In previous years, on February 1 we would be beating the winter blues by looking forward to a summer holiday. But this is no ordinary year.
People in the UK have been warned that holidays are illegal, for the time being, and hotel quarantine awaits British arrivals coming in from 33 countries, including Portugal, the UAE and South Africa.
Despite the summer holidays being six months away, in recent days, Government ministers have spoken words of caution when it comes to our chances of a trip overseas.
Liz Truss told LBC: “I think it would be very dangerous for a government minister to [make] promises about people’s summer holidays,” while Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also said that summer holidays abroad could be unlikely.
However, Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary spoke out today to say he expects a “strong recovery of beach holidays and family holidays going to Europe this summer”.
He said, once the vaccination reduces the number of coronavirus-related deaths: “We expect to see a very strong return of British families travelling to the beaches of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece in relative safety this summer thanks to the vaccine programme.”
So when will we be going overseas again? Of the sixteen industry experts we spoke to, half said they expect international travel to resume by May or June. Five said they were hopeful for an overseas break by the school summer holidays, while three predicted travel would resume later in the year.
The optimists: European holidays by May or June
“I’m confident that May will see us operating in Europe”
Noel Josephides, Chairman, Sunvil Group:
“I have a feeling, as this Government has always done too little, too late, that they have now gone the other way and are now being super-conservative as to when they will allow travel.
“I am confident that May will see us operating to Europe. That said, it is important for would-be holidaymakers to book soon – otherwise, flights may not be in place (it takes longer than a couple of months to set up flights) and, as we shall be in competition with the rest of Europe for the best properties in Greece and her islands, we may find that other nationalities – including the Greeks! – have got there first this summer.”
“It is not unreasonable to believe we could be travelling by late spring”
Fiona Charrington, CEO, Martin Randall Travel:
“With covid rates reducing and vaccinations increasing, it is not unreasonable to believe we could be travelling again by late Spring/early Summer. If there is the will in government to make it happen in a responsible way, then we are ready. It is highly likely our tours and events within the UK will be the first to resume, along with many to Europe, especially to Italy.
“There are many variables, and at this point in time we are all watching the figures and having to wait. However, what is certain is the enormous desire to travel among our customers, matched by our determination to make that happen.”
“We expect UK market to return from May onwards”
Pedro Homar, director of the Palma Tourism Board:
“With the rate in which the UK is rolling out the vaccination, we are confident that the UK market will be one of the first to return to Palma. In terms of timings, we expect the UK market to return from around May onwards. This is obviously subject to the evolution of the pandemic both in the UK and in the Balearic Islands but we feel this is a realistic target.
“Whilst safety is the number one priority, we are eager to welcome back British visitors and we feel confident that by May, processes will be in place to enable us to do that. Palma has exceptional tourism infrastructure and the public and private sector are working hard to ensure tourism can return in a safe way. It is too soon to say whether Easter holidays to Palma can resume but we certainly feel confident from May onwards.”
“There’s the possibility for holidays in Europe this summer, hopefully by May half term”
Erin Johnson, marketing director for Sovereign Luxury Travel:
“Until now, travel has been the last thing to go from people’s priority lists when times have been tough. Having that freedom taken away this last year, has made us all realise the importance of travel. As a tour operator, we have the ability to give people something to look forward to, but importantly, with the reassurances they can book with confidence and know that we will look after them when it is safe to travel again.
“We have already seen customers booking upgraded accommodation – larger suites with private pools or exclusive-use villas. We have always offered private transfers as standard for all of our customers, as well as lounge access at the airport, but I think this will be something customers come to expect when they travel. I think it will take time, but if testing on arrival is in place and quarantining not needed then there’s definitely the possibility for holidays in Europe this summer, and hopefully in time for May half-term. Long-haul holidays will be later in the year but if the vaccination program is rolled out successfully around the world, I would hope we can travel more freely again by the autumn.”
“UK holidays by April, European holidays by May”
Gemma Antrobus, Chair of AITO Specialist Travel Agents and owner of Haslemere Travel:
“If we are talking holidays whilst still having to wear masks, maybe take tests and or quarantine, then my prediction and hope is this:
“UK – as soon as the Government gives clearer guidelines on the Tier system – if this is how we will come out of this; it could be as early as April.
“Europe – Europe will follow shortly after (May). We saw last year that as soon as travellers can travel, ie there is a flight to take them and a destination to accept them, then they will go.
“Long haul – September/October onwards. Long haul will naturally follow shortly behind, but not all at once. Asia is likely to bounce back quickly, as despite being some of the first nations affected, they have responded well, kept levels low and life has returned to relative normality for many. Small islands also, such as the Caribbean and Maldives, who have all managed exceptionally well with incoming visitors, since they opened last year. They already have tried and tested protocols and systems in place.
“With the UK standing head and shoulders above many nations on the vaccination front, our travellers will no doubt be welcomed to other countries in advance of those nations not vaccinating at such speed.”
“A drop in infection levels by summer, together with vaccination, will allow widespread travel to Europe”
Chris Rowles, AITO Chairman:
“This Summer: it looks really realistic that the majority of people over 40–50 will be vaccinated in the UK by Easter, so with the three weeks for vaccination to take effect then by early Summer (May), many, many people will feel confident to travel. We are also reliant on the actions of other countries, although slower-starting European countries would have vaccinated their vulnerable citizens by early summer. Additionally, we saw last year that infection levels naturally drop during the Summer; this, together with vaccination, will allow widespread travel to Europe.
“Mid and long-haul destinations are likely to lag behind, but as soon as vaccination levels are higher, developed countries are likely to give massive support to developing countries, thus speeding up vaccination rollout world wide.
“We are likely to see affordable, simple testing at airports on departure, and some wearing of masks through this year – but this is a small inconvenience to being able to travel freely again.”
“Villa holidays will start again from June”
Vintage Travel’s Stephen Ellison:
“We are feeling confident that villa holidays will start again from June this year. Once the vaccination of vulnerable groups has finished, we will see the R rate drop quite quickly and confidence will increase. At that point, we will no longer be the pariah of Europe, in terms of Covid risk, and our Mediterranean partners will be keen to welcome us back. We don’t see very much happening before June and it will probably be July and August before travel reaches any kind of mainstream numbers again. We are confident that the vaccine will do its job and that it really is what we’ve all been waiting for.
“However, we can see that it may well be the case that pre-departure testing and face masks will become the norm, way beyond the pandemic – a bit like wearing a seat belt or smoking bans on public transport – as a public health measure that is adopted by us all. If that is the case, we would expect testing to become much cheaper and maybe even subsidised by airlines – or, ideally, by government!
“We are definitely seeing more people booking a villa holiday for the first time, particularly to France and Spain, where the option of travelling by car and Eurotunnel means you can basically travel all the way in your own bubble – and stay in that bubble when you arrive.”
“We hope to see departures to key destinations from June onwards”
Andrea Godfrey, product manager for Regent Holidays:
“It is very early days but as the vaccine rollout has begun around the world, we are seeing signs of some countries such as Romania lifting quarantine restrictions and using compulsory testing for travellers who can prove that they have received the vaccine. As vaccine passports become as mandatory as our existing passports, we hope we might see some departures to key destinations from June onwards.
“We are seeing a lot of enquiries from clients wanting to travel to Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Lapland for winter 2021–22 with the Northern Lights firmly in mind, and of course in lots of amazing experiences in Sweden and Finland such as snowmobiling, ice fishing, and husky safaris. This would tie in our predictions of an increase in experience-driven travel. We have all been in our homes for far too long so it’s no surprise that people want to get out in these pristine landscapes and enjoy lots of various activities.”
Overseas travel by the school holidays
“The vaccine gives some hope for summer holidays abroad”
Paul Melhus, CEO and Founder of ToursByLocals:
“While we can say with certainty that international travel will come back, exactly when borders will re-open remains highly uncertain. At ToursByLocals we are starting to see more people researching and dreaming, with bookings slowly starting to grow. Our recent UK sales data shows a small number of international tour bookings beginning in July 2021. The vast majority of the UK’s adult population will likely have been vaccinated by this point, which gives some hope for summer holidays abroad. With vaccinations and testing in place, we’re anticipating a potential surge in private tour bookings for August through to November 2021, pushing the traditional high season later in the year.
“After extensive lockdowns, we’re also expecting to see more “bucket-list” and “if not now, when” type of travel happening. So far we have seen 2021 bookings for British travellers heading to places as far afield as Iguassu Falls, Petra, the Falkland Islands, Ecuador, Kenya and South Africa. Connecting with and supporting the local economies in these destinations will be increasingly important, considering tourism workers will have essentially been out of work for a year come this spring. Hiring a local guide for a private tour helps achieve this, while also giving travellers the freedom to explore away from the crowds and stay within their own bubble. Finally, with all the uncertainty at play we strongly recommend booking with companies that offer fair and flexible cancellation policies. If there’s one thing this virus has shown us, it’s that anything can happen.”
“Some travel will resume by the summer school holidays”
Liddy Pleasants, MD of Stubborn Mule Travel:
“We think that there is in fact a reasonable chance that some travel will resume by the summer school holidays. Whilst of course the situation is changing frequently and dramatically, it does seem as if a sizeable number of people in the UK will have been vaccinated by the summer. This will likely pave the way for travel of some description. The difficulty is predicting where will be possible to visit and our general view is that Europe and North America are the most likely destinations but this is just a best guess. We just have no idea what variants may or may not have developed by the summer and how this will impact the situation.
“Our advice is that for those who like certainty, either book at holiday in the UK as this is very likely to be possible or wait for now and book something closer to the time. For those less bothered by certainty, book anything you like – take a chance – and make sure that it’s completely refundable in case you can’t go. It may end up having been a pipe dream but some people need a dream at the moment, and the thought of an exotic summer holiday may be just what is needed to see you through the long winter.
“In terms of what travel may look like, masks are likely to be mandatory in many places, and on planes, for the foreseeable future. In most countries, hotels are miles ahead of governments and have already implemented strict Covid protocols with enhanced cleaning and safety measures. These are likely to continue for some time. Outdoor activities are likely to be able to continue as normal, but indoor visits (art galleries, museums etc) will probably need to be pre-booked so will require some planning.”
“By August, we will be travelling to Europe”
John Grant, OAG:
“I’m planning to fill the car up with a full tank of fuel and heading off to some place in the UK around the middle of May since I’m cautiously optimistic that we will all be released from lockdown by that time. We will obviously still have all the social distancing measures and protocols in place so both effective planning of where to go and what to do when away will be important, but we all have time on our hands at the moment.
“By August armed with my new health passport I think we can plan to join the rest of the UK in Europe as our hard earned cash will be very welcome in every Mediterranean resort eager to grab back nearly eighteen months of lost cash. The brave will be travelling further afield to the United States by that point as well, looking for the lonely mouse in all probability.
“And finally I’m planning to kick the bucket list of travel “must do’s” from around the second quarter of 2022 when Governments have finally realised that only by working together will they be ever be able to see travel, tourism and commerce recover to pre Covid-19 levels.”
“We remain optimistic people will be able to get away over the summer”
A spokesperson for Kuoni:
“Our team are busy with enquiries for 2022, there definitely seems to be more confidence that travel will get back to something more normal from early next year without as many restrictions. So people are coming to us to help plan all sorts of epic trips and with longer to save, they’re upgrading the experience too.
“Not surprisingly given the headlines and awful news, confidence in travel this year is shaky, but we remain optimistic that people will be able to get away this year over the summer and in the latter part of the year and we’re likely to see people prepared to travel at really short notice and jump through whatever hoops they need to in order to travel safely. But demand is there, confidence will follow once we have more certainty over the easing of lockdown.”
“International travel will resume in the third quarter of 2021”
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association:
“Covid-19 vaccination programmes in the UK and destination markets will be central to the easing of travel restrictions. We don’t believe that vaccine coverage will reach any form of critical mass until the middle of this year, and so international travel from the UK will only start to resume in the third quarter of 2021.
“We believe that leisure travel will be the first part of our sector to see signs of recovery with clear signs of pent-up demand already visible. For borders to remain open and large-scale travel to return, it is essential that international entry standards are adopted across the world.
“Business travel recovery will now only begin to resume at any scale in the final quarter of the year. It’s why we’re calling on the Government to deliver a targeted financial package beyond the April furlough deadline. People need jobs to be able to afford holidays and our industry is also a vital enabler of UK plc.”
International travel from autumn onwards
“Realistically, I’d say we’re looking at autumn for long haul”
Danny Callaghan, CEO of the Latin American Travel Association:
“When can people travel long haul? I’d say that there are two element to this question: when will the travel industry be able to safely take people on holiday and return them safely to the UK; and when will we be allowed to do that.
“To answer the first question, our work with Latin American tourism boards and our in-country members shows that the governments and tourism authorities have really understood the challenges of carrying out tourism in a Covid world. They have well-thought through procedures and protocols in place, and have the ability to receive and manage tourists. Tourism to Latin America is ready to restart.
“However, the challenge comes from the second question. There are some countries in Latin America, but not all, that will not currently allow UK residents in, due to the UK variant of Covid, and it’s not clear how long those restrictions will remain in place. It is also unclear what the UK Government will do, and when, to facilitate tourism, not only to Latin America but to the whole world. There is a disconnect between the actual risks posed by tourism, and what a Government has to do politically to show that they have the Covid situation under control.
“There is no question that the UK is currently in the midst of a public health crisis and, quite rightly, the current lockdown is a necessary evil, but once the current wave is under control, with testing pre-departure at both ends of the journey, the progress with vaccinations, and the availability of travel insurance that covers Covid-related eventualities there is no practical reason why tourism shouldn’t restart to countries that are happy to welcome us.
“Realistically, I’d say we’re looking at our autumn, but I also think that there is enough desire to travel that we could see shorter than normal lead times on trips if regulations do allow travel sooner.
“In the best-case scenario, we will travel by September time”
Candice Buchan, product manager for Africa specialists Rainbow Tours:
“It is getting harder and harder to actually predict now, but we are trying to remain optimistic. We would hope that with the mass vaccine roll out, that best case scenario, we see the majority of the UK vaccinated and able to travel by September time, with certificates of vaccination allowing entry to a wide spread of destinations. Realistically though, we are now probably looking closer to the end of the year, as no doubt there will be more to work out as things develop. All in all, the vaccine roll out is our best hope of a ‘normal’ and as long as this goes more or less to plan, we should have some form of normal by summer – we hope!”
“Intercontinental travel will resume around Christmas 2021”
Michael Ros, CEO at Bidroom:
“Although originally I thought coming back to normal would take at least two years, I am now getting more and more positive about a quicker return of travel. With so many flights being cancelled and hotels being closed, the speed of recovery is now mostly in the hands of the authorities. However, we’ve noticed that as short-term rentals and holiday houses are available, people are more confident to book them, especially within their own countries.
“Personally, I think staycations in the UK could come back around spring at a pretty good level. At Bidroom, we’ve seen searches have increased by over 40% compared to last December and we anticipate the booking figures to start increasing at the same rate soon. Holidays in Europe might not come back quickly as flying is one of the biggest safety concerns for people right now. A vaccine passport might be a good option but I don’t expect to see it bringing any effects before the summer. I believe that intercontinental travel will resume around Christmas 2021.”
When do you hope to be travelling overseas once again? Comment below to let us know