The industry can be optimistic travel will restart from May 17 and travel agents and operators confident to take bookings on that basis so long as arrangements are protected.
That is the view of Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer, who suggested the caution of ministers and health officials about booking overseas summer holidays need not mean the earliest date for a resumption of travel won’t be met.
The government set May 17 as the earliest date for a restart in its roadmap announced on February 22.
Aviation minister Robert Courts said last week that the government aims for travel to resume “as soon as possible after May 17”, and deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam insisted there remains “great uncertainty” about overseas holidays this summer.
However, asked how confident he is of a May 17 restart, Tanzer said: “I’m optimistic and hopeful.”
He insisted: “If you take what the roadmap is built on, which is the vaccine roll-out, the evidence now is that it is cutting infection rates and taking pressure off hospitals, and those are the preconditions for that May 17 date.
“If we carry that on, [May 17] could be the time international travel reopens.”
Tanzer said: “The challenge for us is how we convert the success of the vaccine roll-out into meaningful change for the industry. That is where the [government’s] Global Travel Taskforce comes in.
“A number of different strands of work have to happen urgently for us to be able to convert large vaccination numbers into travel.”
In the meantime, he suggested “there are reasons why the government would be cautious”.
Tanzer argued: “They don’t want to give undertakings or assurances that they have to reverse because that would be embarrassing.
“They also don’t want people to change their behaviour at the moment. If they say ‘Yes, you will be fine to travel on May 17’ that would encourage a wider change in social behaviour that could put the tests [for reopening] at risk.
“So they will continue to be circumspect about dates and about reopening.
“But the bedrock on which that [May 17 date] is based – lower infection rates, lower pressure on the NHS, lower hospitalisations – is moving in the right direction.
“Nothing that has happened since the roadmap was announced has jeopardised that date.”
Some businesses are reluctant to take bookings for holidays soon after the earliest possible restart.
But Tanzer said: “If people are booking protected travel arrangements then there are protections in place in the event there are cancellations or you can’t deliver a holiday.
“A lot of members are giving flexible booking conditions anyway, recognising there is uncertainty, and the ability to move a holiday to later in the year if necessary is much easier than previously.”
He insisted: “We want the industry to get back on its feet quickly [and] customers want to travel.”