New analysis shows holidaymakers have paid out at least £1.1 billion for compulsory Covid-19 tests for international travel this summer.
Analysis of passenger data by the PC Agency suggests at least five million people over the age of 12 had flown into Britain from Europe between May 17 when the traffic light system came into place and the start of September.
Most were British families returning from summer breaks, according to the research, with almost all those aged 12 or over having had to have taken at least one PCR test at an estimated average of £93.
An average of 2.3 PCR tests have been taken per arrival, the research – first reported in the London Evening Standard – found, meaning that 11.5 million tests have already been taken by passengers on flights from Europe.
The total could be higher, as the analysis does not include flights from outside Europe or arrivals on ferries or the Eurostar.
PC Agency chief executive Paul Charles said: “This £1 billion industry has grown quickly, with no clear oversight or regulation. A whole summer has gone by with consumers being ripped off with tests they don’t need at sky-high prices.”
The trade says the government’s testing regime for overseas travel “urgently needs to be reviewed”.
Agents say cost, “hassle factor” and quarantine concerns about Covid tests, particularly in resort before return to the UK, continue to be the main reasons clients won’t travel overseas.
Advantage Travel Partnership leisure director Kelly Cookes called for an immediate appraisal of testing by the government ahead its review of restrictions on October 1.
She said: “These [factors] are the biggest barrier. The whole process around testing urgently needs to be reviewed.”
Spear Travels chairman Peter Cookson said testing was already causing “huge” problems for clients.
He cited an example of an elderly client refused boarding because she took her 72-hour lateral flow test in resort one hour too early after miscalculating the time difference.
“It cost her £700 for a new test and a new flight,” he said.Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson stressed: “It’s unnecessary. The whole system, as opposed to the costs, is putting people off booking.”
The decision by other countries in Europe to allow double-jabbed holidaymakers to travel without tests has further angered agents.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said: “As a country we are singling ourselves out.”But agents stressed the complexity of testing was an opportunity for the trade.
Travel Counsellors chief executive Steve Byrne told a Travel Weekly webcast: “A good, experienced agent can play a hugely important role in taking that worry away from the customer and, when they do that, customers will validate the service they’ve received.”
Confusion over tests is also driving consumers into agencies to seek help. Cookes said: “We are supporting agents on how they can retain these newly-acquired customers.”
The plea comes as the Competition and Markets Authority investigates one of the UK’s largest PCR test providers and warned a further 19 companies to improve their pricing information amid concerns tests are being advertised at costs that are not available or include hidden conditions.