Will our holidays get back to normal now there's a vaccine?

Greg Dickinson
There are high hopes that the vaccine will open up the world to holidaymakers - Getty
There are high hopes that the vaccine will open up the world to holidaymakers - Getty

After a year of cancelled holidays, grounded planes and dissolved travel companies, help is finally on the way for the travel industry.

The vaccine is seen as the thing that will give the travel industry, and our holidays, the shot in the arm we have all been waiting for. Indeed just this week, Cyprus has emerged as the first country to announce a plan that will allow holidaymakers to enter the country without the need to quarantine, so long as they can prove they have been vaccinated.

We do not yet know the precise mechanics of how a vaccine will open up the world on a wider scale – but the likelihood is that some kind of internationally recognised vaccine certification will be developed as more countries roll out vaccination programmes, and new travel corridors will emerge as cases numbers go down.

So for the first time since the pandemic began, we can look ahead to a time when we will be able to pack our bags and jet off to exotic places, without the uncertainties and stresses that have dogged our getaways in 2020.

So when, exactly, will our holidays get back to normal? To find out, we have spoken to ten leading experts in the travel industry – commentators, tour operators, travel trade associations – to hear their candid predictions, followed by our own verdict on when holidays will be back to how they were in the good old, pre-pandemic days.

‘We will see widespread foreign travel again in 2021’

Ali Shah, chief executive of TravelUp, said: 

“Positive vaccine news has given the travel industry a much-needed boost and I am very optimistic that 2021 is going to see people enjoying widespread foreign travel once again.

“However, a lot now hinges on how effectively the vaccine is rolled out in the UK and also on vaccines being approved across the EU and in other territories, particularly the USA. The quicker we can negotiate travel corridors with other countries who have vaccine programs in place the better.”

‘We can hope for normal travel conditions in 2022’

Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni, said:

“We do not believe that normal travel will resume in the coming months.  Whilst the news of vaccines is very welcome and provides a pathway to a full recovery we anticipate that testing will be an important facilitator of travel for some time to come.

“We hope to see a return to more normal travel conditions by the beginning of 2022 but that will require a high degree of international coordination around vaccine certification.  Business travel may well have changed forever, with the widespread adoption and development of video-conferencing tools, but leisure travel will eventually return to the way it was.”

Many international airports have rolled out testing facilities for arrivals
Many international airports have rolled out testing facilities for arrivals

‘Long-haul will begin to recover in late 2021’

Ed Paine of Last Frontiers said:

“The announcement of vaccine approval is fantastic news for the whole world, and will be a welcome boost to consumer confidence. We all need to be realistic about timings, which I suspect will mean long haul travel will only begin to recover in the second half of 2021.

“The best thing the Government could do at this time, with a vaccine on the horizon and safety protocols in place across the world, would be to remove all the FCDO Covid-related travel advisories. Leaving them in place simply encourages citizens to travel without adequate insurance.While we wait we also need the insurance industry to come up with a comprehensive travel insurance product, which we know our clients would be willing to pay for.

‘Spring 2021 will feel completely different’

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said:  

“I’m very optimistic about travel returning for 2021. Confidence is slowly increasing and bookings for Easter onwards will be very strong. By then, the mass vaccination programme should be nearing completion and there will be much more confidence about travelling beyond the UK, certainly short-haul to European countries which have also been vaccinating their populations. Spring 2021 will feel completely different to the winter lows we are feeling right now. 

“There will still be border restrictions in some long-haul countries and it could be that the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Japan keep their borders pretty firmly shut until after summer 2021. But by the end of 2021, the world will have luckily moved on from the tragedy of Covid and will be well into rebuilding mode.”

Canada has been closed to British holidaymakers since March  - Getty
Canada has been closed to British holidaymakers since March - Getty

‘Travel can start to resume in the next couple of months’

Candice Buchan, Africa product manager for Rainbow Tours, said:

“I think that the announcement of the vaccine is great news and marks the start of us seeing a new normal. I would like to think that this will mean travel can start to resume in the next couple of months, but it is likely that, for next year at least, there will be stricter monitoring in a lot of destinations.

“Following the Ebola outbreak in Africa for example, temperature checks became commonplace in African airports, so I would expect that precautions such these, plus mask wearing and hand sanitising, as well as proof of negative Covid tests will be the norm for travel for some time. 

‘We will operate a full programme from April onwards’ 

Declan Treanor, chairman of Arena Travel, said: 

“The vast majority of our clients are older, retired and very keen to travel. Though some of them would be willing to travel without a vaccine, we expect that the prospect of being some of the first in line to receive the vaccine will be a real boost to their confidence in starting to plan for their travel adventures in 2021. 

“Due to the number of trips re-booked from this year, our sales for 2021 are already ahead of what we would normally expect and we are confident that we will be able to operate a full programme of cruises, tours and trips from April onwards.”

‘By next summer, travel will be back to a meaningful capacity’

Liddy Pleasants, managing director of family travel specialist, Stubborn Mule, said: 

“We feel that everything rests on the speed of the roll out of the vaccine. Our expectation is that many countries that have dealt very effectively with Covid will initially only open their doors only to those who have had the vaccine and will require some kind of internationally recognised certificate. 

“As the infection rate in the UK diminishes down to a level comparable to that in the overseas destinations, we expect that borders will then open up to all UK travellers, whether they have the certificate or not. But this will take many months. For now, everything rests on travellers being vaccinated, and being able to prove this. 

“Our expectation is that by next summer, travel will have resumed in a meaningful capacity to most destinations around the world. However, Easter for families remains an unknown, as many parents will be the last to be vaccinated as they will be under 50. Having had only very limited opportunity for any kind of break over the last 9 months, we anticipate there being huge pressure for vaccines to be available to families prior to Easter but it remains to be seen whether the programme can be rolled out in time.”

‘Travel within Europe will be back from Easter’

Stephen Ellison, head of marketing at Vintage Travel, said: 

“Things are definitely looking up since the announcement of the vaccine and we are confident that most travel will resume within Europe from Easter. We expect some restrictions – not least, proof of vaccination to travel and cross borders and the continued use of masks in public places until infection rates are seen to be under control.  However, we don’t see a full return to  ‘normality’ until 2022 when confidence may return and we will look to trade in a more traditional way.”

Dozens of shops in Venice have closed due to a lack of regular customers and tourists - Getty
Dozens of shops in Venice have closed due to a lack of regular customers and tourists - Getty

‘Travellers with a health certificate will be able to travel freely’

John Grant of OAG said:

“All of the recent great news needs to be put in context. It will take a long time for sufficient vaccine coverage around the world to be in place for us to be able to travel without rules and requirements that we previously did not have. 

“However, those rules will not be particularly onerous, travellers who have been vaccinated and have a health certificate will be able to travel freely to most countries. This process could take us well into the second half of the year though so it would be unwise to expect a sudden global rush but the UK market looks like being ahead of the game at this stage which is a positive development for an industry decimated by a lack of support this year.”

‘Confidence is growing, but the Government must now lift restrictions’

An ABTA spokesperson said:

“The news of a vaccine and the developments around Test to Release have gone some way to support consumer confidence, with travel businesses reporting more people looking to book holidays for 2021. But there are still major barriers standing in the way of people actually being able to travel, including the Government continuing to advise against all but essential travel to the majority of countries. 

“As the market starts to show signs of recovery, we believe that the FCDO travel advisory should be reviewed urgently so that advice against non-essential travel in relation to COVID-19 is restricted only to destinations where it is clear that the risk to travellers is unacceptably high, based on clear and transparent criteria.” 

The verdict?

Despite the ambiguity surrounding travel right now, there is a fair degree of consistency in the predictions coming from the industry. Once the UK's vaccination project is in full flow, we can expect to see more of the world opening up to British holidaymakers from Easter 2021 onwards, as some operators like Arena Travel plan to resume their holiday programme.

More holiday options – particularly long-haul – will open up from the summer of 2021 onwards once an internationally recognised vaccine certificate has been developed, with early 2022 the most likely date for when travel will begin to feel anything like pre-pandemic 'normality' for our holidays. But even then, we must be prepared that many new elements of our holidays – face coverings, hand sanitisation, temperature checks – will remain the norm for years to come, and parts of the developing world may take longer to roll out vaccinations and remove social distancing restrictions.