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What will summer 2021 look like for travellers?

With staycations back on the agenda for summer, a slow return to travel looks imminent. But what about heading overseas? Here’s a look ahead to what the summer might have in store for international travel.

Published 2 Apr 2021, 08:05 BST, Updated 19 Apr 2021, 10:45 BST
Restrictions on international leisure travel could be lifted in May. So what could summer look like ...

Restrictions on international leisure travel could be lifted in May. So what could summer look like for travellers? 

Photograph by Getty Images

The unveiling of the government’s lockdown exit strategy for England last month has seen many of us itching to book ourselves onto the first available plane, train or ferry. But what will travel this summer really look like? With some campsites and self-catering accommodation now open to bookings from members of one household, and hotels and B&Bs by 17 May, staycations seem set to dominate travel plans for the foreseeable future.

In the days following the prime minister’s announcement that the ban on non-essential travel could be lifted in May, subject to conditions for the government’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown being met, airlines, hotels and travel companies reported record surges in demand. Optimism is creeping back, albeit tempered by the tough reality of remaining travel restrictions, travel corridors, costly quarantine hotels and emerging new variants of the virus.

What restrictions currently exist?

Restrictions on international travel include triple testing of passengers, mandatory quarantine hotels for travellers returning from ‘red list’ countries with high coronavirus infection rates, and 10-day mandatory quarantine for all other travellers. These measures will remain in place until at least 17 May. After this, the return of international leisure travel will be dependent on travel corridor arrangements, vaccine passport programmes and the growing number of destinations offering quarantine-free access for vaccinated travellers or those who can show relevant antibody tests. 

For further information, visit the government website

When should I book?

Foreign leisure travel could resume from mid-May, with the government recently saying it will formalise a ‘traffic light system’ to categorise the testing and quarantine requirements for countries, according to the different risks they pose to travellers. With demand soaring, lockdown fatigue at a peak and travel companies needing a lifeline injection of cash, some people are choosing to take advantage of attractive deals on foreign trips, gambling on restrictions being eased in time for them to travel, but for most, it seems this summer will be all about last-minute bookings.

How should I book?

Pay using a credit card, to gain protection from Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, and use an Atol-protected package tour operator, rather than booking flights and hotel independently. Choose an operator with flexible rebooking terms and a record of good recent customer service. Package holidays, which had waned in popularity, have seen a recent return to prominence as purchases are safeguarded by law if the company goes bust, and if travel corridor or lockdown rules preclude, you’ll be offered a trip to an alternative destination or the opportunity to claim a full refund.

Airlines, however, only have to refund you if they cancel a flight and may continue to operate even during lockdown. Once flights resume this summer, it’s unlikely they’ll be cancelled in the numbers we saw in 2020. Rebooking policies have become more flexible but vary from airline to airline and often have an additional fee attached, so it’s worth doing some research.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has more information

Read more: Experts answer your questions on booking summer getaways

Will I need a vaccination to travel?

Restrictions on international leisure travel could be lifted in May with the aid of vaccine certificates — where those who want to travel abroad can verify their inoculations — and through testing for both inbound and outbound travellers. The British government is in talks with the US, Singapore and the UN’s ICAO aviation body about an international certification system to ease travel restrictions for those with Covid-19 vaccinations — not dissimilar to the yellow fever vaccine card. These would likely be available to travellers after the second dose of the vaccine. All adults in the UK are slated to get their first dose of the vaccine by 31 July. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said its digital Covid Travel Pass should be ready ‘within weeks’. IATA has said it’s in talks with the UK government about its app, currently being trialled with a number of international airlines, which allows travellers to show proof of vaccination. 

Quarantines and corridors

The reality of foreign travel this summer will very much depend on which countries the UK has air corridors with. And this will be further hampered by destinations with slow-moving vaccination programmes, or those still coming in and out of lockdowns. Most travellers will delay booking until this becomes clear, making last-minute trips the order of the summer.

Read more: Where can I travel abroad this summer?

Hotels and resorts

Most accommodation providers now offer flexible cancellation and rebooking terms, but make sure you triple-check exclusions before handing over the credit card. Booking directly rather than via third-party bookings sites may make refunds and rebooking easier to access. So-called deep cleaning between guest bookings, contactless check-ins, and social distancing are now established to some degree in most hotels, self-catering accommodation, cruise ships and resorts. Some companies, including cruise operator Saga, already require proof of vaccination before travel, while others in the industry offer tests on arrival or departure.

Read more: Five things you need to know about travel insurance in the age of coronavirus

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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