By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) – 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, while holiday company TUI UK said that its holiday bookings surged 500%.
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.
UK-listed travel stocks were buoyed after new bookings flooded in on Monday evening and Tuesday despite ongoing uncertainty over exactly how and when international routes can reopen.
Shares in easyJet jumped 9%, while British Airways-owner IAG traded up 6%, TUI and Jet2 both jumped 6% and Ryanair was 3% higher.
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 from the UK to beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, Faro in Portugal and Crete, Greece, were the most popular destinations with holidaymakers keenest to travel in August. July and September were the next most popular months.
TUI said destinations in Greece, Spain and Turkey were the most booked overnight, with people opting to go from July onwards.
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.
(Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle and Susan Fenton)