By Jack Denton
The U.K. government has relaxed travel restrictions, which could boost some specific stocks.
Announced on Friday, tourists from the U.K. will be able visit 12 countries or territories as of May 17 without having to self-isolate upon return, fueling hopes for a recovery in travel and tourism on a day when two of the biggest companies in the sector posted results.
Shares in International Airlines Group (WBO:AT:IAG) , a group that owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and other airlines, traded more than 2.5% higher on Friday ahead of the government’s announcement, while shares in hotels giant InterContinental Hotels Group (NYS:IHG) similarly ticked up 1.5%. Both stocks were trading around flat through much of the day, after the two groups posted earnings before the open in London.
Shares in airlines Ryanair (LON:UK:RYA) and easyJet (LON:UK:EZJ) also rose, as did shares in hotel and restaurant group Whitbread (LON:UK:WTB) .
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced late on Friday that Brits would be able to travel to 12 destinations without having to self-isolate upon return to the U.K., though they will have to meet pre- and post-travel COVID-19 testing requirements.
The 12 places on the “green list” include: Portugal, Israel, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Iceland, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Faeroe Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, and Ascension Island.
Shapps said that travel rules will be reviewed every three weeks, setting up the possibility that more quarantine-free travel options will be available as the summer progresses.
Also announced was an “amber list,” including popular travel destinations France, Spain, and Greece. People must still self-isolate upon returning to the U.K. from amber-list countries, while only U.K. or Irish nationals, or U.K. residents, will be allowed to enter the U.K. from “red-list” countries. Travellers from red-list countries, which includes India, Turkey, South Africa, and the Philippines, must quarantine in a government-approved hotel facility at their own cost.
The new travel rules follow a similar move from the European Union last week. Under a proposal from the European Commission, people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with an EU-approved vaccine or who come from a country with “a good epidemiological situation” will be welcome to the 27-member bloc. Currently, travelers from only a few countries are allowed into the EU for nonessential reasons.
Also, two of Europe’s largest travel and tourism companies reported earnings on Friday, ahead of Shapps’ announcement. The travel sector has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic since global travel all but ground to a halt more than a year ago, and the results from IAG and InterContinental Hotels Group show that the industry remains under intense pressure.
IAG reported revenues of €968 million ($1.2 billion) in the first three months of 2021, a 79% decline from the same period in the year prior, while the group swung to a €1.1 billion loss after tax.
The situation was slightly better for InterContinental Hotels Group, which saw an improvement in quarter-on-quarter demand. But revenue per available room — RevPAR, a key industry metric — remains 34% lower than 2020 levels and 51% lower than 2019 levels.
“Airlines seem optimistic that most of Europe could make it on the green list, however that seems a big ask at the moment,” said Michael Hewson, an analyst at CMC Markets, ahead of Shapps’ announcement, citing the lag among many European countries in effectively rolling out COVID-19 vaccination programs.
“IAG has the added complication of being exposed to the wider international travel markets in Asia and the U.S.,” Hewson added. “While it does have a domestic base, with its Iberia and Aer Lingus brands, which could well benefit from a pickup in short-haul flights, long haul is where the bigger margins can be usually found.”
Hewson noted that further delays will only put a further strain on IAG’s finances, with the company likely pinning its hopes on a U.S.-U.K. travel corridor.
Analysts were more positive about InterContinental Hotels Group, and the wider hotels sector, because these operators don’t require international travel to boost earnings and can lean on domestic tourists.
“A continuation of tough travel restrictions would mean domestic travel activity increases this summer and autumn, and hotel operators like InterContinental Hotels are well placed to capitalize on this trend,” said Russ Mould, an analyst at AJ Bell. “Given the difficult times, management probably wouldn’t care if rates don’t recover for a while — it is all about filling the rooms and its prospects for doing so are picking up.”