International holiday bookings surged by as much as 600% after Britain laid out plans to gradually relax coronavirus restrictions, giving battered airlines and tour operators hope that a bumper summer could come to their rescue.
EasyJet said flight bookings from Britain jumped over 300% and holiday bookings surged by more than 600% week on week after the government indicated on Monday that travel could restart from mid-May.
Holiday company TUI UK said that its bookings surged 500%, while holiday and budget airline group Jet2 said its bookings were up 600%.
This summer is make-or-break for many airlines and holiday companies which are struggling to survive with close to a year of almost no revenue due to pandemic restrictions. Without it many will need extra funds after burning through cash reserves.
Bookings flooded in on Monday evening and Tuesday despite ongoing uncertainty over exactly how and when international routes can reopen, helping some share prices.
Shares in easyJet were up 3% in mid-morning trading, paring earlier gains of as much as 11%.
While British tourists are some of the biggest spenders in Europe, the presence of a more infectious variant of coronavirus in the UK could alarm some countries. France and Spain have shut their borders to most UK travellers due to variants.
UK holidaymakers will know more on April 12 when the government publishes a travel review. It has said that a lockdown ban on most international travel will stay until at least May 17.
That should give airlines time to plan their summer schedule, a process which takes months.
EasyJet said trips to beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, Faro in Portugal and the Greek island of Crete were the most popular destinations with holidaymakers keenest to travel in August, although July and September were also popular.
TUI said destinations in Greece, Spain and Turkey were the most booked overnight, with people opting to go from July onwards.
July and the start of school holidays was also popular for Jet2, which said mainland Spain and its islands, plus Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey were the biggest destinations.
Travel site Skyscanner said flight bookings made on Monday were 69% higher than the previous day, with visitors to its flight checking website jumping 55% immediately after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions. Spain was the top destination.
“Our data shows that travellers are very well tuned into any updates about restrictions. We are seeing this latest news translate into a surge in travel demand,” said Skyscanner flights chief Hugh Aitken.
Britain’s route back to normality is helped by rapid progress with its vaccine plan. Over 17.7 million people, or a quarter of the population, have already had a first dose of the jab. The government is also considering options for vaccine passports.
The airlines and travel companies hope such progress will mean that from May 17 the UK will end its holiday ban and remove a 10-day quarantine requirement, a big deterrent for holidaymakers, and some of its COVID-19 testing rules.