The “safe list” for holidays was finally announced by the government today, but previous uncertainty around proposed “air bridges” and “travel corridors”, and the delay in publishing the list has caused fury among tour operators, senior MPs and the first ministers of Wales and Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, criticised the government’s “shambolic” decision-making process. However, now that a decision has been made consumer confidence is expected to return and bookings to increase.
Many people have been hesitant to book a holiday abroad after mixed messages and delays from the government, and tour operators report seeing a high number of enquiries but few bookings.
Paul Charles, spokesperson for the Quash Quarantine campaign, said that despite travellers’ interest picking up, “bookings have been a disaster”. Although the campaign, backed by 500 tourism and hospitality companies, supports the government’s U-turn on a blanket quarantine, Charles said the damage is deep, worsened by the prevarication of those in charge. He predicts the travel industry will shrink by 30-40%, with “at least two big names on the brink”.
“This is a masterclass in how not to communicate with the British people. It’s a national embarrassment, the way it has been handled,” Charles said. “It shows no regard for people’s financial situation and whether the money they have already spent will give them a holiday; and no regard for the jobs and livelihoods for those in the travel sector.”
The new list, referred to as “travel corridors” includes 59 countries and 14 British overseas territories that the government no longer deems high risk, allowing for travel from 10 July. However, whether UK holidaymakers are accepted is down to individual countries. Despite Greece being on the list of safe countries, the Greek government has ruled that travellers arriving from the UK must still quarantine for 14 days on arrival, and there is a ban on direct flights from the UK until 15 July.
Tomorrow, the Foreign Office (FCO) will downgrade its travel advice for 67 countries it advised against all but non-essential travel to since 17 March. Currently the list is for England only, and arrivals elsewhere in the UK will still have to quarantine.
The Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito), welcomed the new plans, but also believes the situation could have been handled better, with the long delays causing an “enormous barrier to our recovery”. Aito director Noel Josephides said: “Lack of consultation with the travel industry and sheer ignorance about how the travel industry works have proved big barriers.
“Every day that the government has delayed – and that is many – they have lost us a week of peak season bookings, and we depend on those bookings for our survival year-round.”
Many tour operators have said they would need two or more weeks notice to resume operations, but some have optimistically begun offering holidays from mid-July.
TUI, which will open stores from next week, is taking bookings for European destinations for 11 July onwards: “We’ve already seen an increase in bookings in the past couple of weeks, with holidays to Spain and Greece looking the most popular this summer. As such a large business, we need at least two weeks to ensure we’re fully prepared to restart holidays, which is why we’re starting with a small programme.”
Despite a surge in enquiries at Sunvil holidays, bookings – offering departures from 15 July – are down for the time of year. Chris Wright, Sunvil managing director, put this down to a “reluctance on the part of consumers to make any firm decisions” until official advice was clear. Compared to the same period last year, bookings are at just 5% for July and early August, 10% in late August and 15% for September onwards.
Wright said the company would need at least four weeks to resume operating as usual, “but in the absence of any firm advice, we had to make a decision or miss the summer season totally”. Given the low levels of Covid-19 in many European countries, in his view Brits are “likely to be much safer on holiday in Greece and other such destinations than at home”.
Club Med is opening the majority of its European resorts from 5 July, encouraged by a strong uptick in sales and a surge in web searches for its resorts in Greece, up 1,000%, compared to the same time last year. Overall, bookings are outperforming 2019 – but the bulk of them are for later in the year and 2021. It is a similar case for Hays Travel, whose week-on-week sales increase of 52% is mainly for winter breaks and 2021 holidays.
To be able to ensure its new safety standards, Kuoni isn’t taking new bookings for travel until after 1 August, with trips before this date postponed or cancelled. The company saw a small flurry in bookings earlier this week after plans for air bridges were thought to be coming, but sales have since flattened.
A few travel companies have chosen to halt operations for even longer, such Cosmos which will not be taking bookings before October. This is mainly due to the fact they have customers in countries other than the UK, all with different rules in place. Unsurprisingly perhaps, several major cruise companies are also placing a longer pause on returning, including P&O Cruises, which has cancelled all sailings until 15 October; and MSC Cruises, which earlier this year had several ships stuck offshore due to the virus, is waiting until 2021.
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