THERE was some concern last week when Health Minister Robin Swann suggested that foreign holidays were "very much" out this Summer.

This speculation was disappointing for local travel agent, Richard Cooper, of Carefree Travel, when he spoke to The Impartial Reporter.

He said: “I was very disappointed, as were lots of customers who really want a holiday abroad this Summer.

“It has to be remembered, his [Minister Swann's] comments were not those of the Executive, merely his own opinion. The Executive has said it will be waiting on the Global Task Force Report, due on April 12.”

Richard will continue to wait with others in his industry for the findings on the Report.

The comments from Minister Swann caused some concern for some of Richard’s customers, he said. “It [the speculation] followed a very similar pattern to when Grant Shapps [Secretary of State for Transport] and the Health Minister let everybody know their personal views at the end of January.

"It had an instant effect – such as bookings stops, and we have got a lot of calls from very concerned customers.

“He [Robin Swann] has a job I doubt you would find too many people queuing up for, and has done a great job, but minsters should realise the consequences of airing their personal views in public.

"The Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents very much believe that international travel will be possible this Summer,” he said.

However, despite the reaction by some people to the minister's words, people are still booking holidays for the end of 2021 and for 2022, as Richard said.

“We are seeing strong demand for the Autumn/Winter 2021/ 22 period, and a huge demand for ski holidays for the next ski season.

“Many families have also booked for Summer, 2022 to avoid the price increases that the pent-up demand manufactures, and to give their kids something to look forward to.”

Meanwhile, British Healthcare Secretary Matt Hancock has said "the door is not shut" on international travel this Summer as England begins to ease Covid restrictions, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to make a statement on international travel on April 4.

Richard welcomed the idea of a 'vaccine passport'. He said: “It can only be a good thing that UK residents have the ability to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated, they had the virus, or have had had any required test.

“A digital system that works along existing solutions being adopted by the travel industry ... would be best."

Richard hopes that “the Government commits that destinations that are opened for international travel this Summer will not be closed, unless a variant of concern dictates this is required to protect public health”.

He believes that industries which have been affected by the pandemic need support, including the travel sector.

He said: “It’s important to recognise that many areas of business have thrived during the pandemic, but it’s also important to recognise that businesses such as travel agents, [and those which are] business-dependent on weddings, bars, hotels and many more, have not been able to operate for the past 12 months.

"These businesses need ongoing support until restrictions are fully lifted and our customers have the confidence to travel again.”