Abta has warned that the travel industry cannot afford to wait for everyone to be vaccinated before holidays resume.
It has also reminded consumers that they can book summer holidays with confidence despite the current restrictions on travel.
The association was responding to comments by the transport secretary Grant Shapps on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday.
Presenter Louise Minchin asked him about how the government plans to lift tough restrictions on travel, saying: “What is the pathway, what needs to be the difference for this to change?”
He said: “First of all, everybody having their vaccinations.”
The government aims to vaccinate the entire British population, which is expected to take until autumn.
Minchin asked: “Until that’s done, these restrictions won’t be lifted?”
“Yes,” Shapps said, adding that the prime minister will set out more details on February 22.
An Abta spokesperson said: “If we wait for the full rollout of the vaccination programme in the UK before people start to travel overseas, we’ll lose another summer season to the pandemic – something the travel industry can’t afford.
“We need a reopening strategy that keeps up with the developing medical situation and with medical understanding and considers the role of optional vaccine certificates and testing together to open up travel.
“The government also needs to provide tailored financial support to help travel businesses through the difficulties they are facing.”
Shapps also told the BBC’s Today programme: “On the shrinking chance that there is anybody listening to this interview at this stage and thinking of booking a holiday under the current circumstances, bear in mind you cannot legally do that at the moment.
“Please don’t go ahead and book holidays for something which at this stage it is illegal to actually go and do – whether it’s here or abroad.”
The Abta spokesperson added: “You can book a summer holiday now with confidence by booking a package holiday through an Abta member, and many travel companies are also offering additional flexibility to take into account the uncertainty created by the pandemic.”
Trailfinders said Shapps’ comments were tantamount to “ignorance by a senior government minister of their own policies”.
“Unhelpfully the secretary of state for transport suggested booking a holiday was illegal – which of course is nonsense and needs an urgent retraction,” the agency said in a blog post.
“Most bookings are being made for months hence, in some cases a year or two ahead. They are booked entirely legally and with the very real expectation of being able to enjoy that holiday as booked.
“Booking a package with a travel organiser who can be trusted to refund and to answer their phones incurs no risk whatsoever.”
Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides appeared on BBC Breakfast after Shapps, and highlighted that it is not illegal to book a holiday.
“We confidently expect that by May – seeing that most of the over-50s will have been vaccinated by then – that we will be able to go ahead,” he told viewers.
Oliver Broad, joint managing director of the RB Collection, told Travel Weekly: “What we all need right now is a little hope, not the continual negative messages government ministers continue to send out on prime time news. The rhetoric this morning was all wrong by associating travel with a prison sentences.
“We all appreciate the severity of the situation and holidays should take place only when it is safe to do so… but it will be safe at some point in the future and what the country needs now is something to look forward to.”
Paul Charles, founder of the PC Agency, also expects travel to resume by May.
He said on Twitter: “Once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated by May, then the economy should open up and people should be allowed to travel across the #UK and overseas.”
However, consumer group Which? warned its readers that hotel quarantine, multiple Covid-19 tests and lockdowns mean “it’s not a good time to book a holiday for this year”.
“For now, there are certainly too many hurdles in place to expect holidays abroad to go ahead this summer,” said Which? Travel writer Trevor Baker.
“It’s unclear how long the hotel quarantine scheme will remain, but it adds substantial risk to holidays this summer.”
He pointed out that the need for tests may mean £500 is added to the cost of each holiday and said there is uncertainty about ‘vaccine passports’ – although vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that the government had no plans for such a policy.
“With all the unknowns…it’s not the right time to book a holiday. That doesn’t mean holidays in 2021 are completely off the cards,” Baker told Which? readers.
“It means we need to wait a little longer to see how vaccination rates bring infection levels down, and whether that can unlock travel between other countries with high vaccination rates.”
Scotland has gone further than the UK, and confirmed that all international arrivals to quarantine in managed hotels from February 15.
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) said it acknowledges foreign travel will be “extremely limited in the short and medium term” but said the travel industry needs a “proactive route map” out of the crisis as it is “on its knees”.
Alan Glen, council member and past president of the trade group, said: “Scotland needs its connectivity. As a small nation we need our flight routes to enable us to do business with the rest of the world. By reactively cutting off this connectivity, and by having different requirements in both Scotland and England for managed quarantine, there is currently no strategic view on how we can plan for recovery.
He said “it’s important to remember that outbound and inbound tourism are co-dependent”, worth about £1.5 billion and £2.5 billion respectively, adding: “How can Scotland make an economic recovery from this pandemic if we are happy to cut off these sums of money?
“Once we stop routes we risk losing them, and once we lose them we may never get them back. Staycations have been mooted as a tourism lifeline, but It’s unlikely that Scots alone will be able staycation the economy back to these levels. We urgently need a route map.”