The government’s travel corridors policy is no longer valid as so few countries can now be visited without the need to quarantine on return after Italy became the latest country to be removed from the list.
While restrictions were lifted on travel to Crete, Greece and Cyprus are the only two Mediterranean holiday options now available ahead of the October school half-term.
The latest changes made by transport secretary Grant Shapps triggered renewed industry calls for Covid testing and sector specific support amid fears that many travel firms will struggle to survive the winter.
Quarantine restrictions now apply to more than 60 countries, including most of Europe, North America, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Some Asian countries can be visited but many are closed to international arrivals.
The Australian state of Victoria is now exempt from the Foreign Office advice against all non-essential travel, based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks, but the country’s borders remain closed.
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “With Italy now removed from the UK government’s ‘safe list’ of travel corridors, and with the increase in Covid cases at home and across Europe, travel agents selling overseas travel have come to a standstill with virtually nothing left to sell.
“The lack of financial support for travel agents has created a number of business failures, close to 100,000 jobs in the UK lost or at risk and a job support scheme which adds no support to businesses like travel agents who are open but due to government imposed border restrictions have no income.
“Understandably, consumer confidence is low and we must work with the government to find a way, when appropriate to resume flights and travel for both business and leisure travel.
“With little to no revenue being generated since March there has been significant repercussions on businesses and jobs at risk, meaning there is a mental health crisis looming, which has been demonstrated through our recent case studies.
“This leaves an industry destitute and in need of urgent government support to ensure it can survive the pandemic and ensure Britain is back to being connected as a global nation.”
An Abta spokesperson said: “The removal of Italy from the travel corridors list is a major blow for many winter operators in the UK travel industry, and again demonstrates that travel businesses are effectively being forced to close by the government’s measures to control coronavirus – yet, unlike other sectors such as hospitality, travel has received no sector specific support.
“As the furlough scheme winds down, it is vital that the government focuses on restarting travel and that tailored support is made available for travel businesses.
“Recovery of travel depends on the urgent introduction of a testing regime, which will provide an additional mitigation to keep destinations open, as well as fully regionalised travel corridors, and a move back to country specific foreign travel advice.
“Without these measures, we will continue to see travel businesses failing and tens of thousands more jobs will be lost.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “The government’s travel corridors system has all but collapsed, with most destinations now removed from the list and holidaymakers with trips booked to Italy for half term facing the potentially lengthy and stressful process of trying to claw their money back from their airline or travel provider.
“The travel industry is in dire need of urgent targeted support if it is to survive the winter months.
“The government must look to seriously reform the sector, in order to help struggling companies that are prepared to meet their legal obligations to holidaymakers and ensure people are protected when coronavirus restrictions prevent them from travelling as planned.”
Paul Charles, founder of travel consultancy PC Agency, described 2020 as “a washout” for the travel sector and urged the government to focus on strong revival for early 2021 and beyond.
“Europe and the Med have almost become no-go zones if you want to avoid quarantine on your return,” he said.
“The current quarantine system should now be replaced by an effective traveller testing programme mixed with a very short quarantine period.
“This would help business and leisure travel recover as we learn to live with coronavirus.”
EasyJet holidays and the relaunched online Thomas Cook immediately cancelled holidays to Italy.
A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: “The removal of Italy is a real blow for UK holidaymakers, especially with half-term on the horizon.
“Italy is one of our most popular destinations but hopefully the British public will find some consolation in being able to once again fly to Crete quarantine-free.”
Matt Callaghan, easyJet holidays customer director, said: “It’s our mission to make sure our customers have safe, comfortable and enjoyable holidays, so with this front of mind we will cancel all holidays where the FCDO advises all but essential travel.
“We share how disappointing this news will be that we’ve had to cancel holidays to Italy. But we’ve acted straight away to contact our customers who are immediately affected to explain their options.”
Meanwhile, easyJet holidays is discounting holidays to Spain by £100 on bookings over £1,000 made by midnight on October 20 with a £60 per person deposit for travel between January 1 and the end of October 2021.
The government said it has made “consistently clear it will take decisive action if necessary to contain the virus, including removing countries from the travel corridors list rapidly if the public health risk of people returning from a particular country without self-isolating becomes too high”.