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Tour operators and airlines lost more than £2bn in value after the government removed Portugal from the “green list” of countries exempt from significant travel restrictions, prompting dismay and anger in the tourism industry.
Less than a month after Portugal became the first big destination to be granted green list status, prompting a much-needed boom in holiday sales, the government reversed the decision.
The change, which the bosses of TUI and easyJet said meant that the government had broken its promise to give firms time to prepare, is likely to throw the holiday plans of tens of thousands of people into doubt.
The tour operator TUI fell 4.5%, easyJet and British Airways’ owner IAG each shed more than 5% of their value and Ryanair lost 4.5% as they lost one of their only big sources of revenue from holidaymakers.
The engine maker Rolls-Royce and Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotels were among the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, each losing more than 2%.
The stock market value of those six firms alone declined by more than £2bn between them on Thursday.
EasyJet’s boss, Johan Lundgren, said: “The government has torn up its own rulebook and ignored the science, throwing people’s plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK. This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world.”
He also criticised the failure to add countries to the green list, pointing out that infection rates in the Balearic islands and Malta were below those in the UK.
TUI’s managing director, Andrew Flintham, said the government’s failure to live up to its promise to be clear about its plans would do “untold damage” to holidaymakers’ willingness to spend.
“After promises that the global travel taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip-flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence,” he said.
“Unlike other European countries and despite multiple requests, the government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations. There are destinations around the world with little or no Covid-19 cases and good vaccination rates, so we need to understand why these remain on the amber list.”
Thomas Cook’s chief executive, Alan French, backed the call for the government to produce the data used to make its decision.
The brief period when holidays in Portugal were feasible had offered a lifeline to the tourism industry, given the restrictions already in place on travel to destinations such as Spain and Greece.
As well as moving Portugal to the “amber list” at 4am on 8 June – meaning arrivals from the country must quarantine for 10 days – the government did not add any countries to the green list, meaning popular destinations such as Greece and Spain are still in effect off-limits.
Asked for a response, one tourism industry source said: “Do you want four-letter words or what?”
The trade union Prospect called for more government aid for the travel sector. Its general secretary, Mark Clancy, said: “Even in the most optimistic scenario, we now face losing half of the summer before holidaymakers can confidently book travel to major destinations, and the nearer we get to the school holidays the more likely they will be to just stay at home.
“The government starts phasing out its lifeline furlough scheme in four weeks’ time which is only adding to the damaging uncertainty facing aviation. Ministers need to make clear that further support will be available to support jobs while restrictions on tourist travel remain in place. Without this, there’s a risk that the industry will no longer be there when restrictions are lifted.”
Virginia Messina, vice-president of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said changing the status of Portugal would “crush the confidence to travel, depress forward bookings and deter holidaymakers”.
“This will cause further stress to travel & tourism businesses already reeling from the green list announced just a few weeks ago,” she said. “The UK could and should leverage its hard-won competitive advantage from one of the world’s best vaccine rollout programmes, to restore mobility and reopen the doors to safe international travel.”