Travel companies prepare for surge in bookings as ‘day-2’ Covid test set to be scrapped

Tourism groups are gearing up for a surge in holiday bookings for the February half-term break when ministers are expected to cut the remaining test required for vaccinated travellers to the UK next week.

Thomas Cook, Expedia and Jet2 said they expected a sudden leap in bookings with ministers likely to end “day-2” lateral flow tests for vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK, similar to the rise in bookings after the removal of pre-departure testing in January.

Under the proposals, unvaccinated travellers would still need to take lateral flow tests on the second and eighth day after their arrival and the passenger locator form is likely to remain in a simplified form, government officials said.

The easing would come at a crucial time as businesses prepare for bookings during the February half-term week and Easter holidays.

Alan French, chief executive of Thomas Cook, said the end of compulsory testing for jabbed holidaymakers would be “a massive lift for families ahead of the upcoming school holidays”.

He added: “People can now get away to the slopes of the Alps or the beaches of the Canaries without the need to spend hundreds of pounds on tests.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, said the airline was expecting “an immediate and dramatic surge in bookings”, similar to one following the initial easing of travel curbs on January 5.

Dana Dunne, chief executive of eDreams Odigeo, Europe’s largest online travel agency, said the changes would be “a booster for consumer confidence”. He added that following the January 5 announcement, flight bookings from the UK had increased 35 per cent week-on-week.

Expedia said that over the same period it had a 145 per cent increase in searches by UK customers for holidays abroad.

Data from Skyscanner, the flight search website, showed click-throughs to bookings were up 67 per cent this month compared with December as customers showed greater confidence in making reservations as restrictions eased.

By contrast, Guesty, which provides property management software for short-term rental accommodation, reported cancellations of UK-based bookings increased 18 per cent between the weeks ending January 5 and January 12.

Industry executives have been lobbying hard for ministers to remove all restrictions for fully vaccinated passengers in line with the loosening of domestic rules.

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, is set to push for the loosening of the travel restrictions at a meeting of the government’s Covid-19 committee, which monitors coronavirus measures, on Monday. Any changes will apply to England but devolved administrations generally follow suit.

Ministers are also considering whether to change the definition of fully vaccinated to mean those who have received a booster shot as well, although this is unlikely to come into force until the spring, a government aide confirmed.

The Department for Transport declined to comment.

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