Shares in travel and aviation businesses including the British Airways owner, IAG, easyJet and the engine maker Rolls-Royce tumbled in early trading after the government warned the public not to book holidays abroad this summer.
Investors took fright at the thought that the struggling airline and travel sectors could face another summer of lost bookings, as continental Europe struggles with the rollout of vaccine programmes.
Shares in IAG, easyJet, Ryanair, the package holiday company Tui and the Jet2 airline fell as much as 7% in early trading on Monday. Rolls-Royce dipped by 3%.
The negative outlook wiped off some of the strong gains made at travel-related businesses since the government announced its “cautious but irreversible” roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February.
While pandemic restrictions mean overseas holidays are banned, under Boris Johnson’s roadmap the government had previously said they could resume as soon as 17 May.
However, after warnings over the weekend from scientific experts that allowing summer holidays could risk another lockdown, ministers struck a more cautious tone in Monday morning broadcast interviews, prompting the airline and travel sector sell-off.
“My advice would be to anybody right now is just to hold off on booking international travel,” the social care minister, Helen Whately, told the BBC. “It just feels premature to be booking international holidays at the moment.”
Last week, the UK hit the milestone of half of all adults having received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, much of Europe is still struggling to get to grips with the pandemic, hampered by the slow rollout of vaccine programmes, rising infection rates and the impact of new variants.
Mark Manduca, an airlines analyst at Citigroup, said he detected a “heightened level of fatigue amongst fundamental investors” whose recovery hopes had propelled a recent rebound in airline stocks. “The upside momentum-driven express train of all things recovery is now beginning to peter out and falter,” he said.