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Trade warns opening up of travel is ‘at a snail’s pace’

The travel sector has hailed the decision to drop quarantine requirements for arrivals from France in the latest traffic light review – but warned the easing of restrictions is too slow to salvage the summer season.

The latest traffic light rules for travellers – announced by government at 10pm on Wednesday (August 4) – will also see the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, Qatar and Bahrain move from the red to amber list as the changes come into force from 4am on Sunday, August 8.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, welcomed the ruling about France but warned: “The government is still failing to capitalise fully on the success of the vaccine rollout with a very cautious approach to the green list and failure to relax restrictions on travel, including requirements for multiple tests even when visiting low-risk destinations.

“The UK is falling behind our European competitors and the opening up of international travel from the UK is progressing at a snail’s pace – making it extremely difficult for travel agents and tour operators to generate enough income to kickstart a recovery.

“We need to see a greater sense of urgency from this government to both get people travelling again and support the industry through this crisis.

“With furlough costs increasing for businesses this week, the need for tailored financial support remains critical.

“The government also needs to be transparent to the travelling public and the travel industry about the basis on which these decisions are made.”

Aito chairman Chris Rowles said news of the scrapping of the amber watchlist and additions to the green list is “too little too late for the travel industry” as “so much damage has already been done by our government, whether by design, incompetence or for a secret, unstated agenda”.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, tweeted: “I just cannot understand how we have one of the highest vaccination rollouts in the world and yet we remain one of the most restricted when it comes to travelling internationally.

“The latest traffic light review shows a true lack of ambition by the government in not opening the green list further and removing the need for pre departure testing for vaccinated. The summer has already been lost and any attempt to save summer is over.

“Removing the pre-departure test would create more confidence among travellers. The testing regime needs to be simplified, particularly for those who are double vaccinated #travel.”

Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), said: “These changes may prove to be too little too late for the Scottish market in particular due to the timing of the Scottish school summer holidays. As these changes come into force on Sunday, many families will be preparing for the return to school of some pupils in the coming week.

“It means that the next time travel agents will have any realistic revenue will be early summer 2022, as travel agents are only paid when the customer actually travels. We reiterate our call for Scottish agents to be given business disruption support similar to those being given to our colleagues in Wales by the Welsh government.”

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, agreed that the lifting of restrictions has been too slow for many travel businesses.

“Our summer season has been decimated and customer confidence badly impacted by complicated and ever-changing travel rules,” he said.

“The travel industry has been hanging by a thread throughout the pandemic and has managed to survive thanks to measures such as furlough. We’re asking the government to extend these measures for industries, like outbound travel, that are still locked down to some extent.

“The UK has one of the most impressive rates of vaccination in the world, but we have some of the most stringent travel restrictions in Europe.”

Lisa Henning, managing director at Inspire Group, said: “It’s another significant step forward for the industry. Having no amber plus makes the message much clearer to consumers. Also, having access to the UAE brings the consumer much-needed further choice.”

Gemma Antrobus, owwner of Haslemere Travel and chair of Aito Agents, tweeted about the timing of the 10pm announcement by transport secretary Grant Shapps, who has been criticised in the past for revealing news on Twitter.

“The continued lack of consideration and respect from @grantshapps towards the crippled travel industry never ceases to amaze me. We’ve had announcements at 20:30 on a Friday, now 22:00 on a Wednesday….. do you just pluck a date and time out of a hat???”

The timing was also questioned by Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director of Global Travel Collection, said the announcement leaves a trail of unanswered questions in its wake.

“The announcement really was delivered in fly-by-night style – not least because it was presented via Twitter at 10pm the night before it was due,” he said.

“Why does the travel industry still not have full visibility of the data being used to drive decision-making? These announcements are little more than a lottery.

“Even decisions such as increasing the price of hotel quarantine by more than 30% must be justified in full. Many red destinations are still vital for business travellers who deserve to understand what has caused these costs to increase – particularly when it has been widely reported that genome sequencing for red country arrivals is declining at a staggering rate.”

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, called for more information about how such decisions are being made as the constant changes are hitting the recovery of the sector.

“These decisions are critical to the future of outbound travel and connectivity – particularly from Scotland as we simply cannot afford to lose any more routes than have already been lost to the pandemic. Transparency and consistency are the only ways to guarantee customer confidence and ultimately, rebuild the industry,” she commented.

Andrew Crawley, American Express Global Business Travel’s chief commercial officer, called for the Biden administration in the US to look at withdrawing the presidential proclamation 212(f) that prevents Europeans from entering the US.

“The US has banned travel from the UK and Europe for more than 500 days. Every day 212(f) remains in place is another day that families remain separated, vital trade routes remain severed and jobs are put at risk,” he said.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “The government making changes to the test and quarantine requirements of 16 countries, with travellers given just a few days’ notice before they are introduced, is a reflection of just how unpredictable the rules on international travel are currently.

“Some holidaymakers whose countries have now been placed in the red category will find that their airline or tour operator is unwilling to give them a refund. Other providers won’t refund or even facilitate rebooking if a country is moved from green to amber.”

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