Consumers keen to get their long-anticipated summer holidays booked in should wait a little longer for the full categorisation of countries under the government’s new traffic light system.
That was the message from aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts when pressed on his advice during an appearance before the government’s transport committee on Wednesday (14 April).
East Devon MP, Simon Jupp, asked Courts directly for his advice to consumers about booking an overseas holiday this summer, with the government hoping to restore some international travel from 17 May following publication last week of the Global Travel Taskforce’s report on how this can be achieved safely.
A key aspect of the taskforce’s recommendations is a traffic light system, which will grade countries on the basis of four key Covid risk factors; their categorisation under the system will then determine what testing and quarantine rules those returning to the UK from individual destinations will be subject to.
"Many people will want to holiday abroad this year, following the publication of the GTT report – what is your advice to them about booking an overseas holiday this summer?" Jupp asked Courts.
The minister said he was "absolutely passionate" about the travel industry, and wanted to see people "moving around and going away as quickly as we safely can do".
"Now that we’ve published this framework, we’re now in the position where we can say for the first time... people should be looking to book," said Courts.
"I would advise people, certainly for now, to wait until they know which category each country falls into, because of course there is still that risk of disappointment."
Earlier in the hearing, Courts reiterated it was the government’s intention to publish details of how countries would be categorised early next month, potentially little more than a week before some limited international travel is permitted.
Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South, called on Courts to clarify whether there would be a minimum notification period to travellers were a country to move from one category to another. It comes after last summer’s travel corridor regime was subject to change with only around 36 hours notice.
"Do you think you will be able to give more notice under your new system?" she asked Courts, who replied there would still be instances where things must change rapidly owing to the emergence of new Covid-19 variants of concern and the risk they pose to the UK’s vaccination programme.
"I think the public would expect us to keep a constant, vigilant eye on the situation," he said. "If we do have to act rapidly to protect public health, then we will do that. I accept there is a tension here because ideally we’d like to give notice. But sometimes we do just have to protect public health."
He added a new "green watchlist" would give travellers an idea of which countries were at risk of dropping out of the "green" category and into "amber".
Returning to his advice to holidaymakers, Courts said it wasn’t his role as a government minister to tell people what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
He urged people to look at what they have booked, or what they are planning to book, to ensure they are aware of whether they will be able to get their money back if their travel cannot go ahead, or if they can move their booking back.
He also advised people to be mindful of their own circumstances, such as whether they can self-isolate upon their return if there were to be a change in their destination country’s categorisation while they are away.
"We are able to offer more optimism now than we were because of this clear framework we have laid out, but it is still important for everyone who is considering travelling that they look at the terms and conditions of their contract and consider what would happen in the event of a difficulty," said Courts.
The minister added he expected the 17 May "at the very earliest" date for a resumption of international travel to be reviewed "around the beginning of May".