Package holiday operators have given a lukewarm response to the government’s latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions on arrivals in England, but travel firms that focus on short breaks have reported an uptick in 11th-hour bookings.
The the 10-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people arriving from France was lifted on Thursday, while seven countries including Germany and Austria were added to the green list, meaning travellers must take only a couple of tests and do not need to quarantine.
Plans for an amber watchlist for countries such as Spain that might be at risk of moving to the red list, meaning arrivals must spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel, have also been scrapped.
Despite the rule shake-up, some of the largest tour operators had relatively little to gain. Shares in Tui rose by more than 3%, but the company does not offer package holidays to France, the most high-profile tourist destination to have become easier to visit, and it is understood to have seen no significant increase in last-minute bookings.
Tui’s online rival On The Beach said it had not reversed its decision not to sell any holidays for dates before September amid uncertainty about the permanence of the government’s traffic light system of restrictions.
“We’ve seen previously that these traffic light announcements can change,” said the chief customer officer, Zoe Harris.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said the company would be “keeping a watching eye” on developments but would not rush to put short-notice August breaks on sale.
Holidays to countries such as Portugal have previously been thrown into chaos by last-minute changes to their traffic-light status.
Mexico was added to the red list of high-risk countries on Thursday, giving holidaymakers who are there now until 4am on Sunday to return or face a 10-day hotel quarantine.
But while some tour operators gave the changes only a cautious welcome, a sudden rush to book trips to France – coupled with the status of Spain and Greece remaining unchanged – was met with relief in parts of the travel industry.
Eurostar and easyJet both said they were already enjoying a surge in ticket sales because of the loosening of restrictions on several European countries, including France, Germany, Austria and Norway.
“Overnight we have seen a strong increase in bookings on our London-Paris route and traffic to our website has more than doubled,” said a Eurostar spokesperson, adding that the cross-Channel operator was ready to increase capacity if the surge in demand persisted.
EasyJet said it had seen an increase in bookings to France, the Balearics and Canary Islands, Italy, Greece and Portugal since the government’s announcement.
Thomas Cook, an online-only brand since the pre-pandemic collapse of its namesake tour operator, predicted a weekend scramble for last-minute Mediterranean bookings.
“Our customers booked to go to Spain and Greece are breathing a huge sigh of relief that they can go on holiday as planned,” said the chief executive, Alan French. “We expect to see a bumper weekend as people take advantage.”
Hays Travel, which bought Thomas Cook’s high-street shops, said the increase in bookings had been “beyond expectations”, with customers spending more than usual, mostly for later this year and 2022 rather than on last-minute holidays.
“We are still seeing an increase in bookings for both popular European countries and island destinations such as Greece and Spain, and also for long haul, special holidays such as the Maldives, America, Bali and worldwide cruises,” said the chief operating officer, Jonathon Woodall.
“Our customers are spending more than usual to upgrade their holidays – many want something extra special to look forward to.”