Industry leaders are urging the government to continue supporting the travel sector as it targets a resumption of overseas holidays in mid-May.
The government’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England means self-catering breaks can resume from April 12 and overseas holidays can begin from May 17 at the earliest, if infection rates allow.
A successor to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce will report by April 12 “so that people can plan for the summer”, said prime minister Boris Johnson.
Many welcomed the roadmap but there was dismay from others about the timescale as firms struggle to survive.
Gloria Guevara, World Travel & Tourism Council, president and chief, said: “While we welcome the incredible progress the UK government has made on the vaccine rollout programme, delaying the return of international travel until at least mid-May, could mean the travel and tourism sector simply won’t survive and struggling SMEs will just disappear.
“The sector was banking its hopes on a quicker return to international travel, so there will be widespread dismay at this news.”
John Grant, senior analyst at OAG, told the Telegraph that the announcement from the prime minister is just “probably going to be the final nail in the coffin” for some aviation companies.
“Airlines were hoping for better news, tour operators are banking on an early season rush – and that has now evaporated,” he told the newspaper.
He said nearly 16 million scheduled seats had been planned to operate from early April to the middle of May from the UK.
Theresa May: Preparation time needed
Former prime minister Theresa May warned the roadmap does not give businesses and the public enough time to plan summer holidays.
Her Maidenhead constituency is close to Heathrow airport and she told prime minister: “The industry needs three months of preparation from the point of certainty.”
Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Conservatives MPs’ Covid Recovery Group, said: “[The] pace of change will be a hammer blow to aviation, pubs, restaurants, hotels, gyms and pools, the arts and entertainment.”
Miles Morgan, founder of Miles Morgan Travel agency, said on Twitter that he is “disappointed” with the timescales, saying he was “appalled” at transport secretary Grant Shapps for closing down the Global Travel Taskforce.
“This delay is while you set it back up again, the industry needs to plan,” he said.
He also criticised the different approaches in England, Wales and Scotland, saying: “If ever there was a time to be the truly United Kingdom, it’s now. 3 different sets of rules and unlocks is confusing and wrong. A United Kingdom helps us all.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, welcomed the roadmap but added: “The Global Travel Taskforce now has a vital job to do over the coming weeks to create a clear and deliverable plan for overseas travel ahead of the publication deadline of April 12, so that people can start planning for the summer at the earliest opportunity.
“Despite this hugely important step in the right direction, we must not lose sight of the fact aviation will be one of the last sectors to reopen and our recovery from the biggest crisis we have ever faced will not happen overnight.
“Next week’s Budget represents an immediate opportunity to acknowledge the unique plight of our sector, and its critical role in driving the recovery of the wider UK economy.”
The British Airline Pilots Association echoed his comments, with Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton saying: “Airlines and airports need financial support to survive until then because we have got at least three more months of grounded aircraft ahead, with virtually no revenue coming in to the airlines at all. I urge the government to look urgently and seriously at an economic support package for the travel sector.”
Karl Thompson, managing director of Unique Caribbean Holidays – Sandals and Beaches Resorts’ UK tour operator – added: “We had hoped to save all of May’s business if it was safe to do so, as we have a lot on the books, but if we can get customers away from halfway through the month it’ll be fantastic.
Sandals: Vaccine rollout gives ‘cautious optimism’
“I am cautiously optimistic that with the progress of the vaccine rollout in the UK and with it starting in the Caribbean, there are good times ahead.
“The industry still needs clarity on the requirements for travellers when they can go on holiday, such as whether the current testing and quarantine requirements will remain in place.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock sounded a note of caution about overseas holidays when speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday.
“We have put in the dates that we would like to see [international travel] opened up but they are ‘not before’ dates,” he said.
He said the impact of new variants needs to be assessed to allow travel to open up.
“If that is good then great, but if there is a variant that can get around the vaccine that would set us back.
“We would need to be cautious, we just don’t know the science.”