Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently revealed the UK's plan to gradually return to international travel. A slow reopening of foreign tourism is expected with a traffic light system of approved countries already in place, with more updates expected to come soon. This is helpful news for anyone thinking about their summer holiday – it makes deciding whether you want to staycation or vacation for 2021 a little easier.
What is the travel traffic light system?
The traffic light system is used to indicate which countries are safest for international travel and each different level (red, amber and green) comes with different restrictions. Essentially, the system dictates which restrictions apply for each country, including whether you need to self-isolate, a test before you return to the UK and tests on arrival.
Currently, most countries are on the amber, or red lists, making booking a summer holiday to your dream destination this year pretty unlikely.
Will I need a vaccine passport to travel this summer?
The current travel restrictions were announced on 17 May, however, it is said that the government is considering 'vaccine passports' which, in theory, would allow the public more freedom to travel. Other countries in Europe have already adopted this method, and have also opened up their borders to UK travel.
WATCH: Travel abroad from the comfort of your own home
At the moment, it's too early to say whether vaccinations will become a mandatory part of travelling in the future – but it's always good to be aware that these restrictions could change. Making sure you have a good travel insurance that cover you for COVID related disruptions is likely to be worth it.
James Andrews, senior personal finance editor at Money.co.uk, said: “If you’re looking to purchase travel insurance to give your trip another layer of security, it’s important to remember that your policy will be linked to the restrictions at the time you buy it, not at the time of your trip."
In theory, this means that if you bought travel insurance before vaccine passports became mandatory (if they ever do), you would be covered in the event of a cancelled trip if you were unable to go because you hadn’t been vaccinated, but if you purchase insurance after the vaccine passports were announced, there would be little chance of getting your money back.
James added: "If you do end up purchasing a policy in the next few months, be sure to check the provider’s COVID policy before you pay. Several providers have stopped offering policies that cover you for COVID related disruptions altogether, so even if the deal looks good on the surface, you might find yourself out of pocket if the current restrictions change and you’re unable to travel."
A new travel traffic light system has been put into place
In short, we shouldn't all get booking immediately – there are still many restrictions in place and, for international travel, expensive testing and quarantine regimes to follow. If you’re still desperate to book your summer holiday abroad, here’s everything you need to know.
What has Boris Johnson said about international travel?
The Prime Minister released the first list of countries on the green list on 17 May, including Portugal and Iceland. Further updates are said to be coming soon, so we can keep our fingers crossed that more countries may be added.
Passengers coming from these so-called "green" countries will not need to quarantine on their arrival back in the U.K., but they will need to test prior to and on the return from travel.
People from "red" or "amber" countries will still need to quarantine in a government-approved hotel. "Red" countries are likely to be the same ones that are currently on the red travel ban list. And only British residents will be allowed in from those countries and they will still have to hotel quarantine.
What are the key dates for travel?
12 April: Holidays in the UK can be taken, but only in self-catering accommodation with your own household. A review of international holidays will be conducted by the Transport Secretary with a view to lifting travel bans in May.
17 May: Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, indoor hospitality and attractions reopen. Holidays in the UK now in full swing; you can socialise with up to six people indoors. International travel may resume to certain countries following the rules of the traffic light system.
21 June: All restrictions on socialising to be dropped, meaning you can take holidays with whomever you like – even in larger groups.
Can I book a summer holiday in 2021?
The short answer is: yes, but with plenty of caution. You need to be careful about where you book and how you do it. Really, the question should be: is it safe to book a summer holiday in 2021? The answer to that is a little more complicated.
Current travel restrictions are unlikely to change massively in the next few weeks until a further announcement on 21 June, and even then, we don’t know which destinations will be added to the green list. Portugal has been a popular destination for many Brits this month, but it's important to know the rules you have to follow before being able to travel there.
International travel may require vaccination passports in the future
Finally, you might also find that vaccination passports become necessary to enter some destinations. The International Air Transport Association announced in February that it would be releasing a vaccine passport app soon, which will allow travellers who have been vaccinated to show proof of their jab.
How can I book my 2021 summer holiday safely?
The safest way to book your summer holiday abroad this year is as a package through a travel agent. This way, you’ll get ATOL protection (which means you get your money back should the holiday not go ahead for reasons beyond your control), and you’ll have a genuine travel expert at your disposal to advise you should anything go wrong, such as cancellations or more travel bans from the UK government.
Alternatively, look for companies offering money-back guarantees or flexible rebooking options. IHG hotels, for example, have a no-commitment booking policy with no deposit and free cancellation up to three days before travel. Sandals Resorts, one of the UK’s leading operators, also has a flexible policy. Karl Thompson, the Managing Director of their Caribbean arm, told us:
“Customers who book through Sandals and Beaches Resorts’ UK tour operator, UCHL, are protected by the Package Travel Regulations, ATOL and ABTA. We have been offering customers who have been affected by the pandemic and are unable to travel free amends or cancellations since the start and we will continue to offer flexible options for our customers.”
Booking your holiday through a travel agent will provide you with ATOL protection
Meanwhile, On The Beach is helpfully doing a new pre-trip cancellation cover deal. This is automatically included with every package holiday, meaning that if anyone in your group contracts COVID-19 before travelling, your cancellation costs are covered!
Elsewhere, Wowcher has a great value deal for a mystery holiday with a hotel stay and return flights from five airports from £129pp in August - and £99pp if you book from September onwards. Holidays include Antigua, Thailand, Dubai, Sicily and Barcelona. If you are drawn to a destination that is subsequently added to the UK quarantine list, you will be offered a suitable alternative - but make sure you check the T&Cs.
If you’re not planning on going abroad, though, booking direct with your hotel or accommodation provider and opting for a rate that offers the most flexibility is the best option.
Will summer holidays in 2021 be safe?
Staying safe on your summer holiday is paramount – no one wants to get sick during what’s supposed to be a relaxing trip. Whether or not your holiday is safe, though, really depends on where you go and how you travel.
If you’re concerned about mixing with too many people, consider a self-catering break rather than going to a hotel. If a hotel is what you’re after, though, book a property that has a clear and well thought out Covid policy and social distancing measures in place.
There’s a certain amount of personal responsibility involved with staying safe on holiday this year, too. Keep your mask with you at all times so you can pop it on when necessary, and sanitise your hands regularly.
The UK offers plenty of staycations for those looking for a holiday closer to home
Where should I go for my summer holiday in 2021?
If you want a taste of island life and Caribbean-worthy beaches without going abroad, we recommend the Isles of Scilly – the destination of choice for Prince William and his family last summer. If you’re concerned about safety, consider booking a self-catering stay in the likes of Northumberland National Park, where you can enjoy long walks, country pubs and plenty of space.
The Pembrokeshire coast is littered with soft-sand beaches and has a great coastal path for inland national park for exploring on foot, while the Roseland Heritage AONB in Cornwall is generally quieter than the county’s north coast (we love the Fowey Hall Hotel & Spa).
It’s a little harder for us to advise on which international destinations are safe to book right now, but the Caribbean could well be a good bet – numbers in this region have been pretty low for the most part and it’s easy to dine and socialise outdoors.
Will I have to quarantine after my summer holiday?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released brand new guidelines earlier this spring, revealing that fully vaccinated American citizens will no longer need to quarantine after travelling.
However, the UK rules are a little different. The UK Government website states: If you’re travelling to England, what you need to do depends on where you have been in the 10 days before you arrive. If you have been in a country or territory on the:
- green list - you do not need to quarantine but you must take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2
- amber list - you must quarantine in the place you’re staying and take 2 COVID-19 tests
- red list - you must quarantine in a hotel and take 2 COVID-19 tests
You must follow these rules even if you have been vaccinated.
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