The prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown has prompted a spike in bookings for domestic and overseas holidays.
Airlines, agents and operators reported increased sales and inquiries in the wake of the government announcement on Monday.
Domestic breaks in self-contained accommodation can resume from April 12 and May 17 is the earliest date from which overseas holidays can start again.
EasyJet said bookings surged in the wake of the announcement, with Malaga, Alicante, Palma, Faro and Crete among the top destinations and August proving the most popular time for travel.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “The prime minister’s address has provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK with demand for flights up 337% and holidays up 630% already compared to last week and beach destinations proving most popular for this summer.”
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays saw a “dramatic” spike as bookings increased by 600% after the announcement.
Popular destinations include Spain and its islands, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey and there was a notable increase in bookings from July, which continues through the rest of the school holidays and summer 2021.
However, with the May 17 date fixed as the earliest for international travel, Jet2.com and Jet2holidays have extended the suspension of flights and holidays to May 16.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, said: “We have seen enormous pent-up demand from British holidaymakers for some time.”
Greece, Spain and Turkey demand
Andrew Flintham, Tui UK and Ireland managing director, commented: “We know there’s a huge demand to travel, with demand for Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onwards the most booked overnight, with bookings up 500%.”
The BBC reported that Thomas Cook said it had bookings already “flooding in” for Greece, Cyprus, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Agents also reported a rise in inquiries after Boris Johnson’s announcement in the House of Commons.
Steve Witt, co-founder of homeworking agency group Not Just Travel, said: “It is a much clearer timeline than many people had expected. We’ve already seen a surge in enquiries and bookings as clients want to make bookings before everywhere is full.
“We are anticipating UK holidays to be another big seller this year and it’s likely many people will be disappointed if they don’t book early.
“Greece, Spain, Turkey and UAE are also likely to be very strong destinations for the second half of this year.”
Amanda Matthews, managing director and owner of Designer Travel, told the BBC that her agency has seen double the number of enquiries and new bookings for the summer.
“But we’ve also had hundreds of calls from people who’ve got bookings for travel in March, April, May and June – still very uncertain about whether they will be travelling or not.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive, cautioned: “Whilst we have every reason to feel optimistic, for international travel there is a significant amount of detail that needs to be worked through prior to travel companies being given the green light to restart operations.”
Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, said its members had seen website activity surge overnight – and warned demand may outstrip supply.
Chairman Chris Rowles also said proof of vaccination and affordable testing must be high on the agenda for the reconvened Global Travel Taskforce.
“We have no concerns whatever about countries welcoming British visitors again. Already many of the key European destinations have stated that they look forward to tourism restarting; their economies depend hugely upon British travellers,” he said.
Rowles also reiterated industry calls for sector-specific support from the chancellor in his Budget next week.
Liam Race, chief executive at Leger Shearings Group, said: “The announcement provides clarity and will bring bookings forward; already today we had our best sales day in three months.”
Search and travel deals site icelolly.com reported that searches for UK breaks increased by 600% compared with the previous Monday, while searches for overseas holidays increased 100%.
Chris Webber, head of travel deals, said: “[The] announcement has given many the confidence to resume that search for a summer holiday, with the UK the firm favourite for earlier in the summer and overseas travel proving more popular for further down the line.”
Industry commentators were keen to highlight the need for flexible booking conditions in case plans have to change.
Witt said: “We are anticipating there to be a lot of flexibility around refunds and rebookings.
“The customer is open-minded that dates and destinations may change accordingly. We hope there won’t have to be a lot of changes to bookings this year, but if there are, we are ready to deal with them.”
Covid test cost concerns
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, tweeted about concerns that holidaymakers need to consider, including the cost of tests for many destinations; the risk of countries being added to the ‘red list’, which entails £1,750 hotel quarantine; and not getting vaccinated in time.
He said flexible booking policies can “mitigate some but not all of those issues”.
“You will, as ever, be far better protected by a good package holiday provider – although there no way to remove risk of hotel quarantine until government stops it,” he said.
Tui’s Flintham said holidays booked for dates before May 17 are now cancelled.
“We will be contacting impacted customers directly, in departure date order, to discuss their options, which will include amending to a later date with an incentive or cancelling and receiving a full refund,” he said.
“We know our customers are looking forward to their holidays, so to offer continued flexibility and reassurance, we have extended our free changes policy to the end of June. Those due to travel between May 17 and the end of June can change their booking to a later date fee-free.”
Joe Ponte, Inghams’ chief executive, echoed the message of reassurance as he welcomed the roadmap.
He said: “Inghams customers already take much reassurance from our In Safe Hands promise and continue to book safe in the knowledge that should overseas holidays not be able to go ahead this summer, we will offer them the choice of moving their holiday to a later date or a full refund.
“That said, yesterday’s plan can only bring further booking confidence for summer holidays, potentially from mid-May onwards.”
Paul Charles, co-founder of the Save Our Summer campaign said: “We’re delighted that so many firms united to campaign successfully for a May restart date.
“While thanking them for their widespread support, we will also continue to hold the government to account to ensure the re-opening on May 17.
“Sixteen million people will have been jabbed twice by then and eligible to travel.
“It is a date set in stone for consumers to travel from and the government needs to ensure world-class testing is in place for those not vaccinated twice.”