At the moment it seems that the traffic light system is all anyone in travel can think about. When will we be able to travel internationally? Where will we be allowed in? What procedures will we have to follow? Is it really safe? It’s a lot to answer, and an overwhelming prospect. Here, we shall present to you a consumer’s guide to the traffic light system and the simple answers to all of your questions.

What is the Traffic Light System?

The traffic light system is a scheme for determining the safety of international travel. It evaluates the pandemic state of countries outside of the UK based on certain criteria, then assigns them a colour based on how safe it is deemed to travel there. As you might expect, there are three categories of safety, split into green, amber and red. Each colour has certain protocols attached to ensure that UK citizens are as safe as possible when travelling somewhere with a different level of risks. The traffic light system will be put into action on the 17th of May, though which countries fall into which categories will be revealed ahead of time. This will give time for preparations for both travel companies and consumers.

This goes both ways, and each country on our lists will also have their own lists determining how safe they feel about UK travel and visitors. With this in mind, please also make sure to also check the protocols your destinations is holding for visitors. In the case of the UK, the protocols for each colour will only focus on protecting the UK and the traveller. Please also be aware that these lists can – and probably will – change over time. For example, an amber listed country could start doing really well, and after a period of re-evaluation, the government may move them to the green list. This would then allow you to travel to and from the destination with fewer or less stringent protocols.

What Criteria Are Being Assessed For the Traffic Light System?

The government is looking to determine the severity of the COVID pandemic in each potential nation, and to sign them a category accordingly. They will, therefore, be looking at the following criteria for each destination:

  1. The Infection Rates – This will include their death statistics, the speed of infection, the percentage of citizens infected, etc.
  2. The Vaccination Rates – This entails the balance between those who have received their first vaccine dose, those who have received both vaccine doses, and those who have not yet been vaccinated. It also takes the age groups of the destination and its vaccinated and unvaccinated populace into consideration. For example, the UK has not yet rolled out vaccines to adults under 40, except for those who are immunocompromised.
  3. The Variant Possibilities – Though the vaccination rollout is progressing well, other variants of the virus are popping up across the globe. It is important for travel to assess where those variants exist, where they’re likely to turn up, and whether the current vaccines will protect us against them. We don’t want someone going on holiday and bringing back a new strain that no one is protected against!

If the results of these evaluations are positive, that destination will most likely be a green or amber listed country. However, please bear in mind that some countries may still represent a higher risk than indicated by its category. The traffic light system can only be as accurate as the data provided, so an appropriate rating is dependent upon the truthfulness and integrity of the shared data. Each countries’ COVID data must be honest for the system to work properly, so please take this into account when assessing potential holiday destinations.

What Are The Protocols For Different Colours?

So the big question is, what do the different colours in the traffic light system actually mean for the traveller?

Green Listed Destinations

  • There will be no quarantine requirements in the UK or the international destination.
  • The traveller must do COVID tests before they depart, and on or before day 2 of your arrival back in the UK. Many resorts are offering PCR tests in resort before return.

As you might expect, these are the safest countries to travel to. They will have low infection rates, high vaccination rates, and a slim to nil risk of producing a variant strain that we can’t protect against. The protocols in these countries will most likely be similar to those found in the UK, but depending on the country’s own green list and their protocol for visitors, there may be different standards in place when you’re on location. Please do make sure to speak to your agent about the best way to take the test, and then book this in as soon as possible to prevent any undue worry. The testing process should be seamless when working with an excellent travel agent, such as our fantastic PTS members!

The full green list of destinations will not be announced until May 17th, but once available, all current green listed countries and territories will be available on the government’s travel green list. The current list of confirmed green list countries includes Australia, Brunei, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, and several smaller British Overseas Territories (Ascension, St Helena, Tristan Da Cunha, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). Please be aware that entry into many of these countries is severely restricted, including Australia, Brunei, the Faroe Islands, New Zealand and Singapore. Israel has declared its intention to reopen its borders from May 23rd, though only tourists who have received both vaccination doses will be allowed entry. Portugal will allow entry to UK tourists who have received both vaccination doses, who have recovered from COVID (and thus have antibodies), and to visitors who can provide a recent negative test. For their part, Gibraltar will not require vaccination or testing of visitors from the UK. This information is correct up to 9th May, 2021.

Amber Listed Destinations

  • Upon returning to the UK, you will be required to quarantine for ten days within the confines of your home.
  • Three PCR tests must be done. This will include a test before departure, another two days after your return to the UK, and another eight days after your return.
  • Early release from quarantine can be obtained by purchasing an additional “test to release“, five days after your return to the UK. You will, of course, have to produce a negative test result! (This also doesn’t negate the need for a test on or after day 8, just provides release from quarantine.)

At present, it seems very likely that the majority of countries will be on this list. An updated list of amber destinations is expected on June 28th, but an up-to-date view of all current amber listed countries and territories is available on the government’s travel amber list.

Red Listed Destinations

  • Non-essential travel is banned.
  • A mandatory ten-day hotel quarantine will be enforced upon return from your destination. Booking in a hotel for quarantine must be done via a government authorised hotel, with a minimum cost of £1,750. For more information, please view the government’s official information on booking and staying in a quarantine hotel.
  • When returniung to the UK, three PCR tests must be done. This will include a test before departure, another two days after your return to the UK, and another eight days after your return.

Red listed countries will be of incredibly high risk, and some of them may still choose not allow visitors in, despite the UK’s rules allowing visits for essential travel. For an up-to-date view of the current red listed countries and territories, please view the government’s travel red list.

What if A Country Changes Colours?

Over time, countries can be expected to move between colour categories, depending upon their success in fighting the COVID pandemic. If, following re-evaluation, a country is moved from one list to another, there are a couple things that may happen.

  1. If a country becomes green listed, there is no specific protocol currently in place. It is imperative that the traveller or travel company also check the destination country’s own protocols to determine if they have also updated their traffic light lists. If they have not updated their list to green light the UK, it is safest to assume that you should proceed as originally planned. If their list has also been updated, it is a time for cautious celebration, both for our travellers and the citizens of the destination country!
  2. If a country was green or amber listed, and it is updated to become an amber or red  listed (or is being considered for such a move), there is a system now in place to deal with this. For many consumers, you will be given the opportunity to amend your travel plans up until the day of departure, should you so wish. This decision was made to ensure that the consumer is comfortable while classifications are still being determined. Please be aware that this scheme is only offered by some companies, so it is very important to book with a reputable travel agent, preferably via a human being, so that they can assist you at every point. All travel companies that hold Protected Trust Services membership are excellent and knowledgeable professionals, and we recommend them for such a booking.

The government are trying to keep everyone as up-to-date as possible with any news regarding the traffic light system and any movements between colour categories, as this will have a great impact on both travellers’ and travel companies’ plans moving forward. We strongly recommend that if you are concerned about this, you keep an eye out just in case!

Booking Your COVID Tests

Lately, there has been a lot of talk regarding the price of the mandatory COVID tests, which are required both before and after travelling. Wherever the price may settle at the time of your holiday booking, it is important to purchase your tests before you go away. This is vital for peace of mind, and for the security of the country. For the foreseeable future, this will become just another part of the booking process for international travel. It is a good idea to keep an eye on any information regarding testing, as both the prices – and possibly the requirements (number of tests, date of testing, etc) – may be subject to change. Keeping an eye out will give you confidence in what to expect when you return home.

The cost of most PCR tests in the UK has substantially decreased, and tour operators are now beginning to offer further reductions to encourage consumers to book with them. Furthermore, some resorts offer in house tests for your return. Again, an excellent travel agent will be able to support you with your testing requirements. Testing is the new norm for the foreseeable future and it should not put you off travelling when you are booking through an independent travel professional.

What If We’re Not On Their Green List?

It’s important to keep in mind, as a business or a consumer, that though a country may be on our green or amber list, that’s not necessarily going to be reciprocated. We highly recommend that you check the protocols of the country you intend to travel to, or sell travel in. It is possible that some countries may not allow entry to travellers from the UK, and others may have much stricter regulations for visitors than the UK has. To this end, it’s good to check what your destination requires of any travellers, as well as what the UK will require of you.

The things they require could be as simple as some more testing, or it may include a requirement for all travellers to be fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID. It is also possible that a country we include on our green list, will allow in travellers from a country we allocate to the red list, with or without stricter protocols for those visitors. This could have a big impact on how safe a consumer feels travelling there, and how truly safe it is to visit, based on the travel traffic they experience from other countries.

How Can I Support Consumers as a Travel Business?

At present, a lot of consumers are anxious about the logistics of the traffic light system. Even as things become a little less restrictive and regulations are set out, it is still a scary risk to take, no matter how exciting the option of international travel is. As a travel business, you need to ensure you are transparent with your consumers about everything that is going on. This is important to ensure their trust, but also provides them the reassurance that you will support them in any way you can, to give them the confidence they need to book a magnificent holiday.

With only 14% willing to travel to amber listed countries, and an even smaller 2% willing to visit red listed ones, it will be vital to reassure travellers that their protection is your top priority. This applies not only to health protection, but also to financial and legal protection against the increased possibility of cancellations and rescheduling, and any emergencies that may require their immediate repatriation. Any consumer booking with a member of Protected Trust Services is highly protected through the PTS Independent travel trust account, and it may be mindful to run through this with them accordingly.

How Does The Travel Industry Move Forwards Under the Traffic Light System?

Some businesses are already evolving to address this new phase of travel. Leading package holiday providers are already planning to sell testing packages to their consumers, immediately after a holiday is booked. These packages start from as little as £20, saving their customers a lot of money, and potentially providing more people the confidence to travel without feeling as if they are draining all their money.

The recent update to changes in the traffic light system is also a great help. Promising flexible cancellations and rescheduling for holidays to places that have become more dangerous, or which have entered a state of COVID limbo, is very different from how the travel industry used to operate. However, it is a clear indicator that consumer protection and safety is the industry’s foremost priority. COVID has already created such massive changes in the travel industry – many of which have been negative – but we’re beginning to see a real opportunity to turn that into an evolution in our methods, not just sticking our heads out of the water and hoping to resurface once things have improved. It can be scary, but making changes to protocol for last minute decisions could earn a lot of confidence from consumers.

Increased transparency regarding how long it will take to return money in a crisis is another key change for the industry. If you have to push back the deadline to return a refund, you may feel that this can only garner a negative reaction. However, if you’re transparent with consumers, you’ll find most are quite understanding. If you let your customers know that a mass cancellation from a country being red listed has meant that their refund will take 28 days instead of 14, the consumer is much more likely to be sympathetic to your predicament, and will be more likely to trust you – the travel company – with their future bookings. Showing a willingness to be honest, and a determined nature to get them what they are owed – even if it can’t be right now – is a good way to build trust and rapport with your customers.

Rock Insurance has also taken steps to ensure everyone’s safety, by creating a guide for travel agents on the restrictions in popular destinations. This is to receive constant updates, ensuring it always provides the most up-to-date information on both restrictions, and where each destination sits in the traffic light system. This will allow travel agents to keep on top of what is happening, and to supply all the information a consumer will need, as and when they need it. This should ensure that both businesses and consumers are always as prepared as possible, and the initiative to work together to keep information up-to-date at all times could be a big factor in helping to get the travel industry back on its feet. With further updates expected in May, June, July, and October, both travel businesses and consumers can hopefully look forward to a reopened and remodelled travel industry within the govermnent’s new traffic light system.

For more information about how PTS protect consumers, please visit our consumer protection page. If you’re a consumer and wish to find out more about booking with a PTS member agent, please call our friendly team on 0207 190 9988. Alternatively, if you are looking to join Protected Trust Services as a travel company, and wish to offer your consumers complete financial protection, please call our team on 0207 190 9988, or contact us via email at the address We look forward to hearing from you.

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