UK holiday bookings soar after lockdown roadmap announcement
- UK travel operators report sales boost following UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap announcement
- Jet2Airways, TUi and other airlines axe all departures before May 17th
- UK holiday firms accused of capitalising on travellers keen to get away and escape the lockdown
- Vaccine passports could be introduced for vaccinated travellers in a matter of weeks
Governments worldwide have implemented stringent travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 and prevent mutations of the virus from crossing the border.
Last year, the UK set up air bridges to permit travel between the UK and countries with low coronavirus infection rates, such as Australia and New Zealand.
However, the growing spread of mutant variants prompted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce more stringent travel restrictions and ban all non-essential travel.
Britons returning to the UK from the government’s “red list” countries are required to self-isolate in government-designated quarantine hotels for ten days. Arrivals must also present a negative COVID taken within 72 hours of departure test to border enforcement upon entering the UK or face hefty fines and prison sentences.
The travel ban and new quarantine rules were met with uproar from the aviation and travel industry and avid holidaymakers. However, the tourism industry’s outlook appears to have improved following Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap announcement.
Travel companies report a spike in holiday bookings
Airlines, agents and operators have reported a significant increase in summer holiday bookings since Boris Johnson announced his lockdown exit strategy, with May 17th scheduled as the date for which international travel can resume.
TUI said bookings surged by 500% in the 24 hours succeeding the announcement, while competitor Thomas Cook said online traffic for its website soared by 100%.
Ibiza, Tenerife, Corfu and Crete appear to be popular summer destinations, with companies reporting a notable increase in bookings for these places from July 2021.
However, hopes to get away to Spain or Greece could be crushed as Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to confirm whether international travel will be able to resume as early as summer. Priti Patel warned avid travellers that it was “too early” to make holiday bookings now.
Decisions on when and how to ease international travel rules are likely to be made in April to give adequate notice to businesses and allow those keen to holiday abroad to make necessary preparations.
However, with May 17th set as the target date for when international travel will resume, many operators and airlines have axed all departures before this date.
TUi UK and Ireland Managing Director Andrew Flintham said: “All Tui holidays from England will not operate before May 17th, in agreement with the UK government’s policies.
“We will be contacting impacted customers directly, in departure date order, to discuss their options, which will include amending to a later date with an incentive or cancellation with a full refund.”
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays also extended their temporary ban on holidays until May 17th.
A representative from the low-cost airline told customers affected by the programme changes that a member of their travel teams will be in touch to help them with future holiday bookings and that Jet2holidays will automatically process refunds.
Conversely, EasyJet will continue to offer a limited number of flights under current lockdown restrictions. Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said EasyJet remains committed to its “Our Protection Promise and customers that have had flights cancelled elsewhere can book EasyJet flights with confidence.”
However, customers with bookings before May 17th don’t appear to be disheartened by cancellations.
Liam Race, chief executive at Leger Shearings Group, said: “Customers have said they would rather move bookings forward, knowing that summer vacations are more likely to go ahead.”
But several UK holiday firms have been met with backlash for hiking up prices after the Prime Minister unveiled his lockdown exit strategy.
UK holiday firms accused of exploiting customers
Some UK holiday operators have been accused of exploiting customers who are desperate to go on vacation after raising prices by more than 100% following reports that airlines have witnessed a substantial increase in summer holiday sales.
The latest FCDO travel advice warns against all but essential travel. However, the Prime Minister appears to have restored interest and hope in travel after stating families would be able to enjoy self-catered getaways from April 12th.
Since the announcement, customers have claimed prices on local breaks have doubled in price, with some short breaks costing more than GBP 1,000.
UK-based operators appear to be taking advantage of the possibility that international travel could be delayed past the May 17th target date and hiking up prices to customers’ dismay.
One of the UK’s largest self-catered staycation providers, Sykes Cottages, has been condemned for capitalising on demand and exploiting families keen to get away and escape the confinement of their home.
The UK company is believed to be one of several firms that have hiked up prices after Boris Johnson’s blueprint suggested that domestic holidays would be allowed to take place from April.
South West Tourism Alliance Chairman Alistair Handyside, who operates several holiday lets in Devon, has also raised concerns about UK holiday rental agencies taking advantage of Brits’ desperate to escape lockdown.
UK based operators might also be capitalising on reports that Britons could need vaccination passports for international travel.
Although Britain is rolling out vaccines at an accelerated pace, the government doesn’t expect to offer COVID jabs to the entire population until autumn, which could delay plans to travel abroad.
Vaccination passports could be ready within weeks
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Britons that have received their COVID-19 vaccinations could be offered new vaccine passports “within weeks,” which would provide more freedom to travel.
The IATA said passengers would have access to vaccine passports via an app that would allow border enforcement to verify whether travellers are protected against the virus.
If the rollout of the prototype is successful, it’s possible that vaccine passports will replace the safety measures and procedures currently being implemented to safeguard travel – to the delight of airlines and airports.
British airports, including London Heathrow, have reported substantial queues due to current travel restrictions and testing requirements, so streamlining health verification will be a positive development for the industry.
Several airlines are already conducting trials with IATA’s travel pass, which will be readily available on Android and iOS platforms. The vaccine passport will also operate on a “modular” system, meaning it can adapt to match each country’s entry requirements.