Any decision you make about booking a summer break will be determined by where you are thinking of going and what sort of holiday you fancy. Until at least May 17, we are not allowed to travel abroad for leisure, and many countries are not allowing UK citizens to visit anyway. But we can make educated guesses about which are likely to offer the best and worse prospects and below – as an at-a-glance guide – we have colour-coded some key destinations and types of holidays.
What the colours mean
Red: Travel unlikely until next year. Do not think about booking yet, except possibly for departures in 2021.
Amber: Situation remains uncertain, but be ready to book if and when that changes.
Green: Consider booking now.
For departures from April 12 onwards, as outlined by the Government’s lockdown exit plan, book your British holiday now. Such is the demand, that you may already be too late for the main school holidays. Note that pubs and restaurants will not open for indoor service until May 17, while restrictions on indoor gatherings (maximum of six people from two households) will last until at least June 21.
2. The Med and mainland Europe
The Government has said that overseas holidays will be allowed from May 17. However, this is subject to review. It has also made no promises about easing the current travel restrictions, which require all returning Britons to self-isolate for 10 days at home and take three Covid tests (one in the 72 hours before they fly and two more after they return home), and arrivals from 33 red list countries to spend that time in a quarantine hotel. Given this lingering uncertainty, any bookings for overseas trips come with a risk.
Will European countries be welcoming us after May 17? Despite a relatively slow start to vaccinations in Europe, these will certainly accelerate and there are some encouraging signs that some key countries will open, at least for peak season. Spain has expressed determination to restart tourism this summer and Greece has said it may allow tourists who have been vaccinated to skip quarantine on arrival.
3. North America
The US is reasonably well advanced on their vaccination programmes, and while the recent news that those who have been vaccinated can skip quarantine rules does not apply to incoming travellers, rather than to those who have been exposed to someone with the virus, it is a hopeful sign for future travel. Canada is lagging behind at the moment but is aiming to vaccinate the entire population by the end of September, with vulnerable groups protected well before then.
4. The Caribbean and the Indian Ocean
These are some of the most popular resort destinations anywhere, and they have generally been pretty successful at controlling the virus and keeping tourism going. The Maldives, Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia are some of the few destinations to remain open to UK travellers in recent weeks, and they seem likely to offer some of the best bets for holidays from May 17 onwards – though, you may want to wait until late autumn or winter for climatic reasons. The Seychelles has already vaccinated half its population.
5. Australia and New Zealand
The incredibly stringent quarantine controls put on incoming travel to both Australia and New Zealand, combined with their methods for controlling the pandemic, means that it is extremely unlikely either will risk reopening to tourists before Christmas. Even that is looking optimistic.
6. South-east Asia
Countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos seem – according to official figures at least – to have escaped the worst of the pandemic. However, like Australia and New Zealand, they have maintained some of the strictest border controls in the world and look unlikely to be feasible holiday options until next winter at the earliest.
7. South America and sub-Saharan Africa
I have lumped these together because both regions are affected by variants which may be more resistant to current vaccines. There are differences – vaccination programmes in Latin American look much more advanced than in Africa, but the chances of quarantine-free travel to these destinations before the end of the year is not looking hopeful for either continent. Having said that, many countries in these regions, such as Ecuador, Brazil, Botswana and Rwanda, have been keen to lure tourists, so if variant fears are allayed, things could change. But it is certainly not a good idea to book until the situation becomes clearer.
Some ski resorts are open – in Austria and Italy, for example. But only for locals and, sadly, British residents will not be able to travel to the Alps until at least May 17, when there will be very little left in the way of snow. If you want to ski in a peak week next season, however, it may be worth booking soon because pent up demand is likely to be significant in 2021/22.
Vaccination could transform cruising and offer hopes of a relatively early restart – especially for departures from UK ports. Several European cruise lines briefly restarted operations last summer, so departures from the likes of Venice, Rome and Barcelona could be possible after May 17. It seems reasonable to be optimistic too about Caribbean cruises next winter.
10. Escorted Tours
Until mass tourism restarts, escorted cultural tours will offer a remarkable opportunity to see sights without the usual crowds. Operators say that bookings are strong for departures in the autumn onwards, but whether or not they depart will depend entirely on the intended destination.