UK green list could include most European countries

  • UK government gives the green light for summer holidays
  • A traffic light system will be introduced to grade countries based on their COVID-19 risk
  • EasyJet CEO predicts flights to most European countries will be on the UK’s travel “green list”
  • Quarantine free travel only likely to countries with successful jab programmes and low COVID-19 infection rates
  • EasyJet warns of pre-tax losses worth up to GBP 730M

After months of uncertainty, the UK government has finally offered some hope on the travel horizon, and it seems that international travel for the summer holidays is full-steam ahead.

While industry leaders have said that summer recovery will likely be “soft” in 2021, the Global Travel Taskforce (GTT) published a report confirming that travel can restart from the May 17th target date.

However, several industry leaders slammed the report, which included plans to introduce a new traffic light system. Tourism bosses stated that the summer recovery plans are “too cautious and too complex.”

Under the new traffic light system, travellers arriving from “green” destinations will not be required too self-isolate. However, those returning from “amber” travel destinations will be subjected to tougher protocols, including the need to purchase costly PCR tests.

The lack of specificity and clarity over new rules prompted low-cost airline, Jet2holidays to delay its restart date to June 24th.

While other airlines continue to prepare for a return to the skies on May 17th, a GTT source commented: “We need a lot more to restart at scale, and some of the protocols are draconian. Green we can work with if we reduce expenses – testing will be a major area of focus.”

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said he expects a return to the skies this summer to be patchy as the latest report has failed to restore confidence in would-be tourists and British holidaymakers.

Gatwick Airport

London’s Heathrow Airport CEO expects a “soft” return to the skies

London Heathrow boss, John Holland-Kaye, told Travel Weekly: “May 17th will probably be a soft launch providing the British government doesn’t push back the restart date.”

Mr Holland-Kaye went on to say that the end of June review will be significant for the tourism industry, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions.

According to official figures, passenger levels are approximately 95% lower than their pre-pandemic levels, and the lack of certainty surrounding summer holidays will ensure that demand remains relatively depressed.

Industry leaders were disappointed with the Prime Minister’s Easter update. They joined forces on Wednesday, urging the UK government to provide further clarity on the new plans and which destinations would be added to Britain’s “green list” when restrictions are lifted.

European destination on UK's green list

Travel industry calls for further clarity from the UK government

On Thursday, chief executives from the travel and aviation industry called for more clarity on the UK government’s international travel approach. They warned about many tourism firms being on the brink of collapse.

The senior industry figures also told MPs that their overall strategy was “vague” and that airports are already unable to cope with current COVID rules for checks and regulations despite the reduced passenger capacity levels.

They warned that with capacity levels expected to rise as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the new traffic light system would likely result in long queues and border delays.

The UK government has insisted that a cautious approach needs to be taken to prevent mutant strains of the virus from washing up on British shores.

Countries will be assessed and classified as “green”, “amber”, or “red” based on their coronavirus jab programmes, infection rate and prevalence of variants of concern.

Given that nations such as the United States and Israel have progressive vaccine rollouts, it’s likely that these destinations will feature on the UK’s green travel list.

However, with much of Europe experiencing a third COVID wave and national lockdown’s being extended across the continent, industry officials are worried that popular European countries will not make the green list.

If placed on Britain’s amber list, holidaymakers arriving from European countries could be required to quarantine for ten days. Industry professionals have warned that this could dissuade people from flying to these travel destinations.

The UK government said further information on the traffic light list would be provided in early May, with GOV.UK writing, “it is too early to predict which countries will feature on what list for the summer.”

Despite the lack of clarity on overseas travel, several European countries, such as Greece, said they would welcome vaccinated Brits ahead of the UK’s May 17th target date.

Greece is preparing to ease quarantine restrictions and restart the tourism industry from May 14th, with nine airports across the nation reopening, including Athens, Mykonos and Santorini.

Britain is yet to reveal which countries will be open to Brits when overseas holidays resume. However, given that holidays to Europe will significantly impact the UK travel industry’s recovery outlook, ministers are likely to come under increasing pressure to include EU states on the green list.

EasyJet CEO, Johan Lundgren, is confident that ministers will include popular European countries on the green list and remains optimistic about the low-budget airline’s post-lockdown prospects.

EasyJet predictions

EasyJet expects most European countries to feature on UK “green list”

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren expects the UK’s low-risk “green” category to include most European countries, meaning holidaymakers will not need to quarantine upon return to England unless testing positive for COVID-19.

While Mr Lundgren criticised plans to mandate COVID-19 testing for passengers returning to the UK from “green” category countries as it threatens to price out ordinary households from holidaying, he was relatively optimistic about which countries would make the low-risk list.

When questioned about what European destination he believes the UK government will add to the list, Johan Lundgren said he expects countries such as Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey despite the comparatively high infection rates to Britain.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), as of April 15th, France has recorded 51,498,34 COVID-19 cases, Italy trails with 38,091,93, followed by Spain, with 33,870,22 cases, and Greece with an infection rate of 304,184.

Despite Johan Lundgren’s optimism, the reality is that vaccination data and COVID-19 infection rates will play a crucial role in determining categorisation – a massive blow for those hoping to enjoy quarantine-free travel to Europe.

That’s not to say it’s not all “doom and gloom”. Experts suspect that other countries such as Anguilla, Malta, Barbados, Mauritius, Iceland, US, Israel, Seychelles and the Maldives with low infection rates or successful jab programmes will be categorised as “green”.

Nonetheless, airlines and airports will likely record losses for the upcoming quarter as they ramp up their operations in preparation for increased summer demand.

EasyJet expects winter losses of up to GBP 730M

On Wednesday, UK airline EasyJet announced that it expects to record a pre-tax loss of up to GBP 730M for the winter period, which CEO Johan Lundgren said was “above expectations.”

The budget carrier said its capacity levels slumped by 89% for the six months to March 31st 2021, compared to the previous year, as 6.4 million seats were cut.

Data also showed that annual revenue dropped by 90% to GBP 235M, while passenger revenue plunged by 91% to GBP 165M and ancillary revenue slumped 87% to GBP 70M.

Nonetheless, the airline said it is “well-positioned to capitalise on the predicted summer recovery for the industry.”

The budget carrier expects to fly up to 20% of its pre-pandemic capacity over Q3 and said it possesses the flexibility to ramp up operations or reduce capacity levels if required.

EasyJet has raised over GBP 5.5BN since UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the first national lockdown and made some significant restructuring and cost-cutting decisions to ensure the airline’s survival.

While much remains uncertain, EasyJet expects to increase its flying capacity from May 2022 – in line with reports detailing a surge in holiday bookings for the month.

The airline’s bullish outlook helped lift its shares by 3% on Wednesday, and while the strong recovery has faded on Thursday, EasyJet shares could soar as holiday sales increase.