Tour operators have put paid to the idea of a sudden resumption of summer holidays, warning they need up to six weeks notice of changing travel restrictions to take travellers away again.
The Government has hinted at plans to announce “air bridge” deals by the end of the month, with a view to allowing overseas travel for the first time since March in early July.
But travel firms that have spoken to Telegraph Travel have called the Government’s approach to the return of summer holidays confused, nonsense and incompetent.
“They haven’t got a clue,” said Martin Randall, chairman of Martin Randall Travel, a leading specialist in cultural tours. “That is evident from the three months of negotiations, there is a bizarre lack of capacity for them to grasp the nature of the industry.”
“Fine to say, yes you can have your holidays on July 4, but the idea that clients would decide to go or not at a week’s notice is for the fairies.
“We have taken cancellations as late as we possibly can, which is three our four weeks up to departure, by which point many clients would have decided to cancel anyhow.
“Overseas hotels won’t keep rooms ready for UK customers; if they can fill them with Austrian, Russian or French guests, they will.”
Randall said the Government’s plans to announce the return of overseas holiday is “a political gesture” and a “ruse”.
“If you charter a ship, no shipping line is going to want to know only a week in advance whether you are going to use that ship,” he said. “Whenever they announce the end of the quarantine, operators will need four, five or six weeks before they can begin again.”
The Government has yet to confirm which countries it will have arrangements with that negate the need for quarantine. Nor has it explained how or when it will change the Foreign Office’s restrictions on all but essential travel.
A source told the Telegraph on Friday that the plan was “to announce a small number of air bridges on June 29, though it won’t come into force until July 4.”
Ted Wake, managing director of Kirker Holidays, which offers luxury short breaks, said consumer confidence has been knocked by the Government’s “puzzling and inconsistent messages”.
“Just because they have been given permission to travel does not mean they will all rush out,” he said. “In practical terms, it will take us some time to pull together all the elements of a holiday to show that we will be able to look after them.”
“The Government does not understand the complexity of the industry. If it was possible to travel tomorrow we would try to make it so, but the reality is that is not how consumers behave. It’s not like buying a pint of milk.
“Consumers need longer than a day or week or two to buy a holiday.”
Tui, the German-owned travel group and largest tour operator in Europe, has announced its first departures for July 11, to eight popular summer destinations. It says its selection is based on an understanding that the Government will announce deals to the countries concerned, with Spain and Greece expected to be the first.
Tui’s commercial director Richard Sofer said this week: “Due to the size of our organisation we’ve been able to have a presence in each of those government conversations.”
But this is not true for the majority of tour operators.
Chris Wright, managing director of Sunvil, which focuses on tailor-made holidays in Greece, Portugal and Italy, said: “We have dialogues with our airline partners and they want to know what the situation is and when we can resume flying, and the same with our accommodation partners.
“It’s not the case of turning a switch and everything springing back to life. All these [leaks and rumours] without the certainty, just make the situation worse.”
Wright said Sunvil has already cancelled holidays up to July 15 but is not looking at July 20 as the earliest resumption date. He said August is the likeliest return date for most tour operators.
“[July 20] is getting increasingly difficult to work towards. With every day that ticks by, the bookings we have in place will be cancelled,” he said.
“[We need the Government to], within the next few days, outline what their plans are and what they are working towards. While we understand that nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed, at least to have some insight into what they thinking, rather than just hearing about leaks in the news.”
The three operators are members of Aito, the Association of Independent Tour Operators. Its chairman, Noel Josephides, previously suggested the Government was keen to delay the resumption of overseas travel to boose domestic tourism.
“Why the mixed messages, random comments by inexperienced ministers which raise hopes and then dash them?” he said.
A spokesperson for Abta, which represents UK tour operators and travel agents, said: “A roadmap to restart international travel is important to enable customers and businesses to plan ahead, and as much advance notice as possible from the government is required for travel companies to restart operations.”
The Government said it would review its quarantine policy, put in place, it said, to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus, after three weeks, on June 29.