Pre-departure testing expected to have ‘real impact’ on summer bookings

The reintroduction of pre-departure testing is a “punch in the stomach” for the travel industry causing a ripple effect that will hit bookings into the spring and summer, say chief executives.

Pre-departure testing resumes from Tuesday December 7, and its reintroduction comes a week after the UK government insisted on PCR tests for all arrivals, who must isolate until they receive a result.

Trailfinders founder Sir Michael Gooley, said the latest restrictions were “another shattering blow to the industry” which he labelled “a futile over-reaction”.

Gooley said: “Although Omicron was first identified in South Africa, it may have been circulating unseen in Britain for weeks… imposing stringent conditions on international travel makes no sense and does nothing to halt this spread.”

He said a survey of Trailfinders’ 1,000-plus staff shows that only 1% of the firm’s 200-plus confirmed Covid cases were caught abroad despite a combined 2,600 trips in the last 20 months.

“That’s conclusive evidence that holidays are not driving the spread of this virus,” Gooley said. “There is no logic in clamping down on visitors from countries where no Omicron has been detected, when passengers from Glasgow to London are getting off the train at Euston with no checks at all.

Gooley warned: “Every snap decision, every change of the rules causes uncertainty. For travel companies, uncertainty is the worst possible news.

“Most people plan their holidays well in advance. It’s usual for even the most footloose to book their flights several months ahead.

“Kneejerk rules introduced in a futile bid to control Omicron are going to have their real impact in the summer – because that’s when people will be missing out on travel that they are disinclined to book now.

“Risk has to be judged and managed.”

Gooley said Trailfinders’ immediate refunds policy has cost the business £80 million in 22 months, “about a quarter of our total cash reserves”.

He said: “There is no doubt that the industry will be scarred indefinitely.

“It is unacceptable to punish the travel industry every time the pandemic takes a new twist. Hindsight shows us that all the previous international restrictions did next to nothing in slowing the spread of Covid.

“Millions of jobs rely on this business. Holidays are crucial for everyone. We have to bring some sort of sanity to bear on these maddening rules.”

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, which represents more than 1,200 UK travel businesses in the UK, said: “The latest covid travel announcements are a punch in the stomach for the travel industry just as we approach the important Christmas period, the ski season and the traditional January summer holiday booking peak.

“Calm, proportionate responses based on data is all we have continually asked for. Then, if a decision is made of national importance and safety, the government should be doing everything to support those industries most effected.”

Lewis pointed to the “huge debts” travel firms have taken on to serve customers throughout Covid, while dealing with refunds and cancellations for no income.

“We need the government to provide a package of financial support to ensure survival against the  impact of these latest announcements,” Lewis added who specified: “Direct financial support, delay to debt repayments, deferral of HMRC liabilities, and provision of grants for agents who are at the forefront of customer conversations.

He added: “The government should also immediately improve customer support by providing free, easy-to-access PCR tests for travellers and stop the enormous costs of hotel quarantine by simply enabling track and trace to allow home quarantine for arrivals from red list countries.

“We are all very much aware of the dangers that Covid and new strains bring, but without enough data on the omicron variant, blanket testing does feel like a knee-jerk government reaction. If the government decides to impose a decision, the consequences for the travel industry should be thought through and direct, immediate financial support offered.”

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