THERE may be a dark cloud of uncertainty over foreign trips this Summer but it doesn't appear to be dissuading sun-worshipping Brits from booking overseas trips. 

Budget airline Jet 2 reported yesterday that it has seen a trebling in bookings for Summer package breaks over the past few weeks while its rival, Ryanair has ramped up the number of flights it is offering in anticipation of a relaxation of travel restrictions in June.

Decisions about holidays tend to be emotional, experts in such things say, guided by the heart rather than the head.

However, Visit Scotland point towards the recent Covid-19 Consumer Sentiment Tracker for the UK which could provide a window of hope for weary hoteliers and B&B owners.

It reports that 47% anticipate taking trips in their home country in 2021, compared with just over a quarter of adults with similar intent regarding overseas trips. 

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Highland Council has also advertised posts for new rangers to help manage an anticipated surge in visitors.  At a time when hospital visits outside our own local authority area engender the excitement of a day trip, a Highland break or trip to the Dorset coast could take on ‘holiday in a lifetime’ proportions. 

READ MORE: The council area that ranks worst for Scottish Covid cases 

How likely is it that foreign trips will go ahead this Summer?  Yet more mutations of the virus which may trouble the current vaccines, are said to present the biggest barrier while huge variances in vaccination rates across Europe, which is in the grip of a third wave, will undoubtedly be a factor.

Caution rather than optimism would seem to be the pragmatic approach. 

The South African variant now accounts for 10% of all new cases in France and public health experts say it is going to prove difficult to keep it out of the UK.

Of even greater concern is the “double mutant” variant that has emerged in India. The country reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday - the sharpest daily rise this year.

Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.

Scotland’s First Minister has said one of her biggest regrets is that the Scottish Government did not impose tighter travel restrictions and the country already has a different policy in place for inbound visitors than the rest of the UK.Is it possible that Scotland could adopt a more conservative relaxation of the current travel restrictions?

 Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh said the UK's 'red list' of countries which require mandatory, supervised quarantine is not necessarily the countries that we should be concerned about now and says we might need to look towards Europe as an “immediate concerns.” She says it would also be preferable if the UK was more aligned in policy.

“Given that even though we are restricting our borders there are categories of people who can come in and out - that’s the biggest concern.

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“I think it would be preferable if we had the same guidance around the UK. 

“At the moment you can see that the number of people who have chosen to come to Scotland directly has dropped. They are almost all going via England because why would they not.”

READ MORE: Scottish hotel group reports surge in bookings

Prof Bauld says she “would be first in the queue” to fly to Canada to see her parents but has booked a break in Scotland in July.  However, she acknowledges that most people will opt to travel abroad if they can, “because it’s just something people in the UK do”.

Nevertheless Visit Scotland remains confident that many people will just decide the risk is too great and provide the country’s hospitality industry with a much needed boost.

Scotland has much to offer, apart from reliably sunny weather and coastal areas such as Cornwall and Brighton, with their more favourable climate, could also experience a surge in visits.

Bournemouth is anticipating this with a plan to create Ibiza-style beach cafes and bars. 

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North of the border, B&B owners in Scotland say they have experienced a welcome rise in bookings.

Gordon Bulloch who owns La Dulaig, B&B in Granton-on-Spey says accommodation providers will be hoping that they will see more visitors from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK as a substitute for the overseas visitors who will find it (at least initially) difficult to travel to and enter the UK. 

He said: “Well over 60% of our guests were normally from overseas and although bookings are somewhat slow, we are already seeing a much higher percentage from the UK.

He says the key to a more successful year will be the careful easing of Covid-19 restrictions to enable full use of accommodation facilities and visitor attractions.

“Until the revised guidance is issued by the Scottish Government we, along with the rest of the tourism industry, cannot finalise our Covid-19 risk assessments.”

READ MORE: Catriona Stewart: 'Summer bookings aren't selfish, we are all desperate to escape' 

How much will a rise in staycations help mitigate the heavy losses of the past year?

Figures show the UK welcomed 15.1m visitors in UK of which 3.4m were international. It is the spend of visitors though that is crucial says John Lennon,  Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University. He believes domestic visits could make up for losses in volume of traffic but possibly not in value because international spend is always greater.

“It’s great that we have Scottish and UK nationals exploring their own country and it’s better for the environment. All that is a given but I think the other factor is that the season is already being eroded. We’ve lost Easter so all they going to get in Summer and possibly the back end of Summer in terms of when they can trade. 

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“It’s not like they are getting their year back.”

He describes the "dangled carrot"of international travel by the UK government two months ago as”crass and irresponsible.” It lead to a surge in bookings for flights on the basis of a future forecast which was far from certain. Airline and travel stocks jumped and have now tanked.

“You wonder who is advising these people. It could be opportunism - feed them a good story then pull back. Caution rather than optimism should be the approach.”