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Britain races to book holidays after Covid testing relaxed

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<span>Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA</span>
Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Travel industry relieved as interest in trips abroad surges after PM announced rule changes

Travel firms and airlines have reported surging bookings following the relaxation of Covid testing requirements for travellers returning to the UK.

EasyJet said there were almost three times as many flights bought in the UK in the hours following the prime minister’s announcement on Wednesday than in the same period the week before, while holiday firm TUI said there had been “an immediate and strong uptick in bookings”.

British Airways Holidays said searches for holidays on its websites increased by nearly 40% compared with the week before.

From 4am on Friday, international arrivals or holidaymakers returning to England will not need to produce a negative pre-departure test, nor self-isolate until they receive a further negative PCR test result from the first two days on arrival.

The aviation and travel industry had long argued that the prevalence of the Omicron variant meant the measures had little public health benefit but were causing significant damage to their businesses.

Alistair Rowland, chairman of travel association Abta and chief executive of long-haul tour operator Blue Bay Travel, said the scrapping of the pre-departure test and ditching post-arrival PCR tests for lateral flow tests was “a relief for the travel industry and great news for holidaymakers”.

He said that the news had prompted his firm’s busiest day for website traffic and booking inquiries in more than a year, “which is something we couldn’t have imagined a month ago, when these testing rules came in and consumer confidence plummeted”.

Related: Slopes of hope: how Scotland’s ski resorts are speeding back to business – a photo essay

EasyJet said flights to Spanish destinations, especially the Canary Islands, were most in demand, led by Tenerife, Alicante, Málaga and Lanzarote, with bookings to Lanzarote up 427% week on week.

Tui also said the Canary Islands, along with Mexico, were seeing the biggest increase in summer holiday bookings so far.

EasyJet said its customer surveys showed around half of British consumers were planning to take more holiday than usual this year, with a third planning to spend up to £1,000 more after missing trips abroad during the pandemic.

Sophie Dekkers, chief commercial officer at easyJet, said: “We know that there is pent up demand with many desperate to get away this year, which we continue to see each time restrictions are removed.”

On The Beach chief executive Simon Cooper said the restrictions introduced in response to the Omicron variants had slowed bookings in December but the news had prompted “a fantastic surge” on Wednesday evening. He told the BBC: “We will expect to massively out-trade 12 months ago.”

But he said that Covid had left “a level of nervousness”, adding: “People can now book with confidence to travel in the shorter term, with reasonable knowledge that they’re not going to have these tests reimposed … of course with longer lead time bookings, for summer 2022, as yet unknown.”

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