Millions of sun-starved Britons are expected to make the leap and book a long-awaited holiday in the months ahead after the government’s decision to scrap all travel rules.
British holiday company Thomas Cook hailed the rolling back of the final set of measures, and told The National it would serve as a boost to the industry after demand for holidays at the beginning of the year fell short of expectations.
For the first time in two years people arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will no longer be required to fill out a passenger locator form, and unvaccinated travellers will not need to take a Covid-19 test before departing for the UK and after they arrive.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also announced a change in policy this week, saying from Wednesday masks would be optional for passengers.
Heathrow Airport, the UK's busiest flight hub, has also dropped the requirement for people to wear masks.
David Child, director of brand and public relations at Thomas Cook, said the shift means that for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic people can expect hassle-free travel.
“It’s fantastic news from a travel perspective,” he told The National. “It gives people that confidence that things are going to get easier from now on.
“People can now start to look forward to mask-free travelling.
“It’s not just about the UK. Greece requires no passenger locator form now and I think people are realising things are getting back to a more normal state in Europe.”
Mr Child said the firm has started to see a return to pre-Covid-19 levels of interest in booking a holiday after the Omicron travel curbs late last year dented the industry’s recovery.
He said there had been a sharp rise in demand in recent weeks as people plan summer getaways, following a sluggish start to the year.
In January — usually a busy time for tour operators — the public showed a reluctance to book trips while measures remained in place. Later that month, the government ended some testing requirements for double-vaccinated travellers, while the rules were further rolled back for the unvaccinated in February.
However, the lingering rules continued to have an impact on people’s willingness to book a holiday.
“Typically, the start of the year in the UK is the most important [time for booking holidays,” Mr Child explained. “As soon as Christmas lunch is finished people start to plan their summer holiday. It was a slow start to this year.”
But in recent weeks Thomas Cook has seen an increase in demand for foreign holidays at luxurious hotels. Eight in 10 bookings made for this year are for complexes with a four-star rating or higher.
Mr Child said the long wait for rules-free travel means people are “trading up” their annual summer holiday.
“One of the reasons people book a holiday is to give themselves something to look forward to,” he said. “People are really splashing out this year and they’re treating themselves to a holiday they have not had in two years.”
Announcing the scrapping of all travel rules earlier this week, Britain's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes would pave the way for “greater freedom in time for Easter”.
“The UK is leading the world in removing all remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions,” he said.
The Department for Transport said a “range of contingency measures” would be kept in reserve so ministers could take “swift and proportionate action” in the face of potential new Covid variants.
The department said they would “only be implemented in extreme circumstances”, but it was understood the measures would include targeted testing from a country that has seen a new strain emerge.
Coronavirus infections are rising in all four UK nations for the first time since the end of January, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.
The numbers for hospital patients with Covid were also up, rising 19 per cent on the week in England.
A further 91,345 confirmed cases were reported on Wednesday.