By Lucy Caulktt-
Thousands of British holidaymakers have begun taking advantage of the easing of lockdown rules on overseas travel.
Travellers from England, Scotland and Wales are heading off abroad to enjoy a bit of sun and get away from the stress of lockdowns.
Travellers can now visit 12 countries on the government’s green list, without needing to isolate on their return.
The bosses of British Airways and Ryanair said confidence was returning.
The vast majority of tourist destinations remain on the amber and red lists, meaning travellers must quarantine when they get back.
Bookings also remain well down on pre-pandemic levels.
However, BA chief executive Sean Doyle told the BBC that the airline’s six flights due to depart from Heathrow on Monday to “green” destinations such as Lisbon, Faro and Madeira were “very busy”.
He said the latest relaxation of restrictions was “a small step in the right direction”.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said there were definite signs of an early rebound in travel to European destinations.
Bookings are up from 500,000 a week in early April to 1.5 million a week now. “The rate of bookings suggests there is a huge amount of confidence,” he told BBC Breakfast. “We are very optimistic for the next couple of months.”
Nellie and Jill are off to Portugal on Monday – but it seemed touch and go right up to the moment they got to the airport.
They are “super excited and really happy to be able to travel again”. But the past few weeks have been stressful, especially as it was only confirmed on Friday that they could definitely travel.
Nellie said it was then a real scramble to get PCR coronavirus tests over the weekend, which Jill added was quite complicated.
“Adding all the documentation wasn’t easy but we persevered and we’re glad we did,” Jill said. Some holiday sun and a glass of wine on their balcony would make it all worth it, she added.
Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate said welcoming holidaymakers for the first time in months was a “big relief”, but confirmed that travelling numbers will take a long time to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s an important day for us… we’re looking forward to seeing more countries added to the green list in the weeks ahead,” he added.
Online travel agent Thomas Cook said the number of people booking to travel abroad was “still small”, adding that 75% of its bookings were for Portugal, although Thomas Cook customers planning to jet off this week numbered only in their hundreds.
On Friday, Portugal announced that travellers from the UK would be allowed to enter its borders provided they could show a negative PCR test result from the previous 72 hours.
That led to an increase in demand for flights to the country. Tui, which has 19 flights scheduled from the UK to Portugal next week, said eight of those would now be on a Boeing Dreamliner, which can carry up to 345 people – almost twice as many people as the Boeing 737s that it had planned to use.
Thomas Cook reported that 85% of customers had booked four or five-star hotels. Before the crisis, only around half of people chose to splash out on that kind of luxury.
Hays Travel has noticed a similar trend. At present around half of its customers are booking for next year but it highlighted a “cautious optimism” among travellers following an almost four-fold increase in bookings for Portugal this summer.
Chief operating officer Jonathon Woodall said the average spend on a two-week holiday for a family of four had increased by £370 to £4,000 as people look to “fulfil their bucket list”.
“People are upgrading to better destinations and accommodation, spending more to treat themselves,” he said.