Travel sector enjoys ‘immediate spike in bookings’ after UK testing rules relaxed

Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of spring

Travel firms in the UK say they have seen a huge surge in demand for trips since it was announced that testing rules would be relaxed.  AFP

The UK’s relaxation of travel testing rules has prompted an “immediate spike in bookings”, travel firms said on Friday, as demand for foreign holidays recovers towards pre-pandemic levels.

Steve Heapy, chief executive of tour operator Jet2holidays and leisure airline Jet2.com, said bookings have soared since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a set of changes on Wednesday.

Turkey, Greece, mainland Spain, the Canaries and the Balearic Islands have been the most sought-after destinations for Britons keen to get some winter sun.

“The relaxation of travel restrictions is welcome news for both the travel industry and holidaymakers and comes during what is traditionally a very busy period for holiday bookings,” Mr Heapy said.

“We have seen an immediate and dramatic spike in bookings, with volumes since the government announcement heading towards pre-pandemic levels, which demonstrates just how much demand is out there among people wanting to get away for a much-needed holiday.”

Earlier this week it emerged that Ryanair's passenger figures had fallen to their lowest in six months after additional travel rules were imposed in December to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Balearic Islands have been popular destinations for British sun seekers.  Getty

Mr Johnson decided to roll back several rules in a bid to boost the travel and tourism sectors before the half-term break next month and help the economy recover.

From Friday, fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s arriving in the UK no longer need to have taken a pre-departure lateral flow test, and they will be able to take a lateral flow test rather than the more expensive PCR version for their post-arrival test from 4am on Sunday.

The average family of four stands to save about £300 ($406) per holiday as a result of the changes.

Tour operator Tui said Mr Johnson’s announcement “has given Brits the reassurance that travel will once again be easier and more affordable”.

The Canaries and Mexico are the most popular choices for holidaymakers looking to get away soon, the firm said.

“We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised,” a spokeswoman for Tui said.

“January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.”

Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said the easing of testing rules “should be the beginning of the end of Covid as a blocker to international travel”.

He predicted travel would recover to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels before the end of spring.

“We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds,” he said.

A survey of 2,000 UK consumers by travel trade organisation Abta indicated that Spain is the most popular overseas destination in 2022, followed by the US, France, Italy and Greece.

Updated: January 7th 2022, 1:38 PM