Leading industry figures foresee a gradual reopening of travel with tiers of destinations and layers of restrictions depending on UK government risk assessments of countries and destination requirements of UK travellers.

Abta director of industry relations Susan Deer said: “The vaccination programme has to make some difference to us being able to travel this year. [But] realistically, we’re going to see a gradual opening. I don’t think it’s going to be a light-switch moment where travel to all destinations will be switched on simultaneously.”

She told a Travel Weekly Future of Travel Forum: “There are two considerations. One is the UK assessment of the destinations and then there is the destinations’ assessments of the UK as a source market. The destinations we speak to [at Abta] see the UK as an attractive source market. They’re admiring of the vaccination programme and confident we’re going to get people travelling in May or early summer.

“We would like to see a system that uses mitigation measures like testing so you don’t have a situation where a destination is either on or off sale and you don’t go from being on sale to off sale with immediate effect.”

Deer added: “It would be fantastic if we’re able to travel between destinations in similar situations with no restrictions. If the situation changes, you introduce mitigation measures as an alternative to switching the destination off sale. Ideally, we would like a system that has more stability this summer.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, agreed: “There has to be a multilayered approach because it’s as difficult for the industry as it is for passengers to deal with a sudden on-off.

“We’re going to see countries such as Greece and Cyprus looking at ways you can travel freely if you’ve been vaccinated, but you’re going to need a test if you don’t have a vaccination certificate.” He argued: “It’s important we have bilateral agreements between countries.”

The system should not preclude travel beyond Europe, said Wratten: “There is no reason if you have the criteria in place that any country which fits those criteria can’t be opened up.”

Restarting long-haul will partly depend on developing processes for handling transit passengers.

Iata UK and Ireland country manager Simon McNamara told the forum: “Transit passengers were flagged as an issue by the first taskforce. We need to ensure we’re not excluding people because of restrictions on transiting airside as we saw last year. We expect this to be part of a restart plan.”

He argued: “If the roadmap is to be believed, we’re all dashing back to nightclubs on June 21. I find it hard to believe we’ll not able to travel to France for a business trip if that’s the case.”