Leading travel figures have condemned the government’s advice against all non-essential travel abroad indefinitely, saying the unspecific warning is jeopardising future bookings.
Paul Goldstein, owner of the Kicheche safari camps in Kenya, said: “We have people very keen to book for high season in late July, August and September. Sadly, the absurd Foreign Office advice limiting all travel with no end date is deterring them from committing.”
When the coronavirus crisis took hold, the foreign secretary initially warned on 17 March against going overseas for the next 30 days.
The Foreign Office warning is advice, not an instruction. But it has the effect of stopping UK holiday companies sending travellers abroad, and invalidating travel insurers.
The travel industry assumed that Dominic Raab would extend the warning to another specific date – perhaps to the end of May.
There was widespread consternation when, on 4 April, the advice was extended indefinitely. The FCO says simply: “Any country or area may restrict travel without notice. If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now.”
Consular staff believe this is a reasonable reflection of an unpredictable situation worldwide, with a constantly changing list of airport closures and local lockdowns.
“Rolling” deadlines could give false hope to prospective travellers.
But the indefinite warning has led some holidaymakers with bookings for the summer to assume they can cancel without penalty.
Ash Sofat, chief executive of the long-haul specialist Somak Holidays, said: “A lot of customers are rebooking for next year. The problem is that we are not getting enough bookings for next year.
“We need government to remove this travel advisory against travelling ‘indefinitely’.
“They need to help our industry. People do want to book to travel but the government is thinking too short term.”
Mr Goldstein said: “The Foreign Office has to alter this draconian Orwellian nonsense, and it must become country-specific.
“Workers in Kenya and other developing countries are mystified why they are being made destitute by a disease less threatening than the many they currently live alongside, including typhoid, HIV and malaria.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said “Our travel advice is clear. We advise against all but essential international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
In a Twitter poll conducted for The Independent, 2,356 respondents were asked if naming an end date would make a difference to their propensity to book a holiday. Of those who said it would, three out of five said they would be more likely to book.
But nearly half the respondents said they were not planning a holiday in the near future.