Tourist bookings surge after holiday hotspots drop Covid testing rules
Holiday firms have seen bookings bounce back to pre-pandemic levels as European hotspots scrap Covid traveller tests.
Operators reported a rush of bookings after Greece and Portugal dropped entry tests for the double-jabbed this week and France pledged to follow suit.
The UK drops all testing for fully-vaccinated arrivals from 4am tomorrow.
The moves end concerns for families over expensive testing bills.
Travel firms said holidaymakers were voting with their feet and rushing to book holidays in countries with the least restrictions for both February half-term, which starts this weekend, and summer.
Toby Kelly of Trailfinders said: ‘Bookings are just back to pre-pandemic levels and for some destinations like Canada, Maldives, Costa Rica and Iceland, they are well above.’
He added: ‘In Europe, countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal that are test-free are performing best.’
The Algarve in Portugal, where operators reported a rush of bookings after the country dropped entry tests for the double-jabbed this week
Hays Travel, the country’s largest independent travel agent, said bookings over the past week had returned to ‘the same as the equivalent week in 2020’ before the pandemic struck.
Its chairman, Dame Irene Hays, said: ‘With international flights now resumed from most regional airports and the majority of requirements on tests and isolation lifted, customer confidence in travel is returning and the demand for a holiday is huge.
‘We are looking at a busy half-term and a bumper summer season for travel this year.’
Zoe Harris, Chief Customer Officer of online travel agent On the Beach, said: ‘We’ve seen a surge in demand for holidays to destinations where entry testing requirements have been removed, with bookings for Greece in particular soaring and having now surpassed those pre-pandemic for the May to September period.’
A spokesman for package holiday giant TUI said ‘demand for Greece and Turkey, and long-haul favourites the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico, is now back to pre-covid levels, with many of our customers, including families, preferring to book destinations where the entry requirements are currently less strict.’
France said on Tuesday it will soon drop tests for fully-vaccinated visitors, including Britons.
The country’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, said he was expecting an imminent EU-wide protocol removing the need for tests for fully-vaccinated visitors, and that his country would adopt the new measures.
However, it is also expected to set a time limit on second doses of 270 days, meaning anyone double-jabbed longer ago than this would need a booster shot to be considered fully-vaccinated.
The UK has not yet set a date for when three rather than two jabs will be needed to avoid traveller tests on return.
Cross-Channel rail service Eurostar said bookings shot up following the French pledge.
It said it was now running at 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic timetable but is adding new services daily.
Eurostar boss, Francois Le Doze, said: ‘We have as many passengers booked to travel in February half-term as we had across the whole of January which shows the potential for recovery and the appetite for travel between the UK and the Continent.’
More than 125,000 travellers are booked on Eurostar trains during the half-term holidays, with some services sold out. This is up more than 1,500 per cent on last year.
Although future bookings have returned to pre-pandemic levels for some operators, the number of flights departing the UK over February half-term is still down on what it was before.
Data from flight analysts Cirium shows 7,746 planes, with more than 1.5million seats, will depart the UK over half-term.
Although this is up 545 per cent on last year, it is down 42 per cent compared to pre-Covid times.
However, the number of flights scheduled to depart the UK in April is just 16 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, suggesting flight volumes will catch up with bookings and return to pre-pandemic levels, or even exceed them, by summer.
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