Travel industry bosses have expressed despair after the domestic reopening was delayed – with fears that overseas holidays at scale will not be possible until August.
While Boris Johnson declared that 19 July would be “terminus date” for restrictions in England, the effect of the postponement from 21 June is likely to delay still further widespread overseas travel.
The next review of the “traffic light” categories is due on 24 June, with further adjustments on 15 July and 5 August. There are concerns that the government will be unwilling to ease overseas travel significantly while domestic restrictions continue in England.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the Commons on 7 June: “A variant that undermines the vaccine effort would undermine the return to domestic freedom, and that must be protected at all costs.”
Travel industry leaders appear resigned to a continued effective ban on holidays abroad – with almost all destinations on either the “amber list” or “red list,” requiring self-isolation at home or in hotels respectively for returning travellers.
The only European summer-sun destination on the quarantine-free “green list” is Gibraltar, after Portugal was moved from green to amber – despite having far lower coronavirus infection rates than the UK. Hopes that ministers would give some warning of a possible change in status were dashed.
The Department for Transport says: “If there is a sudden change in conditions, a country or territory may be moved between lists without warning.”
Previously travel organisations have demanded a reopening of holidays abroad, but now they are asking for financial support – including delaying the increase in furlough contributions, extending protections from commercial landlords and keeping full business rates relief.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, the travel association, said: “As we head into the critical summer season, where travel companies ordinarily earn the majority of their income, we must finally see a package of tailored financial support for travel agents and tour operators.
“Without this tailored support, we will continue to witness people across the country lose their businesses, many of which are independent family firms that have been in existence for decades, and many thousands more people will lose their jobs.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership said: “For 15 months the travel industry has been unable to trade its way to recovery due to border closures, legal barriers and a woefully short green list.
“A complete lack of government support means that many businesses are now fighting to keep the lights on.
“The green list must be expanded in the next review on 24 June in line with the evidence, and with more proportionate restrictions.”
At Monday’s Downing Street briefing, the prime minister deflected a two-part question on reopening international travel and continued support specifically for the travel industry.
He said: “On travel abroad I think that the most important thing is just to follow the red-amber-green guidance that we are giving, that’s continually reviewed. That’s the important thing.
“I wouldn’t want to give any more guidance for than that at this stage.
“We always made sure that the furlough scheme would continue until September to take account of the whole spread of the roadmap, the chancellor has always been very, very clear about that.
“On the basis of what we can see now, we don’t think that we will need to change that.”
In response, the travel entrepreneur Miles Morgan tweeted: “Covid briefings should stop.
“The announcement has already been made in the media and after tonight, questions are simply ignored.”
The UK’s stringent travel restrictions have effectively wiped out inbound tourism. Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound said: “Today’s announcement will put people’s livelihoods at risk and slow down the recovery of our towns and cities.
“Prolonging restrictions affects the whole tourism supply chain, in addition to hospitality business, and although health and safety must always come first, the government must act swiftly and implement additional support measures for both hospitality and travel businesses.”
VisitBritain is urging people overseas “to imagine a true taste of Britain”. The organisation tells prospective visitors: “With varying travel restrictions in place, normal life may be on pause, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to dream of exploring our beautiful countryside, wandering our sandy shores and discovering our historic landmarks once more.”
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