A sudden boost in foreign holiday bookings has been triggered by the imminent easing of travel restrictions.
Government confirmation on Friday night of the creation of travel corridors with low risk countries from July 6 sparked a surge in demand.
Tui reported a 50% week-on-week increase and 80% by lastminute.com, albeit from a historic low point for the peak summer period.
Traffic light system
The list of travel corridors with the UK is expected to include Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Turkey, Germany and Norway.
Countries will be classified as green, amber or red depending on the risk assessment and arrivals from those in the green and amber categories will be exempt from a 14-day quarantine, with a Foreign Office ban on all but essential travel adjusted accordingly.
A second wave of Covid-19 in and around Lisbon suggests that Portugal appears unlikely to be included in the initial phase of ‘safe’ countries.
However, professor Henrique Barros, a leading epidemiologist and president of Portugal’s National Health Council, has told his UK counterparts the outbreak is “clearly controlled,” there is no scientific or empirical justification for excluding Portugal from the list, and that the UK Covid-19 status is “worse”.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “The places where tourists tend to walk around are the safest in the country. Tourists are not taking the overcrowded metro or train at 6am in the morning to go to work.
“They are using Uber or taxis, they go to the restaurant, they stay in hotels. I mean the risk is almost negligible.”
Portugal’s secretary of state for tourism Rita Baptista Marques told BBC Breakfast her country had been named the most secure destination in Europe by the World Tourism and Travel Council and is a “clean and safe destination”.
She added that the situation is “completely under control”, with significant testing being carried out.
Latest booking trends suggest Spain and Greece are most in demand as lockdown measures are relaxed.
But Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis suggested that it could be up to three weeks before the country is happy to open up an air bridge to the UK, as discussions with health experts are continuing.
Tui UK and Ireland restarts its operations on July 11 with the first flights departing from Gatwick to Ibiza and Birmingham to Palma.
It will operate 44 flights a week to eight destinations between July 11-24 and will increase to 19 destinations from July 25, ramping up its short and mid-haul flying further from August.
Tui UK and Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham said: “We’re pleased the government has finally confirmed that holidays overseas will be able to go ahead, and the full list of green and amber destinations will be released on Wednesday.
“It’s a hugely positive step forward for the travel industry and I know our customers will be ecstatic that their summer is saved.
“We can’t wait to take our customers on holiday to some of their favourite destinations from 11th July.
“We’ve already seen bookings increase by 50% this week, verses last, with holidays to Spain and Greece looking the most popular this summer. We know there were a lot of people hoping to travel and waiting for certainty that would be possible. Our airline, overseas and hotel teams look forward to welcoming our customers back very soon.”
FCO advice call
John Bevan, chief executive of dnata Travel Group, said: “We’re ready to start converting [interest] into bookings and helping Brits holiday again.
“But our ability to do so continues to be hampered by the Foreign Office’s blanket advice against all but essential travel, which it must surely also lift soon, and a lack of clarity over these new guidelines.”
He added: “Huge damage has been caused to the UK travel industry by the Covid-19 crisis which will take years to rectify. Although there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel, this is very much the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.
“We’d urge the government to be seriously examining what other ways it can support us in the hard months ahead – whether through the suspension of Air Passenger Duty on new bookings for 12 months, or other means of stimulus.”
Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent, said: “We’re anticipating a spike in demand when air bridges are implemented, for our European villas and other holidays closer to home on the continent. This is exactly what the travel industry needs and of course, will help the mood of the nation.
“We applaud the UK government for finally giving the UK travel industry the lifeline it needs to get back on the road to recovery. We know that our clients are itching to travel and get back to exploring the world safely.”
Eurotunnel reported record Le Shuttle bookings on Saturday.
The company tweeted: “We’re sorry our online booking system couldn’t cope with demand yesterday. Our techies have added extra capacity, and we’ve asked extra team members in to answer the phones, so hopefully today will be better.”
Andy Freeth, chief executive of If Only, tweeted: “We could be set for a perfect storm this week. Government set to open air bridges, hopefully FCO advice changes and it looks like a full week of rain ahead.”
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