England to lift ban on May 17, but Stormont still to announce a date
LOCAL travel agents have called for clarity ahead of a UK Government announcement on a traffic light system for foreign travel.
While they are reporting an increase in bookings for later this year and 2022, the lack of information around arrangements for Northern Ireland has left customers unable to book for later this summer.
The new process detailing the rules for people returning from overseas visits is expected from London later this week.
There will be different regulations depending on the country being visited, with a red, amber and green system in place.
While the ban on foreign holidays for those living in England is expected to be lifted in some form from May 17, the Stormont Executive has yet to give any indicative date.
Stormont’s Department of Health said while the traffic light system and May 17 date “apply to England only”, it was “broadly supportive” of the Global Travel Taskforce recommendations which are guiding the Government’s approach.
It said the department was “working with colleagues across the four nations to seek alignment where possible to support a return to international travel”.
Health Minister Robin Swann previously said that foreign travel should be ruled out for this summer.
Gallagher Travel managing director Heather Fielding said there was "frustration" within the industry around the lack of clarity.
"It’s encouraging we may see some countries opening up, but we still don't know. We were just told it's going to be this traffic light system," she said.
"There's a lot of question marks. For us it's quite frustrating at the minute because we're so close, but we don't have the answers for our customers.
"Everybody's listening to what Boris Johnson says — and then we might not follow suit.
"For me it doesn't make sense not to, we all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet, including the Republic of Ireland."
Mrs Fielding said there was a large "pent-up demand" for foreign holidays.
"We've got people who are saying to us: 'If and when we can book, we will book last minute'," she said. "Because we don't know the answers, you're almost over-negative. We're trying to plan for every scenario."
She noted there were also concerns around how Covid testing would work for those going on holiday and how much the tests would cost.
"We need to see some form of travel going this year for our industry, we've had 14-15 months of no travel, barring sporadic periods,” she added.
"We can't do that again, the industry can't take it, we need to move forward.”
Terra Travel managing director Damien Murphy said he believed people were waiting for the Government announcement before booking summer holidays.
"The enquiry level for this year has been a lot higher than it has been, the feelers are out again for definite,” he said.
"A lot of people thinking of going in July and August are more or less now waiting for the traffic light system to be published.
"It hasn't affected our bookings for next year, which have been strong throughout, they are fine at the minute. There are other people who are dying to get away in the autumn and they are half waiting on that."
Mr Murphy said things were "slowly gradually increasing" and the rules being published would lead to even more enquiries.
"Those rules will change over the summer as well provided all goes well and we've no spike in cases. A lot of those testing requirements etc will gradually disappear," he added.
"We are expecting it to be busier. I think clarity is a big thing — people won't go anywhere that is not on a green light."
He is forecasting 2022 to be a "bumper year" for the sector.
The Executive was contacted for a comment in relation to this story.
There were no further coronavirus deaths reported here yesterday.
Officials said 83 new local cases of the virus had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours.