Company Sells Out of Tickets From U.K. to France Ahead of New Travel Restrictions

New travel restrictions implemented in Europe due to the COVID-19 spike have added to burdens on travel and tourism companies that were already seeing losses.

Eurostar, a high-speed rail service, sold out tickets for its trains taking passengers from the United Kingdom across the English Channel to France on Friday, a day before France's new restrictions will go into effect.

Now, the company's website urges potential travelers to review COVID-19 restrictions when traveling to and from France, saying an "essential reason" is required.

Beginning Saturday, only non-French citizens and French citizens with "urgent health or legal reason" will be able to travel to the U.K. And for the most part, only European Union citizens and legal permanent residents will be permitted to enter France.

The restrictions are due to fears about the spread of Omicron. Though health experts are still not sure how the variant's severity compares to other strains of the virus, many travelers do not want to take the risk.

This is reflected in all U.K. travel, not just from France. The Advantage Travel Group, which represents about 350 British travel agents, said business has declined by 40% in the past month.

CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said told the Associated Press that the travel industry had already experienced a two-thirds reduction since COVID-19 first emerged.

"Our members are dealing with customers who are really nervous about traveling now," she said. "They're really nervous about bookings for the new year because they fear that there's a risk that the government will make more knee-jerk reactions."

London, St. Pancras, EuroStar
After the U.K. recorded its highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, France announced Thursday that it would tighten entry rules for those coming from the U.K. Above, people line up to travel on trains at London's St. Pancras International rail station, the Eurostar hub to travel to European countries, including France, on December 17, 2021. Matt Dunham/AP Photo

Amanda Wheelock, 29, a grad student at the University of Michigan, canceled a trip to France with her partner as cases spiked there. Uncertainty about the Omicron variant and a new requirement that all U.S. travelers have to test negative before flying back to the U.S., made her worry that the trip would be more stressful than fun.

Instead, she's traveling to the Anchorage, Alaska, area to see friends. She feared that she would spend much of her trip trying to avoid getting infected—thus not able to take full advantage of being in France.

"A vacation with a lot of stress probably not a great vacation," said Wheelock, who is from Arvada, Colorado.

Britain is currently experiencing one of the most dramatic surges, dealing a blow to pubs and restaurants that have seen mass cancelations of parties in the runup to Christmas. Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak met with representatives of the hospitality sector on Thursday to hear their concerns about how they would make it through another season with slashed revenue.

Travel trade association Abta argued it deserved the same attention from the government. It demanded an "urgent meeting" with Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to discuss the sector's "current financial situation and its pressing need for financial support."

"The government has recognized the plight of the U.K. hospitality sector, with trade down by 40 percent in December," chief executive Mark Tanzer said. "But at the same time, the travel industry, where income has been down by 78 percent this year, and further impacted by Omicron restrictions since late November, continues to be ignored."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paris, Gare du Nord, Eurostar
France said that it would ban non-essential travel to and from the U.K. in a bid to keep the Omicron COVID-19 variant in check, as European leaders urged coordinated action and more booster shots to counter the threat. Above, information boards and screens showing the upcoming Eurostar trains to London at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris on December 16, 2021. Photo by Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images