Europe's travel industry counts on British holidaymakers to lead tourism rebound
Hopes that the great British getaway would be possible this summer grew on Wednesday, with easyJet predicting that most of Europe would be open for travel and British Airways confident on routes to the US, despite ongoing uncertainty.
Europe's travel industry, battered by the pandemic, is counting on British holidaymakers to lead a tourism rebound this summer. After one of the world's fastest vaccination programmes, Britons could be permitted to travel from late May.
But over the last month, a third wave of coronavirus infections in continental Europe has cast doubts on the bumper return of travel.
The British government disappointed airlines and consumers last Friday when it failed to say when travel could restart and which countries would be on its green list of low-risk destinations.
But easyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren shrugged off concerns on Wednesday, telling reporters that he believed most of Europe would be open for Britons by May 17, the earliest date the government has said travel can restart.
"I would expect that almost all major European countries, that by the time it comes to travel reopening, that most countries in Europe should be in that category," he said of Britain's green list.
Meanwhile, British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said there was an "immediate opportunity" to open up routes to the United States, given the fast pace of vaccine roll outs in both countries.
The two countries "more or less mirroring each other" on vaccinations means they should be able to "lead the way" in terms of opening up", he said during CAPA Live, an online industry event.
But Britain's aviation minister Robert Courts said on Wednesday that while the government did want to unlock travel, he could not offer airlines more clarity yet.
"It wouldn't be right for me to speculate as to which countries in which areas of the world are likely to be on which list," he told a parliamentary committee. "It's too early to say at the moment."
The government would give more details in early May, he said.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye was also more circumspect, predicting a "patchy" re-opening of travel with long-haul journeys more likely.
"There is less chance of being able to fly to Europe in the next few months than there is of flying to the US or Israel or the Caribbean or Singapore," he told a separate industry event.
Europe's vaccination rollout has lagged the UK's and the resurgence of cases in some countries is being driven by what Britain regards as "variants of concern" in terms of the risk they pose to vaccine efficacy.
The UK government's requirement for two Covid-19 tests to allow travel to green list countries, which includes the more costly "gold standard" PCR test that helps identify variants of concern, gave Lundgren confidence that Europe would be open.
While easyJet opposes testing for low risk green-list countries, Lundgren says if the government sticks with its two test plan, "I wouldn't see reason why you wouldn't have the majority of the countries of Europe in there."
Airlines have worried that the tests which can cost more than 100 pounds ($137.52), or more than some of easyJet's ticket prices, would deter travellers, although the government has said it is trying to reduce the cost.
British Airways said on Wednesday its customers could now book a cheaper 60 pound PCR test with provider Randox.