People rush to book holidays after Covid travel rules relaxed

Holiday bookings have surged and demand has increased after the testing rules for international travel were relaxed.

Jet2 said demand had returned to “around pre-Covid levels”.

The holiday company saw a “huge spike” in bookings, boss Steve Heapy told the BBC, after the government said pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated people would be scrapped.

EasyJet said its bookings rose almost 200% compared to last week, while Tui said it experienced a “strong uptick”.

EasyJet said flights to Spanish destinations Tenerife, Alicante, Malaga and Lanzarote were the most in demand, with bookings for the latter up 427% week on week.

The airline has put about 1.1 million more seats on sale from London Gatwick for summer 2022.

Jet2’s Mr Heapy told the BBC’s Today programme that before the rule changes on Wednesday, bookings were “well below” usual levels, but added the relaxation of measures gave people “the confidence that perhaps they won’t be caught in resorts quarantining”, with bookings up 150% on Thursday.

He said Jet2 has a larger summer holiday package for 2022 than 2019.

“People are desperate to get away, that’s been demonstrated over the past couple of days,” he added.

Mr Heapy said the Omicron Covid variant had showed that governments should perhaps “bide your time and look at the science a bit before jumping into lockdown”.

“We can’t just jump into lockdowns and further restrictions every time there is a new variant. We have to learn to live with it and hopefully this is the beginning and the end and we can get back to some normality,” he added.

“It’s been very tough for the travel industry. The biggest thing this industry needs is not lots of bailouts from the government, we just need to fly.

“We just need to take people away and we will be profitable, we will be paying tax, contributing to the economy and to do that we need stability.”

EasyJet said Brits were planning more holidays than usual in 2022 and will spend more money on them, according to its own survey.

The airline said a third 2,000 people surveyed plan to spend around £1,000 more than usual as a result of having had travel plans disrupted by travel restrictions.

Sophie Dekkers, chief commercial officer at easyJet, said the summer should see the company “return to 2019 levels of capacity and beyond”.

The shake-up in the travel rules was announced by Boris Johnson on Wednesday, following calls from travel firms who said the measures were not effective now that Omicron was spreading widely.

Under the new rules:

  • From 04:00 GMT on Friday 7 January, people who are fully vaccinated and those aged under-18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England from countries outside the UK and the Common Travel Area. On arrival, they will have to take a PCR test but they will no longer have to self-isolate while awaiting the result
  • From 04:00 GMT on Sunday 9 January they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two. But this test must be bought from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed
  • Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days

‘Busiest day’

Alistair Rowland, chief executive of long-haul tour operator Blue Bay Travel, said the day of the rule change announcement was the company’s busiest day for website traffic and booking enquiries in over a year.

“The volume of enquiries received yesterday matched that of January 2020 daily levels, which is something we couldn’t have imagined a month ago, when these testing rules came in and consumer confidence plummeted,” he said.

“Our most popular destination for bookings right now is the Maldives.”

Tour operator Tui said customers had been given the “reassurance” that travel “will once again be easier and more affordable”, but added it had not seen demand return to levels seen before the pandemic.

Tui said Mexico and the Dominican Republic were proving the most popular destinations currently, with the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Egypt also seeing increased demand.

British Airways searches for holidays on its website increased by nearly 40% compared to last week.