So it will be Grant Shapps who takes the spotlight at 5pm today (Friday 7 May) to deliver the news the travel industry has been anticipating for months; destination X – green, amber or red?
I imagine Boris Johnson had something else on, he usually likes to take the lead on these "big" announcements. Or perhaps it’s indicative of the disdain government has shown travel for the past 14 months – tourism minister Nigel Huddleston’s insistence in a TTG interview that travel and tourism "got huge amounts" of Covid support still rings out hollow in my ears.
I digress. Back to this Friday. 5pm – great. That’s another weekend wiped out for agents across the country, whose phones will no doubt be ringing off the hooks with clients wondering what’s going on with their holidays.
Airlines and operators, meanwhile, will be working around the clock to take any advantage they can of the announcement and get travel moving again, albeit with the barest of notice.
It’s somehow fitting too, the traffic light announcement coming almost exactly a year to the day (10 May) since Johnson announced the UK would be introducing an inbound quarantine regime, one we now know – not that we didn’t at the time – came months too late.
Shapps’s planned address on Friday comes as tacit confirmation the government will, in all likelihood, lift its restrictions on international leisure travel from 17 May, and permit quarantine-free travel to a handful of destinations under a new risk-based traffic light system.
"Green list" arrivals will just have to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test by the end of the second day of their return. Arrivals from "amber" destinations will have to quarantine at home for 10 days, taking tests on days two and eight, while "red list" arrivals will go into hotel quarantine.
It has long been clear a 17 May restart would be extremely limited in its scope, and would depend heavily on rates of Covid infection overseas, as well as vaccination programmes elsewhere.
For all its foibles and those of its ministers, many of which have been very publicly exposed over the past year, the UK government would appear to have got the country’s vaccination roll-out right.
The UK, along with Israel and, latterly, the US, have left the rest of the world behind, and created for itself what many have described as a "vaccine dividend", a pay-off for its people owing to the pace of that vaccination programme.
However, the bosses of Heathrow, British Airways, easyJet, Jet2.com and Manchester Airports Group this week warned the UK government was at risk of squandering this dividend with an "over-cautious" and "illogical" restart that is too limited in its scope and doesn’t allow vaccinated travellers to benefit from their status by requiring them to submit to testing upon their return.
The question, though, remains the extent to which travellers can actually leverage their status, if and when there is a resumption. Despite protestations by the UK’s airlines, the government was never going to sanction travel to Europe’s foremost holiday hotspots and hang the consequences.
The continent is still firefighting a deadly third wave of Covid infection, and the risk of importing new variants is very real – these variants undoubtedly have the potential to throw the UK’s re-emergence off course.
When the Global Travel Taskforce set out its roadmap for the resumption of international travel, 17 May was marked as the "at the very earliest" date for a restart – if travel gets a 17 May restart, it could be argued this is more than the industry could ever have hoped for. I’m sure the government would.
The taskforce report, though, built in three additional checkpoints to review the traffic light system, with the first of these falling on 28 June.
As reported by TTG earlier this week, the Foreign Office has over the past month softened its travel advice for various destinations, most notably mainland Portugal and Madeira, Malta, the Canary Islands, Israel and five Greek islands, potentially hinting at a green list of sorts.
To bank on all of these making the first draft of the green list is somewhat fanciful. It does, however, give hope that come 28 June, after another five weeks of Covid caution and shots in arms, some of these destinations will be in a suitably advantageous position to move from (presumably) amber to green.
Friday’s announcement, however limited, must come as a fillip, it must serve as a platform for travel to build on, even if just to rebuild confidence. But I’d mark 28 June in your diaries and on your calendars for a clearer picture of what travel can hope for in 2021 – and beyond.
James Chapple is TTG’s deputy news editor.