Industry leaders reacted angrily to the government announcement that the Balearics will re-join the amber list of countries for international travel from Monday.
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade warned the move risks “shattering consumer trust” and insisted the current traffic light framework “is not working”.
Abta called it “a step back” for the industry and Julie Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said it made the government’s green list “seemingly meaningless”. She called for “this ludicrous cycle” to stop.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced via Twitter that the Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca would return to the amber list.
The British Virgin Islands will also move from green to amber. All the islands are currently on the green watch list.
Alderslade said: “Today’s announcement reinforces the belief that the current government framework for international travel is not working as it was designed to.
“While the vaccination programme is permitting a full reopening of the domestic economy, international travel between safe countries – with low infections and high vaccination rates – is being portrayed as though it is a serious danger to public health.
“Moving countries between the tiers like this is shattering consumer trust during an already unpredictable booking season.”
He said: “It is time the government implemented a consistent and transparent travel policy rather than the current roller coaster ride of changes.”
Lo Bue-Said said the announcement left the travel industry “yet again looking down the barrel of the worst Ground Hog Day”.
She said: “The fact that Croatia and Bulgaria have moved onto the green list makes no discernible difference – agents realistically have no more to sell.
“After over a year of lobbying, the industry is still last to hear the news from government, allowing no time to plan and properly support customers.”
Lo Bue-Said added: “Speculation throughout the day from non-official sources has been irresponsible and only added to the confusion. This ludicrous cycle must stop.
“The government must get a grip of the traffic light system which is surely unfit for purpose when it does not align with other countries . . . and ensure travel operators are the first to know of any updates so they can help minimise disruption for travellers.
“Moving to green is seemingly meaningless now and offers no confidence to traveller or travel agent. The government must surely recognize that a life-line of sector specific financial support is now crucial.”
A spokesperson for Abta described the decision as “a step back for the travel industry” and said: “Thousands of travel jobs and businesses are in desperate need of a successful summer season. This further emphasises the urgent need for tailored financial support.”
Abta noted the fact that fully-vaccinated travellers returning to England, Scotland and Wales from amber countries will no longer need to self-isolate from Monday “will minimise disruption”, but said: “Quarantine for non-vaccinated travellers remains a significant obstacle.”
“Consumer confidence is essential if the industry is to trade its way out of this crisis. The government must be more transparent about the criteria being used to move countries between the green, amber and red lists to allow travel businesses and customers to plan ahead.”
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said the latest change “offers no hope to UK travellers”.
He suggested: “Next week’s ‘Freedom Day’ will be another day in handcuffs for our industry.”
World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) vice-president Virginia Messina warned: “This will throw summer holidays into disarray for tens of thousands of people.
“Businesses given the lifeline of holidays to the Balearics will also be left floundering as bookings collapse and customers clamour for refunds.
“There may be some good news with Croatia and Bulgaria being added to the green list, but the overall impact is one of confusion which will only deter more Brits from holidaying abroad.”
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said: “This latest announcement highlights that the reality for the travel industry is that our summer season will be on a much smaller scale than pre-Covid years.
“Many holidaymakers have opted for UK breaks for summer 2021 because of a lack of confidence in the government’s erratic approach to travel earlier in the year and as we are seeing now. Even though fully vaccinated customers will be able to travel to amber list countries without quarantine from Monday, this announcement leads to unease about how quickly countries can change from list to list.”
He added: “Despite reports of increases in overseas enquiries, many travel businesses won’t earn any revenue from future bookings until the customer has taken their trip because the industry is commission-based.
“Therefore the travel industry needs ongoing financial support and an extension of measures such as furlough to bridge the gap between now and a time where bookings are being redeemed and travel is getting back to pre-Covid levels.”
Graeme Brett, co-founder of travel agency collective Target, also called for action to curb social media speculation ahead of list changes.
Brett said: “These comments had a completely negative impact on the industry. At one stage one of travel’s biggest companies had 7% wiped off their share price purely as a result of this speculation. Other travel companies were also badly affected.
“Target members are telling us that they have been bombarded with questions from a confused public, who had not necessarily booked with them, trying to find out where they stood.
“This is completely unacceptable and the trade bodies have to stand up for their members and get this type of action stopped.”
The latest changes will come in from 4am on Monday July 19 meaning UK travellers to Balearics who are not fully vaccinated will be required to quarantine at home for 10 days on their return.
However, there will be no change for adults who are fully vaccinated or children under 18 because the requirement to quarantine is due to be scrapped for those vaccinated from Monday.
Green list destinations Croatia and Taiwan will join the green watch list at the same time, meaning they are at risk of moving to amber. However, Bulgaria and Hong Kong will move from amber to the green list.
Shapps also announced the addition of Cuba, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone to the red list of countries.
He said the changes were “to safeguard our domestic vaccine rollout”
“We’ll keep these measures under review and be guided by the latest data – we won’t hesitate to take action if needed to protect public health.
Shapps said: “We’ve seen the rates double and also the rate of positivity of these tests double, meaning we’re going to need to move quickly, as we said we might always have to do.”