Trade bodies are demanding prime minister Boris Johnson “put an end to the current testing regime” as the government appears near to making an announcement on changes to international travel restrictions.
Abta and the Advantage Travel Partnership joined more than a dozen organisations, including Airlines UK, the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Iata, the Business Travel Association and UKinbound, as signatories to a fresh letter to Johnson today.
They urged the prime minister “to acknowledge the damaging and detrimental effect” of the current system and called for “a common-sense testing regime which is proportionate, protests public health and does not rip off travellers”.
It comes after both Johnson and health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons yesterday that transport secretary Grant Shapps would be announcing news about simplifying the traffic light system and making testing less onerous “shortly”. A review of the traffic light system is due by October 1.
The trade bodies’ letter says: “The significant economic challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic mean that the aviation and travel sectors can only continue to make an increasingly important contribution to driving growth and facilitating trade if changes are made to the government’s travel regime.
“In 2019, the UK was the third largest national market for air travel following the USA and China, supporting the country’s position as a world finance and transport hub.
“Aviation contributed to 4.5% of the country’s GDP (compared to 2.5% for Germany), supported 1.6m jobs and enabled over £600bn in exports – but so much of that momentum has been lost.
“We are calling on you to put an end to the current testing regime which is placing an unnecessary and unfair burden on vaccinated travellers.
“As the Global Travel Taskforce final review date approaches, we urge you to acknowledge the damaging and detrimental effect this ineffective regime has on the UK’s competitiveness, on the inbound visitor economy, and on people visiting loved ones, enjoying hard-earned holidays or travelling for important business connections.
“Removing testing requirements for vaccinated passengers is an essential step towards solving these problems, without which the aviation sector and wider travel industry cannot recover.
“At present, the UK operates the most restrictive regime of any of our competitor countries, despite NHS Track and Trace statistics showing that there is no difference in the risk of returning travellers testing positive compared to community transmission rates, and despite the huge success of our domestic vaccination programme.
“Most EU countries – for example France and Spain – do not require testing for vaccinated passengers, but a vaccinated passenger returning or travelling to the UK must still purchase a PCR test that costs on average £75. For a family of four, this reaches a staggering £300 on testing alone. This is in addition to a pre-departure test that must be taken before returning home.
“Visiting friends and family abroad and in the UK should not just be the preserve of those that can afford the staggering cost of testing on top of other travel costs. It simply cannot be right that UK citizens have to pay a testing premium to travel compared to those living in or visiting other European countries. This point is brought home by SAGE’s international vaccination paper in July which suggests that long-term border controls like this are expensive and ineffective.
“The continuing economic damage caused by these testing measures is deeply worrying. Critical business travel and UK-hosted international business events are being deterred. Countless jobs and communities rely on a successful aviation industry, with 60% of constituencies across Britain having 500 or more residents working in aviation; inbound tourism to the UK employs 350,000 people and brings in £28bn in exports.
“It is vital that the testing regime does not cause permanent economic damage to this industry, which can be at the forefront of maintaining the UK’s status as a global business, travel and tourism hub. Moreover, the government’s ‘Global Britain’ ambitions simply cannot be realised without the direct and indirect international connections that aviation provides.
“It is for these reasons that we urge you to implement a common-sense testing regime which is proportionate, protects public health and does not rip off travellers.
“As the Global Travel Taskforce review comes to a close, we hope you will recognise the need to capitalise on the huge success of the government’s vaccination programme and boost confidence by removing testing requirements for vaccinated passengers.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, told Travel Weekly: “A lot of businesses have had no cash coming in for 18 months. The government could be doing a lot more to help get the industry moving.”
He argued: “What is the point of testing fully vaccinated people coming back from green and amber countries? Why have green and amber?
“We’ve opened up domestic events. It’s more and more difficult to see why restrictions are maintained on travel.”
Separately, Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said:”Travellers were let down badly during the summer by a dysfunctional travel testing system that left people facing rip-off prices or paying rogue providers for test kits and results that arrived late or not at all.
“With just six weeks until the half-term break, people need clarity on whether they need to pay for private PCR tests for upcoming trips abroad.”
He added: “The government must urgently announce its plans for the travel testing system to end the uncertainty for millions of people who may be trying to make plans for holidays or to visit friends and family.
“Regardless of whether the rules change for double-vaccinated travellers returning to the UK, ministers must act now on the competition regulator’s recommendations for PCR testing to ensure consumers are protected properly and bring down the often extortionate cost of tests, with price caps if necessary.”