Travel agents refuse to take summer bookings over air bridge confusion

Hugh Morris
Holidaymakers heading to Greece will have to wait until mid-July - istock

Travel agents have stopped selling summer holidays for July and August due to the lack of clarity over the Government’s air bridge plans. 

It was thought the green light would be given on Monday for Britons to visit up to 50 countries, including Greece, Spain, France and Italy, without the need to quarantine on their return. But the announcement was delayed and yesterday Greece said flights from the UK could not resume until at least July 15.

Lee Hunt, managing director or Deben Travel, said he was reluctant to accept bookings given the uncertainty. “If someone wants to book, and they are asking me questions that I can't give a knowledgeable and truthful answer to, then that doesn't sit right with us a business,” he said. 

“It's going to lead to complaints, bad publicity and yet more refund requirements. Customers are asking us questions that we quite simply don't have the answers to or, indeed, give guarantees or assurances.”

He told TravelMole: “We are not comfortable about taking people's money and not knowing what they are getting.”

Kane Pirie, head of Vivid Travel, said the air bridge plans were "the emperor's new clothes". "They do not exist. The policy of governments around the world is changing on a daily basis," he said.

"These complicated bi-lateral agreements are too inherently unstable to enable customers to plan holidays. The air bridge with Greece just fell into the sea, without even a splash."

The Government has also come under pressure from tour operators who say they have been kept in the dark over plans to resume overseas travel. 

Noel Joesphides, a director at Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, said travel companies were increasingly frustrated over a lack of detail. 

“The problem is that the Government starts promising things two weeks before, so everyone starts preparing, then nothing happens,” he said. “It’s much better if they say nothing at all and then we all wait until there’s an official announcement.

“We need at least two weeks to get messages out to our clients. We can’t just do [start holidays again] if they tell us tomorrow that we start the day after, it’s just impossible.

“We need to know if we’re going to salvage anything this summer. Noone has heard anything.”

Tui, Europe’s largest tour operator, said it needed more details, too. Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, told the BBC on Tuesday: “We really do need that certainty, so if mid-week or Wednesday, or whenever it’s going to be, if the government can give us that list of destinations we can go to.”

Some, however, are more optimistic. It is understood Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will on Wednesday reveal how different countries have been graded in a new traffic light system. 

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and spokesperson for the Quash Quarantine campaign group, said he expects a “blaze of colour tomorrow afternoon, with a raft of green and amber countries announced”.

“This visibility will help the sector confirm previous summer bookings and sell last-minute availability,” he said. “There will be countries which don’t want to accept UK citizens until our case numbers decline further but there will be enough of a choice revealed tomorrow to help boost confidence and ensure those who want overseas holidays can secure them.”

Abta, the UK travel association, said: “Confirmation of the list of countries is eagerly anticipated by customers and the travel industry alike, so that they can plan ahead. 

“Once travel restrictions are lifted, customers should be aware that their holiday experience may be different due to Covid-19. Protecting public health is a priority and it will be important that customers speak to their travel provider about any changes in resort and research the safety measures in place within the destination they chose to travel to.”