The government faces an accusation of “procrastination” over its approach to international travel.
The latest criticism came from the UK’s largest airport group MAG in response to prime minister Boris Jonson’s winter Covid-19 plan and ahead of the structural review of the government’s traffic light system.
Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish said the travel industry supported the need for a cautious approach to re-opening international travel throughout the pandemic.
But he added: “With each passing day this caution is turning into procrastination, which is restricting people’s freedoms and impacting the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
“People should be free to travel again to low risk destinations without having to take any tests – whether that is PCR or lateral flow.”
His comments came as the government prepares to reform travel rules, with a relaxation of curbs for fully vaccinated travellers expected to take effect from October 4, ahead of the autumn school half-term holidays.
Jet2 and Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy told Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel conference on Wednesday that the cost of tests taken since the implementation of the traffic light system is estimated at more than £1 billion.
In his intervention, Cornish said: “Consumers are understandably frustrated, and often unwilling to pay for needless tests when visiting countries with much lower infection rates than the UK – especially when almost all domestic leisure activities have returned to normality.
“The cost of these tests has made an overseas holiday unaffordable for many families, despite the low risk now associated with international travel.
“Governments across Europe decided months ago there was no need for such restrictions to be in place – that is why travel in these countries is recovering at double the pace of the UK.”
He added: “This review of the traffic light system is long overdue, but the time for baby-steps is over.
“It is no longer acceptable for the UK to be out of step with the rest of Europe, and we must give people back the freedom to travel to safe destinations without the cost and inconvenience of any form of testing.”
Club Med UK and northern Europe managing director Estelle Giraudeau said: “Like many others in the travel industry, we await the government travel announcements with bated breath. Yet time and time again, countries which were rumoured to change to green or amber list status have often been left behind, with little reasoning as to why.
“Not only is this a continual headache for the industry, but moreover it has completely shattered consumer confidence with so many unable to take what is widely regarded as a ‘gamble’ just to book a holiday.
“This is not how we should be operating and as a result we are wholly supportive of the removal of the traffic light system and urge the government to bring this into effect as soon as possible, alongside the eradication of PCR tests for double vaccinated travellers upon return to the UK owing to the significant costs this adds to peoples’ holidays.
“We hope such measures can instil confidence once again for British holidaymakers and provide a positive outlook for the winter season and into 2022.”
She added: “We understand there is speculation for the Maldives and Turkey to be finally removed from the red list and reinstated as a holiday option for Brits. This would be a welcome sigh of relief, with both incredibly popular destinations offering the perfect option for some late summer sun.”