Travel hopefully

It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive, goes the quote — here are the reasons to be optimistic about overseas travel this summer


Barely had Boris Johnson finished making his announcement of England’s post-lockdown roadmap than travel bookings started to spike — and not just for holidays across the UK.

Flight bookings for the summer were up 337 per cent on the week before, according to easyJet, while TUI saw similar rises. “We know there’s a huge demand to travel,” said Andrew Flintham, Managing Director TUI UK and Ireland, the day following the announcement, “with demand for Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onwards the most booked overnight, with bookings up 500%.”

For now, international travel is still banned (apart from a few exceptions), with a review due by April 12 and the earliest permitted date for overseas trips on May 17. So where should you consider for a 2021 holiday, and what might you need in order to travel?

Vaccine certification

Everyone from airlines and tour operators to national governments have been looking at vaccine certification to help open up international travel, with Qantas and Saga Travel both announcing that they’ll require proof of vaccination.

The European Commission is putting forward a proposal for a digital green pass this month, providing proof that a traveller has been vaccinated against Covid-19 to allow third country movement within the EU.

But between concerns over discrimination, privacy and new variants, being vaccinated doesn’t guarantee you a welcome, even within Europe — although Greece, Denmark and Spain are all in favour, alongside alternative measures for those unvaccinated.

Meanwhile the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has created a template for a digital health pass to certify vaccination and Covid-19 test results, with several airlines trialling different versions, including Air New Zealand, Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. British Airways has its own trial of a mobile travel health app called VeriFLY.


Greece looks set to be one of the hottest destinations for holidays this year — the country already permits UK nationals to enter, and there are talks underway about making it easier for British travellers with vaccine certification to travel from May.

With four million Britons flying there each year, the tourism minister is hoping for a “semi-normal summer” with proposals to continue testing unvaccinated tourists as well.

Where to go: Escape to unspoilt Antiparos for a retreat that focuses on slow living at The Rooster, opening in June. With 17 suites, villas and houses, there’s an emphasis on sustainability, authentic experiences and wellness, with organic food on the menu. Suites from around £430.

Or new hotel MarBella Elix, on the Greek mainland near Parga, looking out to Paxos, is opening in April. The first of the group’s hotels not based on Corfu, its bike-friendly certification makes it ideal for cyclists, plus there’s a partnership with UK outdoor experience company Roarsome Adventures to create the kids’ club, and Karavostasi Beach nearby — perfect for families or an active break. Rooms from £180 per night.


Over 18 million UK visitors flock to Spain every year, and the country is considering a separate ‘green corridor for vaccinated British holidaymakers if there’s no collective EU decision on vaccine passports.

Spain’s islands may also be able to receive travellers if rates are lower than the mainland. The Balearic Islands are lining up to be the country’s first region to trial a vaccine passport, while the Canary Islands have had the country’s lowest infection rates throughout the pandemic.

Where to go: OKU Ibiza is due to open in May, home to the island’s largest swimming pool. With Japanese-inspired décor, and a relaxed ethos including complimentary yoga and a spa, it’s a perfect stylish escape — its adult-only sister resort OKU Kos is also opening this year in Greece. Rooms cost from around £310 per night.

And the family-friendly Hotel Gran Sagitario is due to open on Menorca, in Cala Blanca near Ciutadella. Set among green pine forests, there’s a big focus on using local products including farm- to-table ingredients in the food. Rooms from £170 per night.


With tourism accounting for around 15% of the Portuguese economy, the country is also among those in favour of vaccination passports. While its links to Brazil helped to put the country onto the ‘red list’, to avoid spread of that variant, it’s hoping for restrictions to lift by summer after closing its borders. Madeira has also been named one of the safest destinations for 2021.

Where to go: The five-star Wyndham Grand Algarve relaunches this year after a £4.3 million renovation. With 132 suites, a spa and five places to eat at the resort in Quinta do Lago, there’s also a kids’ club and golf nearby, plus a beach within walking distance. Rooms from around £260 per night.

Or look north to Porto, where the Palacio de Canavezes is opening in the Douro Valley. Set in a historic palace hotel built in the early 1900s, there are thermal waters to discover as well as the area’s wine. You’re also a short drive from Braga, nicknamed the Portuguese Rome, voted the 2021 European Best Destination by travellers from around the world. Rates to be confirmed.

Israel and more

With Israel’s own vaccination programme ahead of the rest of the world, the country is set to be a popular choice as restrictions relax, while Cyprus will welcome vaccinated Britsfrom May.

And the president of the Croatian Tourism Association, Veljko Ostojic, has said he expects tourism to start recovering in the second quarter, so it’s another possibility for later in the year.

Don’t rule out Turkey yet either, although it’s too soon to say for sure. Trips to Italy and France look less promising for now — neither country has plans for a vaccine passport.

Long-haul travel

There’s still far more of a question mark over long-haul travel. Australia is likely to be closed to tourists until at least early 2022, while the USA is also banning British travellers.

For those craving a tropical island escape, there’s more optimism. The Seychelles has already reopened to visitors who have had both jabs, for travel two weeks after the second dose.

Currently you also need a negative Covid PCR test result to avoid quarantine, but these rules are expected to relax further this month as the islands’ own vaccination programme rolls out.

And a coalition of more than 20 travel firms has started a petition to Thailand’s government to reopen the country to vaccinated tourists from July, by which point Thailand’s own vulnerable citizens and hospitality staff should also have received the vaccine.

Things to Consider

  • Package holidays are safest: if the tour operator is forced to cancel because of travel restrictions or if the company goes bust, you are entitled to a full refund.
  • Booking direct can pay off, even if it costs more: some travellers found that using an online travel agent made it harder to get refunds.
  • Look at past refund history: while the law applies equally, certain companies stood out for good customer service and speedy refunds in 2020 — a poll of 27,000 holidaymakers by Money Saving Expert found Jet2, TUI, British Airways and easyJet were best for flight refunds, while the best firms for Covid-related refunds included Travel Counsellors and Hays Travel.
  • Know the flight refund rules: airlines are only obliged to offer refunds if they cancel flights, something which is less likely in 2021 than last year. If the flight operates and restrictions prevent you from flying, you’re unlikely to get your money back. Even with free date changes, you’ll need to pay the difference and flight prices may have risen dramatically.
  • Travel insurance flexibility: policies are now available with cover if you cancel following a positive Covid test, with some covering costs if you can’t go because you’ve been told to self-isolate. However, lockdowns are often excluded from claims.
  • What about quarantine? Even when overseas travel is permitted again, will the country you’re hoping to visit require you to quarantine for weeks — or will you need to do so on your return to the UK? While many adults will have had at least one vaccination by mid-May, far fewer will have had both doses before the summer holidays — and children are still likely to face tests. So make sure you do your homework before you book.


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