The reintroduction of quarantine restrictions on travellers returning from mainland Portugal to the UK less than a month after rules were relaxed is a “major body blow” to consumer travel confidence.

Tui UK reacted to the Foreign Office advising against all but essential travel to the Portuguese mainland by cancelling all holidays to Faro up to September 24.

“All impacted customers will be notified and offered the option to amend or cancel and receive a full cash refund,” the operator said.

Jet2, the largest operator to the Algarve, only resumed flights and holidays to Faro on August 24.

Industry leaders condemned the latest quarantine clampdown while many took to social media to praise former prime minister Theresa May’s impassioned plea to government in a parliamentary debate to allow airports to trail Covid-19 testing to “get planes flying again” and get the economy moving.

Those backing May’s stance included the British Airline Pilots’ Association and Advantage Travel Partnership leisure director Kelly Cookes.

Save Future Travel call

An Abta spokesperson warned: “Every country, mainland or island that is taken off the government’s travel lists lessens the ability of travel businesses to operate and increases the necessity for the Government to provide tailored industry support.

“There are travel agents and tour operators based in every region of the UK that are viable businesses, which are unable to trade because of the measures to control the pandemic, and tens of thousands of livelihoods are at risk until we are able to move beyond widespread travel restrictions.

Abta has written to the chancellor as part of the Save Future Travel Coalition, calling for changes to quarantine policy, the introduction of testing and the granting of an Air Passenger Duty holiday.

“It explains that with the right policy and regulatory support the government can save jobs and ensure the viability of the UK’s travel industry,” the travel association added.

World Travel & Tourism Council president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said the organisation “shares the dismay and severe disappointment of thousands of British holidaymakers and the travel and tourism sector as Portugal once again goes back on the quarantine list”.

She added: “Taking Portugal and Hungary off the exception list has left families and in a race against time to find flights and get home to avoid going into 14-days of isolation or cancel their already made plans.

“This depressingly familiar situation is a major body blow to consumer confidence to travel.

“For while Madeira and the Azores will be excluded from the quarantine list under the government’s new ‘island policy’, it will come as little comfort to the vast majority of holidaymakers, and the embattled travel and tourism sector, which has seen the 2020 summer holiday season effectively crushed.

“All of this chaos could be avoided if only the government took decisive action to ditch damaging and disruptive quarantines in favour of a comprehensive, fast and cost-effective airport test and trace programme. Until then, the disruption will continue, and the economic recovery will become ever harder to restart.”

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “With Portugal now being removed from the UK government’s ‘safe list’ of travel corridors, it does raise a question over what criteria the UK government is using to remove destinations given the country’s rates of infection being over the threshold this time last week.

“This week alone we have seen further announcements of redundancies in the sector and travel businesses failing and we cannot continue with this stop/start approach to destinations being added and removed from the list.

Travel jobs warning

“We are looking at 39,000 jobs lost or at risk and that is before the majority of businesses have entered redundancy consultation.

“We urgently need sector-specific support and must secure the government’s backing on testing at ports of entry.

“Testing on arrival and then again five days later would help to reduce the length of quarantine which is causing so much anxiety for consumers and ultimately cancellations of bookings and loss of revenue for travel agents.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland called for “a major reassessment” of the government’s approach “to ensure holidaymakers don’t continue to lose money, and tour operators and airlines have a better opportunity to get back on their feet financially”.

He said: “While holidaymakers may be more acutely aware of any risks involved with travelling abroad, this sudden U-turn adds further confusion as to how these decisions are made.

“The last-minute approach continues to ruin holiday plans, with often little prospect of getting any money back as airlines won’t issue refunds or offer vouchers, and in some cases aren’t even offering free rebooking.

“Travellers already abroad are also likely to be extorted for additional air fares as they rush to get home before the restrictions come into effect.

“It’s obvious that the current travel corridor system is not working for passengers, and becoming completely detrimental to the already dwindling trust in the sector.”