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Trains, planes get travel boost as vaccinated Britons head to continental Europe

Travel firms get a much-needed boost starting this weekend as thousands of vaccinated Britons head to continental Europe for the mid-term school break, kicking off what could be a bumper year for travel as coronavirus concerns ease.

Eurostar International Ltd. expects the biggest leap in customer numbers since October over the 10 days through Feb. 20, with more than 125,000 people booked to board its Channel Tunnel express trains, surpassing the total for the whole of January. Many of the nine daily services from London to Paris are sold out.

The UK arm of TUI AG, Europe’s biggest tour operator, said booking levels for its flight and hotel packages are comparable to 2019, before the virus struck, with Spain’s subtropical Canary Islands the most popular destination. EasyJet Plc reports a spate of late sales leading up to the school recess as families snatch a long-awaited break.

Demand has been fuelled by the easing of travel curbs as the omicron variant of Covid-19 passes its peak. The UK scrapped testing for fully vaccinated passengers starting on Friday. The tourism boost will be especially welcome after the new outbreak starved beleaguered airlines and travel companies of revenue over the Christmas and New Year holiday.

“We are seeing a surge in leisure traffic both in the short term and looking further ahead to spring and early summer,” Eurostar Chief Commercial Officer Francois Le Doze said. “We’ll continue to add trains across our core routes and look forward to returning to our pre-pandemic frequency of service.”

Passenger Surge

Eurostar, which is operating at 50% of pre-virus capacity, said passenger numbers are double what they were last summer.

Friday was due be the busiest day, with more than 16,000 people booked, most of them outbound from the U.K. While that’s 1,000 shy of October’s school holiday, it’s “almost more impressive” since people headed to France must now take a pre-departure test, a spokeswoman said.

While Paris is the top Eurostar destination from the U.K., there are also four daily returns on the London-Brussels route, two of them going on to Amsterdam. A weekly ski train to the Alpine resorts of Moutiers or Bourg St Maurice relaunched on Jan. 28 after being halted prior to the pandemic, and has very strong bookings for school holiday, according to operator TravelSki.

The Port of Dover, where cars ferry across the English Channel to France, said it has been preparing for higher tourist flows during half-term, though volumes remain below normal, according to a spokeswoman.

Mexico, Cape Verde

There are six times the number of international flights from the U.K. than in the 2021 half-term holiday, but frequencies remain down by almost half from 2020, just before coronavirus lockdowns took effect, according to analytics firm Cirium.

TUI UK has seen “strong and sustained booking patterns” since the end of testing was announced, Managing Director Andrew Flintham said in a statement distributed by the U.K. government. Bookings are also buoyant beyond Europe, with Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Cape Verde islands most popular.

Like EasyJet, British Airways said it has seen a sales boost from the lifting of restrictions, though London’s Heathrow airport, which is highly dependent on long-haul travel, cautioned Friday that business demand and inbound tourism to the UK remain weak amid high global omicron rates.

Gatwick Awakening

The UK capital’s leisure-heavy Gatwick hub said Friday it would reopen its second terminal starting March 27, as BA resumes short-haul services there.

Some complications to travel also remain, chiefly around differences in testing requirements.

France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Tuesday that the country will scrap tests for fully inoculated visitors, but gave no date. Eurostar said it’s hopeful the change will come this week, in time for families for whom the school break falls later in the month.

Spain said Friday it will allow unvaccinated 12-to-17 year olds to visit from countries including the U.K. starting Monday, if they show a negative Covid test.

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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