HOLIDAY adverts featuring alluring overseas locations, sunshine, warm seas, fine food and swimming pools surely have an even greater appeal than normal this winter, nearly two years since Covid-19 developed into a grim pandemic.

In many ways, with the travel industry’s advertising efforts appearing to have cranked back up towards full tilt, it seems almost like a normal January.

The big question of course for consumers and the holiday operators, travel agents, hotel companies, airlines, airports and ground-handling businesses is whether 2022 is going to be the year when overseas trips bounce back in a convincing and sustained manner.

In some ways, the holiday adverts during and around the festive season have looked somewhat incongruous against a backdrop of renewed restrictions, particularly those affecting the hospitality sector and large-scale events.

With Omicron infections having surged, and the re-imposition of much more onerous travel restrictions in December, the destinations featured in the raft of travel adverts will have seemed much further away than usual to many consumers. So many people seem even more keen than usual in the dark and cold winter days of this January to plan and look forward to an overseas holiday but, given the regular dashing of hopes of travel since the onset of the pandemic, the mood appears cautious.

The unwinding of restrictions of course holds the key to a return to something approaching normality for the international travel sector and would-be holidaymakers alike.

For much of the last two years, restrictions and/or at times the danger that they will suddenly become more onerous have unsurprisingly dampened demand for overseas holidays hugely. Many people, even those utterly demoralised by a lack of overseas travel, have weighed things up and concluded it was simply not worth the hassle.

For a long time in the early part of last year, of course, we had a complete ban on non-essential overseas travel for UK citizens. At other points where restrictions have been less onerous, anyone considering a holiday has had to wade their way through the prevailing regulations of the UK nation they are travelling from and those of the destinations they would like to visit.

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Testing requirements have for much of the period been very onerous indeed, creating major uncertainty and expense.

In autumn last year, things eased up considerably but only for the briefest of periods. Then the hurdles materialised again as countries around the world moved to deal with the advent of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Of course, public health considerations will dictate what is and is not possible on the international travel front.

However, it has seemed at times as if this sector, a major employer and contributor to the economy, has faced the most onerous restrictions and over the lengthiest periods.

This was understandable before international vaccine success and rapid roll-out.

And you could see why countries moved to put back in place restrictions as Omicron emerged, while also understanding the dismay of a travel sector which had been hopeful that widespread vaccination would enable things to move in entirely the opposite direction in terms of a speedy return to normality.

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We are where we are though. And, at least for fully vaccinated people, it is to be hoped the UK nations and other countries around the world will ease and then remove coronavirus-related restrictions around travel as soon as the public health situation permits.

Exemptions on testing and isolation should also be put in place for those too young to be able to be fully vaccinated, and this has happened to some extent already in an international context. This is crucial to families looking to holiday together in terms of affordability and greater certainty.

Moves this month by the Johnson administration and the devolved nations, including Scotland, to remove again the requirement for “pre-departure” tests for fully vaccinated people arriving in the UK provided some room for hope on this front.

Such tests have been a major barrier to overseas holidays for people looking to travel abroad from the UK, creating expense and hassle as well as crucially uncertainty around their return.

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Testing requirements following return to the UK from abroad are of course a continuing barrier to many thinking about going overseas, even if a lateral flow test is now allowed again as an alternative to the more expensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.

Although the post-return tests are likely to be less of an inhibitor than those which had to be taken abroad before returning to the UK, it is also crucial that these are removed as soon as the public health situation permits for fully vaccinated travellers and children.

The need to ease and remove overseas travel restrictions should be obvious.

However, it is worth emphasising because at times we seem to be hearing a narrative in some quarters in the UK that holidaying overseas on the scale people used to be able to do is a thing of the past.

There is no reason this should be the case. And, in an insular Brexit Britain, the need to travel abroad and experience different cultures is surely greater than ever.

Of course, there are many things standing in the way of a return to normal overseas holiday activity and international travel in general. Many other countries currently require pre-departure tests even from fully vaccinated travellers, with rules tightened amid the Omicron wave. And the Johnson administration’s hard Brexit leaves plenty of potential for it to be more difficult for UK citizens to visit European Union countries than for people already in the bloc, even as the coronavirus restrictions unwind.

Activity in the international travel sector has obviously plunged amid the pandemic.

A report published on December 29 by Cirium, the aviation analytics firm, showed the number of international flights to and from the UK was in 2021 down by 71 per cent on the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

In 2021, just 406,060 international flights operated to and from the UK, compared with 1,399,170 in 2019, according to Cirium’s On-Time Performance Report.

Cirium declared: “On-time performance reporting in the UK has been significantly impacted by Covid-19 imposed travel restrictions, as fewer flights took to the skies.”

What is crucial is that, given the degree to which international travel has plummeted amid the pandemic, everything possible is done to preserve capacity.

This will not be easy at all. In recent times, the scale of the challenges has been evident from walking around most, if not all, airports.

Of course, the international travel sector did not have its troubles to seek before the pandemic, as shown by the collapse of holiday giant Thomas Cook.

However, policy-makers must now do all in their power to preserve capacity to enable the recovery of this crucial sector, from an employment and economic perspective.

Success in such endeavours will also ensure the cost of holidaying abroad remains within reach of large numbers of people.

The upbeat mood of the albeit much-reduced numbers who are travelling through airports is another signal of the likely pent-up demand from people desperate to be able to go overseas easily once more.

In their efforts to preserve capacity, governments must not underestimate the importance of easing and then removing coronavirus-related restrictions as soon as public health considerations allow for travellers who have done all they can on the vaccine front.