UK’s travel ’green list’ a blow to some tourist economies
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By Andrea Felsted
London - Holiday to Portugal anyone?
Demand for trips to the country's Algarve beaches surged after the UK unveiled its so-called "green list" of places open for travel on Friday.
Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel and Iceland made the cut, meaning English travellers can book vacations there without having to worry about quarantining upon their return.
The inclusion of relatively few countries on the approved list may be sensible given that Europe has lagged the UK in vaccinations.
Lawmakers also want to avoid a repeat of last autumn's second wave of Covid-19 infections, which followed a summer of getaways.
But it is a blow to the tourist economies of France, Spain, Italy and Greece, which are set to miss out on Brits hitting the beach - at least in the short term. They have been designated "amber" in the traffic-light system governing international travel permitted from May 17.
Britain and Germany are the two biggest exporters of summer sun-seekers. With Brits' trips to their favourite destinations made expensive and difficult by the amber status, which requires travellers to quarantine at home after a trip and pay for multiple tests, many Mediterranean hotspots risk another lost summer.
The UK’s list is particularly disappointing for countries with highly popular islands, such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Having at least Mallorca and Mykonos on the green list would have freed Brits to travel without the need to quarantine.
Greece has been preparing to open up to tourism for those who have been fully vaccinated or recently tested negative for the virus from this week.
Germans holiday makers could soon return, and TUI is starting its flights to the country from Friday. But the UK's restrictions may put a damper on Greece's hope for a more extensive restart.
Airlines will also suffer from so many countries stuck on the amber and red lists - the latter has the most extensive restrictions, including paying for a stay in a quarantine hotel. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways (part of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA) will especially be affected by the US only having amber status.
Still, there is clearly huge pent up demand for international travel. Although UK government guidance says that people in England should not travel to amber list countries for leisure, some may decide to go ahead anyway.
TUI is trying to make it easier. Last week it announced it will be subsidizing coronavirus tests: It's offering all the tests needed to travel to amber countries for $70 (about R980) per person, much cheaper than the current cost, which can run into hundreds of pounds.
With working from home still a reality for many, some travellers may decide that a trip to Spain or Greece is worth the cost and time spent in isolation.
The big hope is that more countries will be granted green status before the peak summer season in July and August. Many of the holidays booked in February, in the rush of euphoria after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his road map for reopening, were from July onward. The list will be reviewed every three weeks.
If more popular destinations are not made green ahead of the summer, or if their status is changed too late, then more Brits could choose a staycation.
That would be a boost to the domestic economy - perhaps another reason for the government's caution on restarting international travel. But there may simply not be enough suitable accommodation to go round.
Hospitality business Whitbread Plc said recently that bookings were strong at its Premier Inn hotel chain in UK coastal and historic towns and near mountains and lakes.
If the green list isn't extended in time, we may see more Brits swapping Spain for Skegness.
Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.