Cancellations of holidays to France, Italy and Greece are reported to have been triggered amid consumer fears that further quarantine restrictions could be imposed at the last minute.
Moves to cancel foreign holidays came after the government announced on Saturday that arrivals from Spain would have to self-isolate for two weeks from midnight that night.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab then warned that quarantine measures may be applied elsewhere, saying he “can’t give a guarantee” that other countries would not follow.
“We appreciate the disruption for travellers. Anyone that’s at risk of losing money needs to go and talk to their travel operator and look at their insurance,” he said.
“But we must take these measures to avoid the risk of re-infection into the UK given the very serious spike of cases in Spain.”
Raab told Sky News: “As we found with Spain, we can’t give a guarantee. As you can see we monitor the risk in real time, we take decisive, swift action and so there is an element of uncertainty as people go abroad.”
Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said talks were being held with the UK to exempt the Canary Islands and Balearics from the quarantine list.
“Spain is safe for tourists and Spaniards,” she said. “Like in any other European country we are seeing outbreaks; the outbreaks are controlled.”
Tui Group chief executive Fritz Joussen said: “We trust the UK government to find a differeniated approach to deal with destinations in Spain – especially the Balearics and Canaries.”
Tui cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until August 9. British Airways is still operating flights, but said the move was “throwing thousands of Britons’ travel plans into chaos”.
Paul Charles, founder of consultancy PC Agency and spokesman for the Quash Quarantine industry lobby group, said it was feared that other countries could be added to the quarantine list.
“People are cancelling not just Spain but other short-haul bookings,” he said.
“We’ve heard of lots of cancellations for holidays to France, Italy and Greece. Dominic Raab said they wouldn’t hesitate to introduce quarantine measures on other countries and that’s simply put fear into people.
“The implications of not getting bookings throughout late summer means that there will be many more job losses in the travel industry and more businesses will go under. Many were on a cliff edge, this will push them over.”
Speaking to The Times, he added: “Travel companies put in place a lot of flexible options to stimulate bookings and people are now taking advantage to cancel. This is the nail in the coffin for many firms. They were relying on a late summer surge.”
Aito agents chair Gemma Antrobus said: “It feels like the rug has been pulled from under our feet. The fact such a drastic change can happen to Spain, the UK’s most popular destination, will really worry people that it could happen to any destination.
“It’s a huge blow and means people will be put off committing to going away. Others will be worried about going in case the rules change.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Many holidaymakers won’t be able to go to Spain knowing they’d face 14 days of quarantine on their return.
“Tui have rightly cancelled package holidays to mainland Spain, and will also allow customers who don’t want to travel to the Canaries and Balearic Islands to cancel and claim a refund.
“However, it’s unfortunate that some airlines, yet again, seem intent on ignoring the change in circumstances in Spain by operating all flights and therefore refusing to offer refunds.
“EasyJet and British Airways customers will at least be able to cancel and claim a voucher for future rebooking, but it’s unclear which dates holidaymakers can safely rebook for.
“Meanwhile, Ryanair has not yet published what options its passengers with flights to Spain have. It must, at the very least, offer rebooking without charge.”
Ryanair is not planning to reduce capacity flying to Spain after the UK government’s decision to advise against all non-essential travel to Spain, chief financial officer Neil Sorahan said.
“I think it is regrettable, very disappointing,” Sorahan told Reuters in an interview following the publication of quarterly financial results.
“I have no doubt that we will see other localised outbreaks and we need to be flexible enough to deal with them as they arise over the next number of weeks and months,” he added.