Outlining the road map out of lockdown to parliament this afternoon, Boris Johnson said that leisure travel overseas could restart in May at the earliest, alongside the reopening of hotels and B&Bs in England.
Leisure travel both domestically and internationally has been banned since the start of January.
Travel is currently allowed for a tight set of circumstances, including business and for compassionate reasons, and the government has repeatedly warned people that holidays are illegal.
The tentative reopening date follows weeks of speculation from the industry as to when international travel might be allowed again. Many leading travel industry figures have demanded more clarity from the government, including Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, which this morning published an open letter to the government.
Hoteliers and organisations such as Butlins and Center Parcs will be appalled to see that their reopening have been pushed so far back. Until the prime minister’s announcement, they had been selling holidays to begin as soon as 8 March.
Instead, they will have to wait a full 10 weeks until 17 May – every single day of which means bigger losses and fewer jobs. Hundreds of overseas holiday businesses that have survived year with no significant income had set their sights on 1 May, traditionally the beginning of the main charter season to the Mediterranean.
The “Save Our Summer” lobbying campaign is based on a May Day reopening. But with no sign of the current ban on holidays ending, together with mandatory quarantine from any foreign country except Ireland, it would require a “reverse-ferret” of unprecedented proportions to move the date any earlier.
Mr Johnson announced that the new Global Travel Task Force would report on 12 April as to whether outbound summer holidays could go ahead from May.
“We’re grateful to the prime minister and Department for Transport for providing the clarity the whole sector was looking for that international travel can reopen this summer, as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK.
“This will provide much needed reassurance not only to airlines in desperate need of a summer season but families looking to visit friends and family and take a long-awaited holiday, and we know there is enormous pent-up demand for when we can restart operations.”
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “We welcome the prime minister’s announcement which set out the government’s intention for a safe and sustainable return to international travel as soon as possible.
“The announcement will provide consumers with much-needed reassurance that travel will reopen. We know there is pent-up demand to travel and easyJet is ready and able to ramp up flights when international travel begins again to take our customers away to see friends and family or on long-awaited holiday breaks this summer.”
Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways, said: “It is critical we start looking at a way to restart travel and we are pleased the government has acknowledged that.
“We are an island nation whose history and future is defined by its connections with the world. UK aviation supports 1.56 million jobs and one in ten jobs depends on travel and tourism, contributing £200 billion to the UK economy.
“We support a data-led approach that protects public health. We want to work with government’s Taskforce on a roadmap now to ensure that aviation is in a strong position to support the UK as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Separately, the prime minister said that self-contained accommodation in England could reopen on 12 April at the earliest, for one household only.
The reopening depends on four tests: that the vaccination rollout continues at pace; evidence showing that vaccines are effective; that infection rates do not cause increased hospitalisations; and that the assessment of the risks is not changed by new variants.