Trying to book a summer holiday can be difficult at the best of times. Right now, with travel restrictions and quarantine rules changing constantly, it’s more confusing than ever.
After the latest announcement in which no new countries were added to the government’s travel green list, you may be thinking the sun has set on any hopes of a getaway. But according to travel industry experts that’s not the case…
Is it too late to book a summer holiday this year?
“Definitely not,” says Chris Wright, MD of tour operator Sunvil. “I think people have been holding off waiting to see what the advice is and there are still plenty of spaces.”
But he adds that some holidaymakers have already given up on booking for this summer: “We’re definitely seeing a lot of people deferring from 2021 through to 2022 and even booking 2023 because they want to make sure they’ve got something in the bag when things start to take off.”
Rachel O’Reilly, director of communications at Kuoni, says: “I think people have to keep a little bit of faith. Things can change so quickly – they can change for the worse, as we’ve seen with Portugal, they can change for the better. So I think we’re still in a position where people will be able to get away.”
What do you need to know about travel restrictions before booking a holiday abroad?
“There’s two things to look at. It’s the traffic light list and the FCDO list – those are two separate lists,” says Rory Boland travel editor at Which? “The traffic light list tells you what tests you’re going to have to take and what sorts of quarantine, if any, you need to do when you come back to the UK. It doesn’t tell you whether you can get into the country at the other end, so you need to check that as well.”
Because countries could easily move from green to amber with little warning, when looking at potential holiday destinations, Boland says it’s important to consider: “Can you quarantine on returning for 10 days? Does your job and your personal life allow that?”
Is it better to wait until the last minute to book a holiday?
“If you’re prepared to do it at short notice you might still get away,” says O’Reilly. “What we saw last year, people were desperate to get away. Some of them were prepared to quarantine or do the testing, they’ll jump through any hoops.”
Flexibility is key if you want to have the best chance of bagging a holiday, says Boland: “If you want to go somewhere on specific dates to a specific destination, there’s no point booking at the moment because you risk being disappointed.
“If you’re not worried about dates, so if you have to move something from June to October, or end up having to move from the Canary Islands to the Greek Islands with your tour operator, then you’re probably in an OK position to book.”
On the other hand, it may be better to book sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment, says Wright: “The problem with waiting until the last minute is that there may be limited availability. We’re already seeing a lot of our properties, in Greece especially, are being snapped up by German, French and other nationalities that are able to travel at the moment.”
If you do decide to book, be sure to check the terms and conditions carefully. “Make sure your money’s safe,” says O’Reilly. “Look for a company that will allow you to cancel if anything changes.”
Wright says that in some cases a package deal is a safer bet: “When you book individual elements you don’t always have the option of cancelling if the flight is still going ahead, but your accommodation isn’t.”
What happens if the rules change once I’ve made a booking?
“If your country goes from green to amber most tour operators don’t care, so they will carry on operating the holiday and you won’t be able to claim a refund,” says Boland. “There are some flexible booking policies out there – a limited number, but they do exist – that will refund you if a country goes from green to amber. That’s the really crucial gold standard refund policy you’re looking for.”
Is a staycation a better option?
With many holidaymakers abandoning their foreign travel plans, staycations have become a huge trend this year, but is it true that everywhere is now booked up?
“Every time we’ve seen headlines saying ‘The UK sold out’, when we’ve investigated, it’s not true,” says Boland. “Yes, Cornwall and Devon in the summer holidays will be booked up, they’re booked up every single year, there’s no difference there.”
There is certainly increased demand for UK and Ireland properties this year, but if you shop around you can find some great staycation options, he adds: “If you can be flexible on your dates, book outside the summer holidays, and ideally be flexible about your destination, so don’t go to those hotspots, you will find places.”