Holiday bookings collapse 83% as travel restrictions bite


New summer holiday bookings for 2021 were just one-sixth of those for 2019, the leading travel industry body says. Abta, the travel association, blames the government’s “traffic light” system of restrictions.

It warns seven out of 10 holiday firms plan to cut jobs when the government’s furlough scheme ends on 30 September.

The current traffic light arrangements involve multiple tests for arrivals even from low-risk “green list” countries and mandatory hotel quarantine from high-risk “red list” nations.

Briefings from government suggest the system will be dismantled, with an end to obligatory expensive and onerous PCR tests after arrival.

But Abta says data indicate that the rules have had a “devastating impact” on the travel industry.

All overseas holidays were banned for 19 weeks until 17 May. Even when international leisure travel was permitted, only one mainstream destination was open without quarantine on return the UK: Portugal.

Within 10 days it was moved off the green list, triggering a race to beat the self-isolation deadline.

In July, quarantine was lifted from “amber list” destinations – except from France, because of fears about infections from Reunion island, 6,000 miles away.

By August, holidaymakers from Mexico were given 78 hours to get out or face hotel quarantine – followed shortly afterward by a similar deadline for British travellers in Montenegro.

Almost half of travel companies reported they have seen no increase in 2021 bookings compared to last year, despite the rollout of the vaccine programme.

Abta says the majority (58 per cent) of bookings with departure dates in July or August this year had to be postponed or cancelled.

The chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “The government’s travel requirements have choked off this summer’s travel trade, putting jobs, businesses and the UK’s connectivity at risk.

“While our European neighbours have been travelling freely and safely, the British were subject to expensive measures which have stood in the way of people visiting family and friends, taking that much-needed foreign holiday and making important business connections.

“The government needs to wake up to the damage its policies are doing to the UK travel industry and the impact they will have on the wider economic recovery.

“It is the fares from leisure passengers that keep our planes flying and routes open – a diminished holiday industry is a diminished aviation industry with fewer routes and fewer flights. That’s not how you achieve a global Britain.”

Abta is calling for an end to the traffic light system, with only a short red list “for the management of known variants of concern”.

The association estimates nearly 100,000 jobs in the outbound travel sector have been lost as “the government’s overly cautious travel requirements have led to the UK trailing behind its European competitors”.

“There is no logical explanation as to why people who are fully vaccinated should be taking expensive PCR tests – or any test at all – when returning from lower risk countries.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority – public health.

“We have always been guided by the science, and decisions on our traffic light system are kept under regular review and are informed by the latest risk assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and wider public health factors.”


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