Ministers shouldn’t be telling us not to book summer holidays

Logic dictates that a large-scale outbound market is possible by July, says Steve Endacott

The government undoubtedly has a tough job of balancing saving of lives with economic damage and restrictions of freedoms. On the whole, I think they have done a good job and, like most people, am fully supportive of the current lockdown and ban on overseas travel.

However, I take great exception to ministers telling the public it is too soon to book an overseas holiday for this summer and saying that they are planning a British holiday to Cornwall.

Obviously a domestic break versus an overseas trip is an individual choice, but ministers are massively underestimating the pent-up demand for overseas travel and the reasons behind it.

Holidaymakers like to book well in advance, so they know they have holiday dates booked off work and, more importantly, something to look forward too. That has never been truer than in a Covid-19 world, where we have been in full or partial lockdown for most of the last year and most people have missed out on last year’s annual holiday abroad.

People choose overseas holidays over a UK staycation because they have a much better chance of getting a week of sunshine – and the cost of hotels, eating out and drinks are much better value. How many all-inclusive options that cater for a fixed holiday budget can you find in the UK? Not many.

The impact of Covid-19 has also increased the gap between the ‘haves’ and the have nots’.

If you’ve worked from home through lockdown on full salary, you will have greatly-enhanced disposable income to spend on holidays this year. The average saving level for this sector has risen sharply as spend on commuting, going out and buying clothes have all fallen. This should lead to a boom in more expensive “holidays of a lifetime” to exotic destinations, as people who have woken up to their own mortality start ticking items off their bucket lists, or decide to upgrade their holidays.

Conversely, many people have been furloughed and will have to budget even more carefully if they are to afford overseas holidays. This may lead to a boom in sales to cheaper destinations, like Turkey, or maintain sales of all-inclusive hotels which otherwise look set for a decline due to Covid-19 restrictions and increased delivery costs.

However, all this is irrelevant if the UK Government does not re-instate the ability to travel and also loosen current testing and quarantine rules.

We know that, by the end of February, the majority of the ‘at-risk’ sector of the UK population will have been vaccinated and, by the beginning of the summer holiday season, most over 50s should also be covered. Scientists tell us that vaccinating those two demographics should cut the death rate from Covid-19 by 90%.

Politicians’ policies are invariably based on what will get them re-elected, and therefore when the death rate is cut to 10% of current levels the pressure to move to a ‘living with Covid-19’ phase will become overwhelming.

In this phase, the balance swings to reducing economic damage and lifting restrictions on public freedoms, such as going on overseas holidays.

So, I expect holidays to start again in May 2021 – but inbound testing and quarantine restrictions imposed by the UK government not to be relaxed until July or August, in time to allow UK citizens to travel on mass during UK school holiday peaks.

Therefore, unless new strains overcome vaccinations, logic dictates that the UK government should allow us to go on an overseas holiday this summer. Even if ministers say it’s too soon to book.

But don’t assume all holiday destinations will be letting us in!

The majority of UK holidaymakers will still not have been vaccinated by summer 2021, and the UK may still be living with relatively high infection levels within younger people, who suffer less server symptoms, just as we live with flu.

As we know, Europe as a whole is behind the UK with its vaccination rollout, and some popular but poorer holiday destination such as Turkey may be even further behind and still in the ‘containment’ phase.

It is therefore likely that Covid-19 testing will remain a requirement this summer, with it unlikely that travel corridors removing the need for outbound and inbound testing are reinstated.

As I’ve said before, it’s crucial the cost of testing comes down – and access to government testing capabilities would help greatly. However, having extensively researched the private testing sector in recent weeks, it’s apparent that aggressive directional selling by the travel industry can dramatically push down testing prices, and I’m more relaxed this obstacle can be dealt with.

In my opinion, by July 2021 large scale overseas holidays will be possible – and we can start moving from survival to profitability as an industry.

But, like any Covid-19 prediction, the road to recovery remains fraught with risk due to unknowns.