The trade has hailed news of the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine as a ‘game changer’ for the sector’s recovery, but insisted airport testing must also take place.
The pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccine, which has a 90% success rate, said it could be ready for mass rollout early next year.
Agents and operators were optimistic the news would boost consumer confidence in booking holidays.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said: “This is a game-changing announcement. With news normal life could return in spring next year, [transport secretary] Grant Shapps talking about airport testing from December and mass testing in Liverpool, Monday was a seismic day.”
Share prices in a number of travel firms climbed sharply on Monday and agents and operators reported a rise in enquiries.
Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president Joanne Dooey, who owns three-branch agency Love To Travel, said: “This is the first glimmer of hope in eight months.
“My staff are seeing more enquiries for next summer. It’s what we need for people to start booking again, but we must also push forward with getting tests at airports.”
Abta said the news would “go some way” to restoring consumer confidence but urged the government to press on with securing a testing regime for December, a regional approach to quarantine and tailored support for the trade.
A spokesperson said: “We must remember a robust vaccine programme is many months away and the industry is struggling now.”
The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) called on the Foreign Office to adopt a “more rational” approach to travel advice and airport testing.
Airline bosses were optimistic. Ryanair plans to operate 75% to 80% of its 2019 capacity next summer. Chief executive Michael O’Leary told a World Travel Market session: “It’s reasonable to think those most at risk will be vaccinated by the end of Q1.
“Then it’s reasonable to think summer 2021 will get back to some level of normality.”
Lee Haslett, vice-president of global sales at Virgin Atlantic, told a separate session: “It’s incredibly encouraging. A vaccine, combined with a clear testing regime at airports and commitments from the industry to work together, will get us moving.”
Morgan said it was “a certainty” that holiday prices would go up, and that customers must appreciate travel firms have been “living on thin air for months”. “It’s about survival,” he said.
Emma Coulthurst, travel commentator at holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket, said: “Looking at package holiday search and booking data, there has been an increase in bookings for April 2021 in the last week, compared with the previous week.
“This is likely to be down to hopes that a testing regime will be in place and working well by Easter.
“Holidaymakers who have been put off by the sudden lockdown and quarantine restrictions are likely to pinning their hopes on getting away for the first major holiday period next year for families.
“We expect this upward trend for April bookings to continue in the next few days, following Monday’s news.”
She added: “We just need the government to also now act, in close unison with the travel industry, to enable those who do not have the virus to travel to countries with low incidence of the virus without heavy quarantine restrictions on return.
“The government’s Travel Taskforce is expected to report back in the next week on its progress with measures to get travel opened up again.
“The hope is that we will be able to move away from this stop-start approach and sudden quarantines for countries where often the number of cases of Covid per population size are less than here in the UK.
“A EU-wide system of co-ordinated testing and health and safety measures is needed – and quickly – to enable travel to be opened up again to destinations where incidences of the virus are low.
“Aviation gets the attention but there are also many inbound and outbound travel businesses which contribute to a huge travel and tourism industry in the UK and employ many people.”