The decision to revoke the Canary Islands’ quarantine-free travel corridor comes as another "devastating" blow for travel, just as it felt like it was starting to turn a corner.
That was the assessment from Advantage Travel Partnership chief Julia Lo Bue-Said following the latest travel corridor update from transport secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday (10 December).
Lo Bue-Said said agents and operators would now be left with the thankless task of rebooking and refunding some of the scant business the trade has been able to do in recent months.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland warned the removal of the Canaries travel corridor on the cusp of the winter sun season would like "send some holiday companies bankrupt".
Shapps confirmed the move on the afternoon of 10 December, while announcing Botswana and Saudi Arabia would be added to the travel corridor list.
However, his announcement threw the situation into further doubt when he tweeted half-an-hour later that the government’s vaunted "test to release" regime would come into effect on 15 December as planned.
This will allow those returning from non-travel corridor destinations to take a test upon their return which, if negative, could cut their mandatory self-isolation requirement to five days.
The Foreign Office, though, is yet to update its travel advice in respect of the Canaries, leaving agents, operators and passengers in limbo with regards to how to proceed; a change in FCDO advice to advise against travel to the Canaries would likely force operators to pull their programmes on insurance grounds.
The addition of the Canary Islands to the travel corridor list in late October came as one of the few positives travel has experienced in recent months, giving agents and operators hopes of getting passengers away over Christmas and New Year to drive cash flow.
It also follows a decision by the government of the Canary Islands, which came into force the same day Shapps announced the travel corridor was being axed, to allow holidaymakers to travel to the Canaries on a cheaper, quicker pre-travel antigen test for Covid, rather than a PCR test – a move which would have made the destination even more accessible to UK travellers.
Tui said it was "aware" of the government’s decision, but stressed its Canaries holidays were currently operating as planned. "We would like to assure customers that we will contact them directly if their holiday is affected," said Tui.
"Any customers due to travel from Friday 11 December up to and including Thursday 17 December have the option to amend for free to any holiday that’s currently on sale."
TTG has approached Jet2holidays for comment on its Canaries programme.
Lo Bue-Said said: “The Canary Islands being removed from the travel ‘safe list’ will be absolutely devastating for some travel agents and tour operators.
"Given the limited number of destinations suitable for winter sun holidays that are also exempt from self-isolation upon return to the UK, the majority of departures over the next few weeks would have been to the Canaries, particularly since the UK lockdown has been lifted and in the lead-up to the Christmas period.
"Travel agents will now have the difficult task of rebooking and cancelling passengers, while the majority of their workforce remain on furlough."
Of the government’s approach to travel matters, Lo Bue-Said added: "At what point will the government recognise that tailored support is needed? The travel industry is vital to economic recovery, but continued changes to the travel corridor measures, blanket FCDO advisory, and a testing regime that still hasn’t been implemented, is causing devastation and misery to many businesses.
"The travel industry had started to feel like it was turning a corner, however the removal of the Canaries is hugely damaging. We strongly urge the government to advise at their earliest convenience their plans for the test and release scheme, as well as a much needed review of the FCDO advisory.”
Boland said: “There is a lot to debate in the approach the government has taken to travel corridors, but one thing is certain – removing the Canary Islands this close to the winter sun season is going to send some holiday companies bankrupt.
“The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the travel industry, and urgent help is needed to keep it afloat during the winter months.
"We are urging the government to introduce a travel guarantee fund to ensure travel companies who are ordinarily in good financial health can meet their obligations to customers.”