UK government confirmation that international travel will no longer be illegal from Monday was marred by the caution of the initial green list of 12 destinations and an instruction not to travel to amber countries.
Only Portugal of the most-popular destinations made the UK green list, with the majority consigned to amber and the government giving notice that “people should not be travelling to amber and red countries for leisure”.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on Tuesday that the same traffic-light classification and green list will apply in Scotland from May 17.
Sturgeon warned: “We intend to be highly cautious given the situation with variants of concern.
“The four medical officers [of the four nations] have agreed the green list will be the exception not the rule.” She added: “Even as the rules change, we’re not saying travel is desirable.”
However, transport secretary Grant Shapps promised “a fast-developing situation”, confirming: “We’ll be reviewing how we can expand the green list every three weeks.”
The first review is due by June 7. The government is also committed to reviewing the traffic light system, including the type of Covid tests required, by June 28.
An industry source said “the three-week reviews will be critical, as will the review on June 28”, but warned: “People think ‘green’ means you can go to a country, but it doesn’t. It means you can return to the UK without quarantine.”
A second source agreed: “It’s confusing. People assume green means it’s OK to travel. It doesn’t, it means it’s OK to return.
“They’re being hyper-cautious and it’s frustrating. The Scottish government has said ‘Don’t expect too many changes’ to the green list.”
Most green destinations have yet to open to UK visitors. There is no entry to Singapore, Australia or New Zealand, for example, and Covid-19 test requirements remain in place elsewhere. The source noted: “At the moment, you can’t enter any of the green list destinations.”
Abta chairman and Blue Bay Travel chief executive Alistair Rowland said: “The government would have been better to have said ‘We’re delaying’ rather than announce 12 countries, many of which you can’t get to.”
Agents admitted they were caught off guard by the advice against travel to ‘amber’ destinations. Advantage Travel Partnership leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “We were expecting a softer message around ‘you can go’ to amber destinations but there are extra precautions’.”
But Rowland insisted amber destinations remain an “opportunity” for sales. He said his agency would follow Foreign Office advice which allows travel to some amber countries.
An industry source said: “Foreign Office (FCDO) advice will not mirror the green list. Shapps made that clear.”
A second source agreed: “The difference between FCDO advice and the green list is useful. If the FCDO says you can go, people can make a decision themselves. Foreign Office advice will be key, and what destinations say.”