Europe’s distrust of the traffic light system threatens UK holidays

Uncertainty surrounding outbound travel from the UK is causing an atmosphere of distrust among hoteliers and travel suppliers in Europe, according to tour operators and industry bodies.

Prior to the government announcements on the latest changes to the traffic light system this week, tour operators have called for clarity to stem further damage to the travel sector and relationships overseas.

Noel Josephides, director of Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, and chairman of tour operator Sunvil, said that the continued chaos and speculation was not only destroying consumer confidence, but having a knock-on effect on suppliers.

“Hoteliers are turning away bookings from the UK in August because they don’t trust us – and European travellers are taking our beds and availability. There is no confidence; why should people trust us when we have the sword of Damocles constantly hanging over us and things could change and result in cancellations at any moment?” he said.

Fiona Charrington, CEO of Martin Randall Travel, a specialist in group cultural tours, agreed that market share was being taken by other countries with fewer restrictions on travel.

“Relationships with European suppliers are being damaged. Some hoteliers are losing patience and not wanting to be as flexible or take bookings. If there’s a German company wanting to book or a British one, of course they will go with the one who is less likely to make last-minute changes. Some operators will find it more harmful than others.”

The next government announcement, due on Thursday, is likely to see a number of countries added to the green list – meaning even unvaccinated travellers can return to the UK without having to quarantine on their return – according to research by travel consultancy, the PC Agency. The 12 destinations were Germany, Poland, Canada, Austria, Romania, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Iceland, Malta, Madeira and Israel may move from green to amber, while countries such as Greece and Spain could move to an “amber watchlist”, said PC Agency CEO Paul Charles.

But even if these green list additions are made, confidence will not be restored until it’s guaranteed that more changes won’t follow, operators argue.

“Chaos continues under the traffic light system, it needs to be dropped, it’s rotten to the core and confusing consumers and the wider travel sector. Who will book when there is still such uncertainty?” said Charles. “We have a large proportion of the public vaccinated and have to move from blanket bans to the US system around individual risk. People need to be allowed to travel.”

According to Aito up to 500,000 travel jobs are at risk due to a lack of sufficient government support and mistrust caused by the traffic light system.

The announcement that those double vaccinated would no longer have to isolate had not generated the expected sustained uplift in bookings, said a spokesperson for Thomas Cook: “People are not optimistic about travel. We thought we’d see a boom after the rules around the double vaccinated were relaxed but we didn’t. Bookings are flat and what we’re seeing is very last minute – or for next year. The expected rise in bookings for September and October hasn’t happened yet either.”

The industry also criticised the placement of France on the new “amber plus” list, meaning UK visitors have to quarantine on return, largely because of a peak in cases on the Indian Ocean French island of Réunion, which is 9,650 km/6,000 miles from mainland France, despite the fact that thousands of lorries drive through France and into the UK every week.

“What they’ve done with France is disgusting,” said Josephides. “If they do that to Spain and Greece – as is rumoured – it will be a disaster.

“The government has a last chance to help the industry and holidaymakers this summer by expanding the green list, maintaining amber and guaranteeing things won’t change, between now and October at least.”


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