One in three of us have already put money down on a holiday this year - but is actually safe to book one in 2021?
After new Covid-19 variants (opens in new tab) were found in the UK at the end of last year, all travel in and out of the UK essentially became illegal under the new lockdown travel rules (opens in new tab). If you weren't stopped from leaving the country in the first place then there was a hotel quarantine (opens in new tab) to contend with on your return and more testing in place.
The difficulty around the situation has many people asking whether holidays are going to go ahead at all this year, especially after the government announced their roadmap out of lockdown (opens in new tab).
So is it safe to book a holiday in 2021? Here is what the experts think...
Is it safe to book a holiday in 2021?
The government are still warning against booking a holiday for the time being, even though the lockdown will slowly begin to lift from March 8.
In his address to the House of Commons on February 22, the prime minister said that four reviews will take place over the next couple of months. One of these, he said, "will consider the resumption of international travel which is vital for many businesses which have been hardest hit including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation."
This review will be conducted by the new Global Travel Taskforce by April 12, "so that people can plan for the summer". This date is also is the earliest time that holiday-lets will be allowed to open back up again, with hostels and hotels currently permitted to open a month later in May. All being well, the government have said that May 17 is the earliest date at which the very tight restrictions on international travel could end.
While the end is in sight, there's no definitive answer to when international travel - or even travel within the UK - will be allowed again.
Matt Hancock has previously said that it was "too early" to know whether summer holidays would be able to go ahead this year, after data revealed that Covid-19 infections in February were still significantly higher than they were during the peak last year.
The prime minister and the health secretary have both stressed that a higher priority, alongside getting kids back to school after lockdown, would be making sure that people can see their loved ones again. This, they have both said, is entirely dependent on the continued success of the vaccination plan and the absence of any more dangerous variants. So far, almost 18 million people around the country have received their first dose.
"We are doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that people can have a holiday this summer but the vaccine rollout is absolutely essential to that," Matt Hancock said.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has also urged caution to anyone looking to book a holiday for 2021, saying that "it's difficult to plan" until the government could give further reassurance to the public.
He added, "The rules now are very clear that people shouldn’t be travelling domestically, or certainly internationally, unless there are very exceptional reasons."
"The measures that we’ve just put in place...we’re doing this to protect the NHS as it’s still coming under immense pressure and to protect our vaccine rollout."
Business have criticised this move by the government though, saying that the uncertainty around what will or won't be allowed is just fuelling uncertainty and making things worse for companies already struggling through the pandemic.
There is some hope that holidays within the UK will go ahead this summer though, as the health secretary has confirmed he booked his own holiday to Cornwall "months ago". Instead of looking to international destinations this year, Matt Hancock advised people to plan for a "great British summer" in the UK.
"I'm going to Cornwall." He said, "And I have said before I think we're going to have a great British summer. But we've got a lot of work to do between now and then.
"What we can do is see the line of sight to vaccinating everybody by September and anything before that would be a bonus. As the foreign secretary said yesterday, we’re driving this as fast as we possibly can."
In spite of the continued advice to avoid booking a holiday just yet, millions of people have already started planning their European getaway. Tui, Britain's biggest holiday company, have said that they've already sold 2.8 million trips across the continent for the summer 2021. So is it really safe a holiday this year - both financially and health-wise?
Should I book a holiday abroad in 2021?
Along with Tui, coach and tour operators have seen a huge spike in holiday bookings from people over 50 over the last few months. Industry experts have suggested this is to do with 'vaccine confidence' as the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine (opens in new tab) and Oxford vaccine (opens in new tab) has largely been a success since it started. Along with the millions who have received their first dose, well over 600,000 people have now been fully vaccinated.
However, while you might be keen to book a holiday in 2021 while prices are at their lowest, experts warn that booking this early could be a mistake:
“Anyone hoping to get away for a foreign holiday this summer should hold on to their money and not book anything until the rules on travel are much clearer." Lloyd Figgins, travel risk expert and chairman of the Travel Risk & Incident Prevention Group (TRIP) (opens in new tab).
“Some holiday companies and airlines still haven’t refunded passengers from holidays which were cancelled due to Covid-19 last year, so why would you give your money to companies when there’s no guarantee you will see it again. You will be far better keeping it safely in your bank account until you know you can travel to your chosen destination.
“It’s also worth bearing in mind that although the UK may relax travel restrictions, there’s a strong possibility that the EU may actually increase measures and this will include restrictions to our favourite holiday destinations. Despite tour operators claiming they are seeing a surge in bookings, the reality is that in these times, ten additional bookings a week would constitute a “surge”, given the lack of consumer confidence to travel overseas.
“Those who do decide to book a holiday should expect additional conditions attached to their booking, including being able to provide a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travelling, having a vaccination certificate and being subject to additional testing on arrival at their destination.
"More and more tour operators and airlines are adopting the "no vaccination, no travel” approach, with Saga announcing yesterday that this would be implemented for all their cruises. It would also be wise to check what health services are available (or not) in your chosen destination, as this will vary greatly from country to country."
Things to consider if you want to book a holiday this year
If you're still interested in a foreign holiday for 2021, there are a couple of ways to mitigate the financial risks. Joel Kempson, insurance expert at money.co.uk (opens in new tab) says, "The coronavirus pandemic has made planning and booking a family holiday in 2021 a bit of a nightmare. In turn this has caused a rise in uncertainty around travel insurance and what you need to look out for to make sure you’re covered for while on holiday.
“With travel restrictions firmly in place and a strict ‘stay at home’ rule across the country, we’d recommend not planning a future holiday without purchasing travel insurance first, and checking that it covers you for coronavirus-related cancellations before purchasing it.
“Choose the best travel insurance at the best price for you by comparing policies from a variety of providers. Our travel insurance guide (opens in new tab) gives you all the important information needed before booking a holiday."
Martin Nolan, consumer rights and travel insurance expert at SkyScanner (opens in new tab), agrees. He says, “Travellers' peace of mind needs to be the top priority for the industry and travel providers as they continue to navigate travel during a pandemic.
"There are a few ways travellers can protect their bookings. Purchasing a ‘flexible’ ticket, for example, could mean that you’re entitled to a free date or destination change if you should need it."
Before you book a holiday, you should also consider what the safety rules and travel restrictions might be in the country you want to visit and back here in the UK, too. At the time of writing, the government has imposed hotel quarantine on anyone coming back from countries on their 'red list', meaning that an individual will be asked to pay almost £2000 to isolate in an airport hotel for 10 days after landing. This is to stop the spread of coronavirus and Covid-19 variants from people entering the country. The new quarantine system is very similar to the one that has been implemented in other countries as well, such as Australia and New Zealand.
There also may be rules to consider in your intended holiday destination too. Such as having to show proof of having been vaccinated against Covid before you travel.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has confirmed that the country won't be accepting international tourists again until 70% of their own citizens have had the jab. Seychelles, Cyprus, Estonia, Denmark and Poland, along with the UAE have said that they plan to encourage vaccinated individuals to visit, while those who are not vaccinated will have to comply with strict regulations.
Is it safe to fly during the pandemic?
In terms of the risk of catching the virus while going on holiday, it looks like flying is a safer way to travel than you might think. According to a recent study from the Department of Defence and United Airlines (opens in new tab), anyone wearing a mask is at a very low risk of catching Covid-19 on planes - even during packed out flights. The research involved mannequins placed around a plane and a mass infection of 280 million particles into the air, to signify around 1,000 coughs happening during the flight.
It showed that the aggressive air filtration and circulation systems on planes, which are in-built as standard, lead to Covid-19 particles being almost immediately dispersed. It would take a minimum of 54 hours, sitting next to someone with the virus, to be exposed to the infection.
These findings boost other research from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) (opens in new tab), which concluded that the “risk of contracting the virus on board appears to be in the same category as being struck by lightning.”
It’s good news then for the travel industry and anyone wondering if it's safe to book a holiday for 2021.
However, problems still occur when passengers land, as the essential safety take aways from the study were the face mask and superb ventilation systems on board. So, not wearing a mask, failing to social distance, self-isolate under UK rules or maintain good respiratory hygiene will still pass on the infection. It’s one of the reasons that some people have suggested wearing masks outside (opens in new tab) in some cases might be beneficial.