With only eight destinations and several small remote islands on the UK’s ‘green travel list’, the outlook for international travel from the UK this summer looks bleak.

International departures declined -80.2% year over year (YoY) from the UK in 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel intermediaries such as tour operators and agencies are eager to make up for decimated revenues. However, travel restrictions and uncertainty regarding which destinations will be ‘green’ in the near future will continue to impact UK consumer confidence. This in turn could lead to more intermediaries taking the decision to pause summer operations in 2021.

More UK travel operations could be temporarily cancelled this summer

On 9 June 2021, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) declared that the UK Government must abandon the ‘failed and damaging’ traffic light system if it wants to save its tourism sector from total collapse. No response from the UK Government has yet been recorded, meaning traffic light destinations could still change at any moment.

An online travel agency, On the Beach, extended its off-sale period for holidays until 31 August 2021 following announcements around the UK’s traffic light system in May 2021. The company released a statement declaring a loss of appetite for the booking of amber destinations and a loss of confidence from travellers due to the prospect of future cancellations, which caused it to make this decision.

Portugal was the only major European destination on the green list but it was moved to amber on 4 June 2021, meaning self-isolation is required. Its original inclusion on the green list marked a positive outlook for the UK travel sector as travellers have long desired a relaxing summer getaway. However, the volatility of its position demonstrates that nothing remains certain for UK outbound travel over the next few months. The Portugal situation may see more operators now bite the bullet to limit damage to consumer confidence, resulting in the temporary cancellation of more operations until travel ability becomes more stable.

Domestic tourism remains a key focus

It seems that domestic tourism continues to be the primary focus for UK tourists, with many popular holiday resorts across England and Wales near full capacity for summer 2021.

For tour operators, focusing on the domestic market will assist in healing lost revenues but it will still not offset the collapse of international travel in 2020 and 2021. Therefore, until the UK traffic light system is adjusted as promised with a ‘watch list’ included and three weeks’ notice of any changes in travel restrictions, UK international travel confidence will remain damaged. The potential of green list destinations quickly becoming amber in the weeks ahead could mean that more intermediaries pause operations for summer 2021.

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