The front page of the website of On the Beach, a leading online travel agent, carries an unprecedented announcement: “We’re not selling holidays for June, July & August.”
“Plenty of other travel companies will be more than happy to take your money,” the message reads, “even though they’re not sure yet what the additional costs or inconvenience might be. We’re not.
“Basically, there’s too much unknown for us to take new bookings with the confidence that they will go ahead, or for us to know the potential inconvenience or extra costs that customers might face.”
On the Beach said it wants to “minimise the number of holidays that need to be rearranged or refunded”.
International leisure travel from the UK has been illegal for the past 18 weeks.
Starting on Monday 17 May, overseas holidays will be permitted once again. But the only major summer-sun destination on the government’s “green list” of quarantine-free countries is Portugal.
Spain, France, Italy and Greece, along with most other European countries, are on the “amber list,” requiring 10 days of self-isolation by returning holidaymakers.
Turkey is on the “red list,” requiring 11 nights in hotel quarantine.
The chief executive of Europe’s biggest holiday company, Tui, Fritz Joussen, said on Monday: “We see huge pent-up demand.” He called for the UK’s travel restrictions to be eased.
During summer 2020, two weeks of quarantine was imposed on all travellers returning to the UK from 8 June to 9 July, but this was reversed from 10 July with holidays permitted without restriction to the main European destinations – except Portugal.
Within 15 days, the self-isolation requirement was reimposed for people returning from Spain, the UK’s most popular overseas country.
France, Italy and other major destinations were soon added to the quarantine list, causing chaos for holidaymakers, airlines and travel companies.
On the Beach, based in Cheshire, says its decision to halt sales until September is temporary and that holidays “will be back on sale for summer as soon as we’re happy that everything really is better”.
The founder and chief executive, Simon Cooper, said: “There’s nothing we want more than to be able to send customers on holiday.
“But with the current number of unknowns we don’t think that now is the right time for customers to book new holidays departing in the next few months.”
The move caused surprise in the travel industry, which has struggled for more than a year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Der Touristik UK, the parent company of Kuoni and other brands, tweeted: “Interesting that On the Beach, Simon Cooper thinks green countries will go to amber over the summer.
“Am I the only one that thinks, with the testing, testing and testing, this is super unlikely? Headlines [like] this will cause do the industry no good when we are quietly building back.”
When announcing the green list, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “If it’s necessary, because of a new upswing in cases or a new variant, we will not hesitate to act fast and withdraw green status. So it’s up to you to check thoroughly before travelling.”
On the Beach is telling existing customers: “If you have a booking with us, and are due to travel over the next few months, it’s totally up to you whether you go away or not.”
In 2019, more than 1.5 million people booked with On the Beach. Unlike airlines and traditional tour operators such as easyJet, Jet2 and Tui, it has no “capacity risk” – ie seats that need to be filled.