The travel industry goes to war with the Government on Monday with a campaign urging the public to ignore ministers and book their summer holidays now.
About 120 travel businesses with revenues of £11 billion have joined a “Save our Summer (SOS)” campaign to demand Boris Johnson reopens travel by mid-May to prevent the loss of 2.5 million jobs at risk in the UK holiday industry.
The businesses including some of the UK’s biggest operators such as easyJet, Trailfinders and Regent Seven Seas cruises will offer anyone who signs up to SOS a refund or replacement holiday at different dates if the travel is cancelled or not possible due to Government Covid-19 restrictions.
The companies accounting for the majority of travel sales in the UK say ministers’ mixed messages are destroying the industry and consumer confidence while holding it to ransom without any assurance it will be part of Mr Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown next week.
Watch: Johnson pledges ‘cautious and irreversible’ approach to easing lockdown
The pay-back pledges – guaranteeing best practice in the industry – follow contradictory statements by ministers last week with Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, urging people not to book domestic or international holidays as the Prime Minister said it was “too early” to decide on opening up travel.
In an online article for The Telegraph, Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, and Henry Morley, chief executive of True Travel, wrote: “In recent days, Government ministers have done their best to torpedo the travel sector by telling UK citizens not to book a holiday in the UK or abroad.
“It is hard to think of a more damaging approach by ministers who are elected to protect jobs and ensure economic growth. Such is the outrage, we have created a far-reaching group in just three days called Save Our Summer.
“This is an SOS from the entire travel sector – from aviation to tour operators, hotel groups to cruise lines – as the Government appears to have no strategy for rebuilding and boosting the travel sector as we emerge out of lockdown.”
The move coincides with the new border restrictions, which from Monday require all Britons returning from 33 red list countries to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at their own cost, and for all arrivals to be triple-tested for Covid before departure, and then on days two and eight of quarantine.
The campaign calls for the quarantine measures to be lifted by May 1 – once all the most vulnerable people aged over-50 are vaccinated – and replaced with a more extensive testing programme, including rapid tests on arrivals and departures if needed.
“By May 1, due to the Government’s success at rolling out vaccines, the most vulnerable will have received both jabs,” said Mr Charles and Mr Morley.
“So we urge the Prime Minister to signal, when he reveals his roadmap on Feb 22, that consumers are now able to book holidays, business trips and family visits overseas for travel from May 1.
“By that time, the vaccine programme will have worked much of its magic, infection and mortality rates will be much, much lower and the NHS will be under less Covid pressure.
“Without a target date being set, millions of jobs and businesses in the travel sector are under immediate threat of collapse and the Prime Minister is the only person who can save them.”
The Government is being urged by Brittany Ferries to rethink travel corridors as vaccination programmes advance not only in the UK but in France and Spain. Chief executive Christophe Mathieu said reciprocal travel corridors to be opened up by the summer holiday season for his company's routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to France and Spain.
"By spring we think there will be a clear case for the adoption of vaccination-led travel corridors, or in our case sea lanes, that allow holidays to go ahead this summer and for hope to return," he said.
Among the companies backing the campaign are Travelopia, Scott Dunn, Audley Travel, True Travel, Wild Frontiers, Beyond Group, Elegant Resorts, Campbell Gray Hotels, Celebrity Cruises, Steppes Travel, YourGolfTravel, Ski Solutions, The Turquoise Holiday Company, Teletext Holidays, Plan South America, Oxford Ski, The Thinking Traveller, Bellini Travel and True Luxury Sport.
Top chef Jason Atherton of The Social Company and Kevin Pietersen, former cricketer and owner of Umganu Lodge in South Africa have also backed it.
Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?