The reduction of countries on the UK government’s red list is welcome but some of the rationale is “lunacy”, according to industry leaders.
Panellists on a Travel Weekly webcast said there is still work to be done in terms of easing restrictions to certain destinations, despite the Foreign Office (FCDO) removing its advice against all non-essential travel to more than 80 destinations in two waves last week.
G Adventures’ managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Brian Young, said the updates were “a step in the right direction” but warned: “You can never guess what this government’s going to do. So I’ll take what we get.”
He said: “Thursday’s announcement opens up quite a few destinations for us. But even though a number of those have come off in the red list there are still – at the other end – border restrictions we’ve still got to work through.
Young said he was “shocked” that neither Peru or Ecuador had been removed from the list – both big destinations for the adventure operator for tours to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.
“I still don’t understand why they’re still on [the list], but then a lot has moved in a short space of time. I have to hold on to the positive that they will come off eventually, at some point,” he said.
Young said it was particularly hard to understand the UK government’s reasoning when all of G Adventures’ other source markets had resumed travel to both countries.
“We have a global business and I’ve got Americans and Canadians who are allowed to get on a plane and go there,” he explained. “There are no red lists and Peru is open. We’re selling well into it. It’s just our marketplace out of the UK which is the last bit of that jigsaw for us. Trying to explain that to our North American friends is hard. You can’t explain it, so they just see it as lunacy.”
But Young stressed: “Overall it’s a positive step and gets our industry moving.”
Kuoni chief executive Derek Jones agreed there was no point trying to second-guess government decisions.
“There was bound to be something that didn’t make sense, and there was bound to be something that didn’t happen,” he said. “Take the other of the announcement about visitors to the UK and what vaccinations would be acceptable, for example.
“Just two weeks ago, if people who had been double vaccinated in India would not be allowed into the UK without quarantine. Then on Thursday, people who have been double vaccinated in India can be welcomed into the UK. There’s no logic or rationale for why that should have changed in two weeks. But it did.
“We don’t question why anymore. We learned that a long time ago, we’ll just take what we get. And if it’s moving in the right direction, we’ll have that. But there are things that we still need.”
Gemma Antrobus, managing director of Haselmere Travel and chair of Aito Specialist Agents, said clarity on dates would be really helpful – particularly when lateral flow tests will be accepted as Covid tests taken on day two of return to the UK, which the government currently requires to be a PCR test, and when the US will reopen its borders to UK visitors.
“It’s busy, confidence is coming up, it’s what we needed to see, but it’s going to take people some time to realise the entry requirements for these countries are all different.
“We still have so many what-ifs. I was very happy when I heard this [announcement], it was relief. But I didn’t feel elated because there’s so much hard work still to do – and we’re all so exhausted. None of us mind [the hard work] but let’s take the enquiries as they come and manage expectations.”