The travel sector has dismissed a report warning against international travel this summer, saying customers are booking holidays from July onwards.
The UK ban on non-essential international travel is expected to be lifted on 17 May, with countries ranked under a traffic light system, despite the publication on Monday of a warning from a cross-party group of MPs against travelling abroad this summer.
The government has not revealed the green list – countries that UK holidaymakers will be allowed to visit without quarantining on return – but it is expected to be short and to only include a handful of EU countries initially. However, the travel sector is confident that popular EU destinations, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, will be added by the end of June, allowing summer holidays abroad to go ahead from July onwards.
“Holidays will be back on this summer,” said Thomas Cook spokesperson David Child. “Our bookings are 50% higher this week than last week.”
The operator is selling holidays from 1 July, with Greece proving the most popular destination and Spain in second place.
The report issued by the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus (APPG) says holidays abroad this summer should be discouraged for fear of importing new Covid variants. It also called for better border security at airports to prevent people arriving from high-risk countries mixing with those from other destinations. But holiday bosses called the report damaging, baffling and disjointed.
“I think the committee is out of touch and their findings are damaging,” said Paul Charles of travel consultancy PC Agency, which initiated its own traffic light system, later adopted by the EU, last year. “I’ve just returned from Mexico. The number of barriers I’ve had to go through to get back in to the UK are already very high: I’ve taken eight tests in six days, all negative. That will already put off a lot of people from travelling. They don’t need more measures [to stop people travelling abroad.]”
Ongoing uncertainty has already led package holiday travel companies to cancel trips in May and June. Chair of Sunvil, Noel Josephides, said he hopes to operate from the summer. “If we can get July, August and September, the company will survive the winter.”
The APPG’s report coincides with a confirmation by the European Commission that EU member states will welcome tourists from low-risk countries from early June, with a gradual phasing out of testing requirements as vaccination rates increase. UK-based travellers could be among those allowed to enter EU countries, but only if the UK government reciprocates by agreeing to open its borders to all EU citizens.
However, UK holiday firms that run group travel trips – where arrangements with suppliers involve longer-term planning – say the lack of clarity from the UK government over recent months means they may not be able to operate until late summer.
“We can’t just flick a switch. It’s absurd to ask clients to pay now if we can’t be certain a trip will go head,” said Fiona Charrington, chief executive of Martin Randall Travel. “We need to give at least 10 weeks’ notice. We’re on the brink of not being able to operate in July.”
Charrington said she welcomed the APPG’s recommendation that the travel industry get financial support, but added that losing a second summer would be “cataclysmic”.
“The impact on our lives and our livelihoods is becoming ever more serious. It almost feels like the sabotage of an industry.”