Changes to the UK’s traffic light system and Covid testing have kickstarted a much-needed upturn in time for the trade to capitalise on demand for half-term and winter holidays.
The government’s decision to scrap the amber category from October 4 and ditch pre-departure Covid tests and day two arrival tests in England was welcomed by agents and operators.
The mood of positivity was further bolstered by confirmation that the US would accept fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK from early November.
The simplification of international travel requirements means there will be a red list of countries, requiring hotel quarantine on return to England, while all other destinations will be considered “open”.
The Department for Transport confirmed its biggest overhaul of the traffic light system and testing rules as it removed eight countries from the red list, including Turkey, Egypt and the Maldives. But the trade cautioned changes for devolved nations still needed to be made, with measures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales still under consideration.
Advantage Travel Partnership said the news gave members “a key opportunity to sell and bring in some much-needed cash” in advance of October’s half-term holiday, particularly boosted by Turkey and Egypt’s removal from the red list.
The consortium’s bookings leapt 31% at the weekend compared with the previous weekend, and trading overall last week reached 75% of 2019 volumes.
Speakers on a Travel Weekly webcast said obstacles remained but broadly hailed the changes. Designer Travel owner Amanda Matthews described the removal of pre-departure testing as “the biggest plus point”.
She said the agency had enjoyed the strongest week “for months and months”, even outperforming 2019.
Matthews added: “I didn’t expect Turkey to bounce back so quickly; we’ve got a real mix of Turkey for October half-term and next summer.”
Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said October 2021 had overtaken June 2022 as the agency’s most popular month for travel but said a “complete four‑nation approach” was needed. She added: “Travel must be accessible for every UK traveller.”
Not Just Travel said average booking values were up £1,088 on the previous week, with imminent departures accounting for 41% of business and winter 21/22 making up 23% of sales.
The Travel Network Group gave a more sober assessment, saying enquiries had risen but “not necessarily bookings” and emphasising the news was “not enough” to save some firms.
The group, which continues to lobby for a ‘travel business grant’, called for more consistency in announcements and urged the government to publish criteria for destinations turning red and a minimum notice period of 14 days.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan agreed. He said: “If countries simply move to the red list on a Thursday for a deadline of 4am on Saturday, we have a huge problem.”
Hotels in the US on booking site trivago reported 149% more clicks on Monday compared to the same day last week from users in the UK.