Operators have hailed the government’s simpler travel rules but urge the transport secretary to take more action to shorten the red list of countries.
The Department of Transport confirmed on Friday afternoon (September 17) that it will axe the amber category in its traffic light system, change the rules on testing, and take eight countries off the red list, including popular hotspots Turkey, Egypt and the Maldives.
Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK, welcomed the announcement, adding: “We’ve already seen an uptick in bookings for Turkey in October and a big increase in bookings for those looking to enjoy some winter sun. We expect to see customer confidence improve.
“We still believe the red list could be reduced further given no variants of concern have been identified and it remains significantly more restrictive than other countries in Europe.
“We hope the UK government recognise that fully vaccinated customers still have more travel restrictions in place than many other countries around the world, so as an industry we will not see the return of operations as we would like, but today we are pleased that progress is being made.”
Jet2holidays said it would restart flights and holidays to Antalya and Dalaman in Turkey from September 23.
Chief executive Steve Heapy reported increasing demand in recent days as the changes were trailed, with “a massive surge in bookings for package holidays”.
He said he expected Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow suit with updates to their advice too.
“Although it has been a long time coming, we are extremely pleased that the government has finally committed to reopening international travel properly,” said Heapy. “Holidaymakers and independent travel agents will be frustrated that these changes come too late for the peak summer holiday period, but we know how delighted they will be that holidays are no longer subject to a set of restrictions that are completely out of step with other areas of everyday life.
“Having to take a pre-departure test in resort, along with an expensive PCR test after returning to the UK, has unfairly penalised hardworking customers and families for far too long. Although the removal of these burdens is welcome news and a step in the right direction, more can still be done.
“The Traffic Light system has been confusing and completely unfit for purpose since day one. We welcome a new approach which is easy for everyone to understand and provides certainty.
“The desire to get away for a well-earned holiday in the sunshine has never diminished, however harsh and unfair restrictions have remained a barrier for some. Holidays mean so much to everyone, and we cannot wait to take our customers away on them.”
Garry Wilson, easyJet holidays chief executive, described the announcement as “one of the biggest breakthroughs our industry has had in 18 months”.
“Turkey has long been one of our most popular beach destinations and we’re really pleased to see it added to the amber list.
“But more work needs to be done to remove the unnecessary and costly test after arriving back in the UK, because it’s important that travel remains accessible to everyone.
“This announcement means more people can book now with confidence for some late summer sun.”
Estelle Giraudeau, UK & Northern Europe managing director at Club Med, commented: “Research carried out by Club Med revealed that 63% of UK adults have delayed booking a holiday as they are put off by the cost of testing.
“We now hope this will provide some level of assurance and will allow people to once again start thinking about and booking the holidays they have been dreaming of for the past 18 months.
“We are pleased that the Maldives, the Dominican Republic and Turkey are all finally being reinstated as holiday options for Brits.
“Google search data asking for the ‘latest travel advice for Turkey’ has increased by 650% in the past seven days.
“As we begin to approach autumn and winter, it is clear there is an appetite for both short and long-haul travel.”
Latin Routes director Martin Johnson said the changes were a positive step but added: “However, I still feel more clarity is needed on criteria for red and green. Countries with very high Covid rates like India are in green and countries with tiny rates are in red, like Chile, Uruguay and many Latin America countries.
“I also hope they manage any changes carefully, as there is now a big jump from green to red status. If that starts to happen regularly, it could really undermine everyone’s confidence.”
Julia Simpson, president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), said: “We are pleased to see the back of an illogical traffic light system that caused confusion and distress for travellers. This move to ease restrictions and open up more key destinations, will help restore consumer confidence and get the UK moving again.
“We’re also happy to see that the government has listened to our calls, with double vaccinated travellers no longer needing to take pre-departure tests, and that antigen tests will replace costly PCRs before the end of the busy half term holiday season.
“The government should adopt a system based on the risk of individuals, not countries. Placing whole countries on red lists is illogical if you can keep the UK safe by checking an individual’s status and allowing fully jabbed people to travel almost anywhere in the world safely.”
Picture of Antalya Old Town port in Turkey by Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock