Travel firms face a summer of uncertainty as mainstream destinations such as the Balearics and Madeira were placed on the government’s new ‘green watch’ list.
This signals that these places, including several Caribbean islands, are “at risk” from moving from green to amber, which would force travellers to face quarantine on return to the UK.
Only Malta of the 16 additions to the green category avoided being included on the ‘watchlist’ category, which will also include Israel from 4am on Wednesday.
The government also reiterated its stance that people should not travel to amber list countries while admitting that it intends to remove this guidance.
Further details will be set out in July together with the dates on when the changes will come into effect, according to the Department for Transport.
The DfT said: “Our intention is that later in the summer, arrivals who are fully vaccinated will not have to quarantine when travelling from amber list countries. We expect this to occur in phases, starting with UK residents.”
But the limited relaxation of travel rules could be derailed as it was disclosed that the EU could axe quarantine-free trips for British holidaymakers to prevent the import of the Delta variant of Covid-19 which first emerged in India.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News today that it “won’t be quite like it was in 2019 in the old days – but we are moving in a positive direction”.
Shapps said the ‘watchlist’ is treated like a green list, but the government is just being “completely open with the data”, as there are “ones of concern”.
He urged holidaymakers to make sure they have travel insurance and that their flights and accommodation are changeable, as they need to factor in the “risk of things changing”.
Shapps added: “People need to weigh up whether this works for them or not.”
Asked if he would book a foreign trip, he said: “I am not looking to go on holiday right this moment because I am rather busy dealing with this.”
Pressed on German chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls for all European Union nations to force British travellers to quarantines, he said Germany is “particularly concerned” as it doesn’t have the same vaccination levels as the UK.
He repeated his claim ministers think British holidaymakers who have had both jabs may be able to visit amber list countries and not have to quarantine afterwards.
Shapps said: “We may be able to treat a location currently in amber as if it was a green list country.”
There are “difficult issues” to resolve around children and people who can’t get vaccinated, but Shapps will say more about it next month.
Flight Centre EMEA managing director Steve Norris said: “While we fully support the government’s decision to follow a data-led approach, as a collective industry we implore the travel taskforce to give customers a respectable amount of notice if any changes are to be made.
“We fully expect that those people who had trips booked to Portugal last month will be looking to change their holidays to Mallorca, Barbados, and Malta which is great news.
“We are looking forward to hearing more news of how double vaccinated travellers might be able to get away this summer with less restrictions.
“Finally, we will continue to lobby the government with the industry to lower PCR test costs and ensure legislative measures are in place to safeguard our customers.”
Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association general secretary Manuel Cortes called for certainty and support for the travel trade.
“While it’s great news that more holiday destinations are now on the travel green list, our travel trade is still struggling,” he warned.
“In the fight against coronavirus, it’s vital that we follow the scientific advice and open up safely. But to do that government must support those sectors of the economy which have been badly hit by restrictions – none more so than travel.
“Our travel trade needs specific support from government to get through this the summer, as we emerge from this horrendous pandemic. Promises of better days ahead will not keep businesses afloat and save jobs.
“It’s time Grant Shapps, Boris Johnson and other ministers woke up to and took action.”
Jacqueline Dobson, president of 85-branch agency Barrhead Travel said praised the impact of this week’s Travel Day of Action for “delivering the message that travel had to have the opportunity to restart”.
She said: “While it should never have taken a country-wide lobby for the government to hear our pleas, we are nonetheless pleased that some of the industry’s requests have been taken into consideration – particularly the announcements that enable us really restart travel.
“It has been a tumultuous start for the travel industry’s recovery, so we welcome today’s announcement – albeit with some caution – which finally brings several key holiday destinations on to the green list, in time for the summer season.
Dobson anticipates a surge in demand following the announcement and said the addition of destinations such as Majorca, Malta and Ibiza “will come as a great relief” to the industry, and “hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers and those with plans to visit loved ones abroad”.
But she stressed better communication from governments was needed, after announcements were made separately by Northern Ireland, Scotland and England on Thursday evening, some in official statements and some on social media.
“We ask the UK government and devolved nations to ensure that better communication with the industry is initiated,” Dobson stressed. “Particularly, when it comes to how the government handles the travel announcements over the coming weeks, as the lead-up to the next review will determine how sustainable and successful the initial recovery period may be.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group – which is leading legal action against the government over its foreign travel policy – described the announcement by transport secretary Shapps on Thursday evening as a “long overdue” step towards a restart for international travel.
But he said: “Serious questions remain as to why these destinations weren’t opened-up sooner when there is clear evidence to suggest this could have been done weeks ago.
“At the same time, the government has again failed to publish the data and advice it is using to inform its decisions, which makes it harder to prepare for any future changes to the lists.
“Stating an intention to enable double vaccinated people to travel to amber countries without the need to self isolate on return is also long overdue and this policy must be implemented as soon as possible.
“Vague and open-ended promises are just not good enough. While UK citizens are stuck at home, Europeans are on the move and taking advantage of their own vaccination programmes to lift restrictions and open-up travel to low-risk destinations.
“The government already has clear evidence on the effectiveness of vaccines, but its sluggish and opaque response to international travel restrictions is squandering the UK’s leadership in this area.
“With no transparency from government, we simply cannot understand how ministers are taking these decisions, which are fundamental to the future of a sector that supports more than 1m jobs and billions of pounds of economic value.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “If implemented immediately, this decision will go some way to saving the summer season for our passengers desperate for a family holiday.
“A vague commitment to ‘next month’ is nothing like ambitious enough – ministers need to grasp this and decide one way or another. With the domestic economy opening up from 19 July why does travel have to wait? They have the tools and the data to do it immediately and there is no time to lose for a sector on its knees.
“With over 60% of the public now fully vaccinated, if they get a move on it will genuinely open up the market, enabling us to put on more routes to a far greater choice of destinations for customers desperate to get away.
“It’s vital though that FCDO also amends its travel advice so it is aligned with the rest of government. If someone has received both jabs the impact is the same whether they are in the UK or abroad and there needs to be a consistent message from all Ministers otherwise there will be further confusion for passengers.
“We’re disappointed that customers will still have to pay for expensive tests when they return, which makes no sense given the effectiveness of the vaccines against all known variants, and we also wanted to see more countries moved onto the green list.
“The continued caution from ministers on the country list is odd given the available data that shows the positivity rate for arriving passengers is close to zero, and case rates in key markets across the EU and United States are a fraction of ours.
“The next review must remedy this by putting data ahead of politics and substantially adding to the green list as a matter of urgency.”
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss criticised the government for failing to add the US to the expanded green list.
UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft said: “While it’s positive to see the green list expanded, don’t be fooled. This fundamentally makes absolutely no difference to the £28bn inbound tourism export industry and the half a million workers whose jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance.
“This puts the government’s Global Britain ambitions at risk. The UK’s most valuable markets – the US and Europe – still aren’t on the green list, meaning government has effectively wiped out the UK’s inbound summer season.
“If tourism businesses aren’t allowed to trade their way to recovery, government must provide sector-specific support until it’s possible to do so.”
British Airline Pilots Association acting general secretary Brian Strutton said: “The government has not gone as far as it could have in opening up safe travel but they clearly heard the industry’s voice and have responded.”
But he added: “It isn’t good enough to survive on and the absence of any US routes is a bitter blow. With some countries looking to shut us out, it is now imperative that the bespoke financial support the chancellor promised last year is delivered immediately.”
AllClear Travel Insurance chief executive Chris Rolland called for the traffic light system to be replaced by an industry-wide move “to make safety the number one consideration for the future of travel”.
HolidayPirates Group UK and North America commercial partnerships supervisor Nicholas Cooper said: “We were the pioneers in promoting Malta for this summer season by launching our very first campaign with the Malta Tourism Authority on June 11.
“We have always been convinced that Malta would be a key player in this industry recovery and we also relish the prospect of discovering the best deals for Madeira, the Caribbean islands and the crucial core holiday destination of the Balearic islands. ”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said:“This plan to phase out quarantine rules for fully vaccinated people returning from amber list countries is good news for travellers, but the government must address the current serious problems with the testing for travel system, as pre-departure and day 2 testing requirements are expected to remain in place.
“The government must urgently take steps to ensure its testing system is robust, accurate, and that all results are delivered on time, every time – not only to ensure travellers aren’t left out of pocket by a flawed testing system, but to protect the health of the country.”