When can we travel again? That’s the million-dollar question that nobody seems able to answer.
International travel has been banned for all but the most essential reasons since the UK entered lockdown on 4 January, a move which has decimated the £106bn travel industry in Britain. And there’s nothing quite like staying at home for months on end to make you want to go somewhere.
In January, home secretary Priti Patel drove the message home by saying that “people should simply not be travelling”, with passengers forced to make a declaration at the airport stating their reason for straying from home.
These are extraordinary times, but there’s hope that once a significant proportion of the UK is vaccinated against Covid-19, international leisure travel will be unlocked again. Nobody has a crystal ball, but some people are more clued in than others.
One thing’s for sure: Covid-19 has changed the travel landscape as we knew it. Travellers might now require proof of vaccinations, or proof that they’ve had coronavirus recently and have the accompanying antibodies. Various countries across the world, including the Seychelles, Romania and Georgia, have said they will allow travellers who’ve had both doses of the vaccine to avoid quarantine.
We asked a handful of travel experts when they think we’ll be able to go abroad again. Some are fairly optimistic; some less so. All predictions come with a big caveat, as nobody knows anything for certain at the moment.
Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?
Here’s what they have to say.
Paul Charles, travel commentator and founder of travel PR firm PC Agency
“I think the vaccine programme will boost confidence and reduce infection rates faster than we might think as we sit here in a dark winter month. Staycations will start again by the end of March; spring will bring warmer weather and reduced rates; and over 30 million people, half the population, will have been vaccinated with at least one dose.
“Short-haul European breaks will be possible from May and this summer will be a more extended season than last year. Widespread long-haul travel will take much longer to materialise, as many countries won’t open up until 2022. So I predict travel will recover in 2021 but 2022 will be the comeback year.”
Jonny Bealby, founder of tour operator Wild Frontiers
“With vaccine rollout continuing apace, by March we will see a reduction in Covid-related mortality figures, along with lower infection rates and much less pressure on the NHS, and as a result international travel will start to slowly reopen. We are looking at western European destinations opening first, which for us means Greece, Spain and Italy, to be followed by wider Europe and such destinations as Poland, Slovakia, Georgia and the Caucasus.
“From there, as more of the UK population receives both jabs, we’d expect to see a gradual return of some long-haul destinations from mid-summer through to the end of the year. A lot will depend on testing procedures, vaccine production and supply, and our own government’s appetite to get the industry going, but with a bit of luck I think we will be full steam ahead from early next year.”
Tom Marchant, co-founder of tour operator Black Tomato
“While we obviously don’t have a crystal ball, at Black Tomato we’re working diligently to plan and deliver extraordinary, safe travel experiences for our clients seeking to head overseas beyond spring. Despite the current situation and newly tightened border restrictions, we’re encouraged by the vaccine rollout, which will hopefully offer peace of mind for travellers of all ages, and with summer holidays still six months away we remain cautiously optimistic that these long-wanted and much-needed breaks will still go ahead.
We’re encouraged by the vaccine rollout, which will hopefully offer peace of mind for travellers of all ages, and with summer holidays still six months away we remain cautiously optimistic
“When speaking to clients we’re supporting the train of thought that overseas summer travel could very well still be on the cards. We certainly know there’s a huge appetite for international trips this year, evidenced by the large increase in bookings and enquiries we’ve recently received. Of course it’s still unclear as to which destinations we may or may not be allowed to travel to this summer.”
Alan French, UK chief executive at Thomas Cook
“Given the success of the vaccine rollout so far, it feels like holidays to Europe in May are a distinct possibility. And certainly from June onwards we’d expect to see an increasing number of countries that we can holiday in as more and more places benefit from the vaccine and the better controls we have in place to manage the virus.”
Axel Hefer, CEO of Trivago
Prediction: Late spring
“As the UK has been on a faster pace rolling out the vaccine than the rest of Europe, we’ll likely see travel return quicker there than for the rest of the continent.
“As infections start to go down and more people get vaccinated, we are hopeful that close to Easter will be a crucial turning point for domestic travel in the UK, with travel abroad following that in the months ahead. Our recent survey found that for 34 per cent of Brits, their number one “dream holiday” would be the chance to reunite with friends and family. This desire among Britons will fuel a strong return to domestic travel before we see an uptick in international travel. There is reason for optimism about a strong return to travel later this year.”
Kerry Golds, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent and Cox & Kings
“For many, the idea of going abroad is still unfathomable; however travellers are still dreaming of that next trip, so we remain positive and optimistic. Positive vaccine news has meant renewed consumer confidence.
“It does however remain a million-dollar question: when can we venture on holiday again? It is no surprise that we predict that domestic breaks will return first in approximately May, with ease of travelling within the same country being paramount for many. This will be followed by Europe in the summer – the need for sun and escapism will become a priority for travellers after months of lockdown and no holiday in 2020, but the necessity to stay closer to home will take priority. We feel that the long-haul, more adventurous destinations will take a little longer to return, with this not happening until late in the third quarter, so from September onwards.”
Zina Bencheikh, managing director, EMEA, Intrepid Travel
“It’s too early to know for sure when we might be able to travel overseas again. However, if the UK’s vaccination programme is successful, I’m optimistic that by May or June we will be able to travel abroad once again.
“Many of us have spent lockdown dreaming of our next holiday, and there will be a lot of pent-up demand and not much capacity, so it would be wise to book early. It’s also important to book with a company that offers flexible booking conditions in case your plans have to change further down the line.
“The over-50s are likely to be the first people who feel confident to make travel plans and we have already seen an uplift in bookings from that market. In terms of trips, I’d expect our UK and Europe tours to be the first to restart, and long-haul holidays later in the year.
“Tourism is vital for many countries in the world and many local people have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. The best thing we can do for those people is to start travelling again, in a safe and controlled manner.”
Pablo Caspers, Chief Travel Officer at eDreams ODIGEO
“We can see from our search data that UK travellers are currently pinpointing July as the most popular month for travel over spring and summer 2021, with 37 per cent more people searching to travel in July than in May.
“With vaccine programmes being rolled out across Europe, consumer confidence is progressively rebuilding. Of course, it is too early to know what travel will be permitted over the summer period, but what we can see right now is that UK travellers are keen to travel again, should this be safe.”
Watch: Coronavirus - Countries on the UK 'red list'