

A spokeswoman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) added: “The new regulations have no direct impact on the number of passengers that can be carried on a vehicle, and operators should continue to follow the Safer Transport Guidance for Operators issued by the Department for Transport. CPT is continuing to press the Department for clearer guidance to be issued to venues and attractions to ensure that groups arriving by coach will continue to be accepted.”

Isle of Wight tour was ‘the best tonic’

Lin Wilson's Isle of Wight trip

The group outside Osborne House.

Group organiser Lin Wilson (Solent Events & Leisure), a member of the New Meridian Association, recently organised a holiday to the Isle of Wight which she said was a huge success.

She added: “It was like being back to normal, but with protocols in place to keep people safe.

“The new ‘rule of six’ didn’t affect us too much, as we were in small groups/bubbles anyway. Everyone said it was the best tonic they’d had for six months.”

Lin is also a former GTO of the Year Award® winner.

The Tourism Alliance issued the following guidance: “Accommodation businesses, attractions, performance venues, coach operators, tour guides, pubs and restaurants can all continue as they are, provided that they make sure any individual party of visitors complies with the rule of six.”

The 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).

What is the ‘rule of six’?

The new restrictions make it illegal to meet up in a group of more than six people. They apply to gatherings, both indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland and indoors in Wales. The rule apply to all ages in England and everyone except children under 11 in Wales and under 12 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, six people from two different households can meet indoors and groups of up to 15 people outdoors. The rule does not apply to households or bubbles of more than six people. Find out more about the restrictions here

Group organiser Allison Uddy, Milton Village Community Association, welcomed the clarification and said: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding, it was bad enough before this ‘rule of six’, it of course aimed at individuals rather than businesses, organisations and charities - I hope the venues and attractions are still going to accept groups.”

Tour and coach operators have issued information on their websites and social media channels for customers. On its website Johnsons Coaches said that businesses and venues following Covid-19 secure guidelines could continue hosting larger groups as long as individual groups didn’t interact with anyone outside of the group they are attending with. 

Support for the coach sector

The Coach Tourism Association 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, Coach Tourism Association

CTA chair John Wales.

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.”