The prospect of new restrictions on international travel sent the travel industry shuddering on Monday, putting pressure on companies already reeling from nearly a year of disruption.
Shares of European airlines fell as the UK government prepared to introduce tougher immigration rules over fears that new strains of Covid-19 could spread from international travelers.
The Swedish, Belgian and German governments also tightened travel restrictions over the weekend.
Travel groups devastated by a year of historically low bookings have warned that new measures could be the last straw for businesses as the news affects consumer confidence during a key period for summer vacation bookings.
Andrew Crawley, commercial director of American Express Global Business Travel, said tighter restrictions would prevent the few remaining travelers from flying and “kill trips.”
“Things are bad and these travel restrictions will make things a disaster for the industry.”
Senior ministers will hold a meeting of the UK government’s ‘Covid operations committee’ on Tuesday, at which the stricter measures are expected to be approved.
Figures such as Chancellor Rishi Sunak are now in agreement with plans to force all entrants to Britain to self-quarantine in a hotel – at their own expense – to prevent the spread of the disease. Grant Shapps, secretary of transportation, appears increasingly isolated in his attempt to limit the new rules to people coming from countries with new strains of Covid-19.
Glyn Jones, general manager of Southend Airport, which does not operate passenger flights at the moment, said the prospect of new restrictions added to consumer uncertainty during the summer season.
“When people are unsure, they don’t tend to make buying decisions.”
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of EasyJet, said customer sentiment depended on the news flow, but bookings showed pent-up demand for travel whenever there were signs of loosening restrictions by governments.
Investors were also shaken by the fact that British Airways owner IAG led the share price down, falling 8%, while easyJet fell 7% and Ryanair and tour operator Carnival took the plunge. each lost 5% at lunchtime Monday.
Airlines and travel directors are resigned to the idea of the first months of this year being written off.
But there are growing fears that the critical summer season is at risk, especially if the UK introduces a mandatory hotel quarantine for inbound passengers.
The government has asked hotels run by nationwide chains to make rooms available, especially at airport sites, for arrivals in 10-day quarantine, with travelers bearing the costs, according to industry advisers. trip.
“At the moment, the government is only preventing people entering the country, layer after layer, from blocking entry into the country,” said Lana Bennett, general manager of Tours International, which manages routes for them. incoming tourists to the UK.
The company took £ 1.4million in revenue in 2019, but Ms Bennett said she had not taken any money since last March and no new bookings have been confirmed for this year.
The travel industry was careful not to criticize the public health measures, but called for an exit from the restrictions in time for the peak holiday season.
“Tens of thousands of jobs and billions of trade losses are at stake and therefore we need a roadmap to get out of these restrictions as soon as possible,” said Tim Alderslade, Managing Director of Airies UK , an industrial association.
Joss Croft, chief executive of the UKinbound trade body, said the tourism industry would only recover “when quarantine is abolished” and financial support was needed to ensure the UK did not lose. not against its competitors during the recovery period.
Ahead of the coronavirus, the inbound tourism sector is expected to generate £ 24.7bn in spending last year, but VisitBritain’s forecast released last month showed the number of visits was down 76% from 2019 and that spending fell to £ 5.7 billion.
The UK hotel occupancy rate in December was already at its lowest level since May, according to data released by analyst firm STR.
The cost of the testing regime was “prohibitive,” TravelSupermarket said, adding that the pandemic was driving down summer vacation prices, especially in Portugal where flights from the UK were temporarily banned amid fears linked to the spread of Brazilian Covid-19. variant.