COVID-19: Holiday-starved Britons flock to book a break after lockdown exit plans revealed

Holiday bookings have jumped as eager Britons see light at the end of the tunnel after Monday’s roadmap announcement by the government.

Under the roadmap, which sets a path out of England’s coronavirus lockdown, foreign holidays could be allowed as early as 17 May. Currently non-essential travel is banned.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that there would be a review published on 12 April into international travel before holidays could resume.

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He said: “That review will be informed by the evidence that we’re currently collecting on the impact of the vaccine on these, the so-called South Africa and Brazil new variants.

“If the vaccine works well against them, then we can be much more relaxed about international travel.

“If the vaccine doesn’t work against them, then that will be much, much more difficult.”

EasyJet said flight bookings jumped by more than 300% and holiday bookings surged by more than 600% week-on-week after the roadmap was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night.

Beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, Faro in Portugal, and Crete in Greece were the most popular as the country sought something to look forward to after a winter stuck at home.

Most bookings were made for August, but July and September were also popular.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the government’s exit plans had “provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK”.

He said: “We have consistently seen that there is pent-up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows that this signal from the government that it plans to reopen travel has been what UK consumers have been waiting for.

“While the summer may be a little while off, we will be working around the clock to ensure we will be ready to ramp up our flights to reconnect friends and family or take them on a long-awaited holiday to remember.”

Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI UK and Ireland, said they had seen a 500% jump in bookings overnight, with particular demand for Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onward.

He added: “The announcement from the prime minister on 22 February was positive and shows that by working with the travel industry on a risk-based framework our customers will have the opportunity to travel abroad this summer.

“We will continue to work closely with the government so people can look forward to a well-deserved break away, after what has been a very difficult year for many.”

A spokesman for Thomas Cook said they had seen similar numbers, adding that it was “easily our best day of sales for a long time and triple Sunday’s”.

The popular destinations for their customers were Turkey, Cyprus and Greece but people are also booking well into 2022, he said, adding: “Clearly the pent-up demand is starting to be released and confidence is returning”.

Shares in airlines were on the rise in early Tuesday trading – IAG the owner of British Airways rose by 5.9%, TUI was up by 6.4%, easyJet was up by 8.3% and Ryanair rose by 4.1%.

The success of Britain’s vaccination programme has also given the travel sector confidence that coronavirus restrictions can soon be lifted.

The industry has been one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic, with border closures, travel bans and other measures, such as pre-travel testing and quarantine, all diminishing the willingness of people to travel.

But even after 17 May, foreign governments will need to agree that Britons can visit.

France and Spain are not allowing visitors from Britain due to new variants of coronavirus and countries such as Australia and New Zealand have not been open to tourists for almost a year.

EasyJet and TUI both said they were offering flexibility for travellers in terms of changes that might need to be made to bookings.

But for those who are not ready to travel internationally, Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain, said there are still treasures to be enjoyed in our own backyard.

She told Sky News that “coast and countryside” are expected to be popular but city centres might be less so this year, with many people still cautious about public transport and attractions indoors.

“I think it’s going to be a good summer,” she said, adding: “If you’ve got school-aged children and you need to go away for the peak summer, you’re not going to see much discounting going on – I’d go for certainty and book.”

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