‘Still time’ to salvage 2021 bookings, say tour operators

Tour operator bosses say there is “still time” to salvage 2021 bookings with an expansion of the green list on the next review and extending seasons to make up for a “slow start”.

Only 12 countries made the government’s green list last Friday, with most countries listed as amber and Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal placed on the red list.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy said there “is still time” for the short-haul operator, which is due to resume its operations on June 24, before which there are further reviews of the government lists.

“Overseas governments are going to be working very hard with the British government to try and give them some confidence that they’re ready to receive people.

“If the government have set criteria, they’re going to have to meet that criteria. But, in respect of our start of operations, they’ve got six weeks to get there.

“So I’m not giving up on any other destinations yet. I think there’s a very good chance that we’ll get some islands in the next review period and then, hopefully, the bulk of the major destinations by the end of June.

Heapy said the announcement of the traffic light lists has boosted demand, not just for green list destinations like Portugal but for “most destinations”.

“It tends to be the case that when you get good news, that the destinations that the good news relates to get a big boost but other destinations ride on the coattails a bit.

“What Friday did was show that, hopefully, we’re at the beginning beginning of the end – and that confidence is returning.

“All destinations have seen an improvement since Friday, but obviously for the ones that are open it’s much better.  We hope that confidence will continue, particularly if, at the next review period, more destinations are added in.”

Paul Cleary, chief executive of Caribtours, said Caribbean destinations were “desperate for business” and have “been doing the right thing all along” so should be on the green list at the next review.

He said most Caribbean islands have managed the crisis “incredibly well”, including closing borders early in March 2020. “They all feel that they’ve done everything that has been asked of them and more yet, they’re still not on the list,” he said.

“I would imagine (last) Friday was met with great disappointment. They’ve got to be on the next list. There’s no point complaining, of course, but this is bitterly disappointing.”

Cleary said Portugal had a “great day” after the announcement, with an “immediate impact” to the point the operator struggled to secure hotel space as it focussed on its short-haul programme.

He agreed people were seeing the traffic light announcement as a signal of the “beginning of the end” as international travel is no longer illegal.

“These lists are complicated to understand,” he said. “But people now know that they can have a summer holiday this year.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency, said “we’ve got to be positive” that things are “underway”.

“I hope the airlines and tourism boards we represent realise that this summer actually could be very exciting,” he said. “They’ve got to be innovative. They’ve got to look at how they’re going to extend the seasons.

“Can we really excite consumers to be booking for October, November? How are they going to be incentivised?

“It’s going to take some time, but I hope we have a really long season this year to make up for the slow start to the summer.”

Heapy confirmed Jet2holidays has extended the season for some destinations already. “We’ve got various scenarios ready to dust off as and when.

“I think the confidence will continue to build through the summer and we could be in for a very, very strong end to the summer,” he said.

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