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Trade slams government over ‘unacceptable’ messaging

The trade has appealed to the government to simplify the new testing and isolation requirements and improve future communications  following a chaotic weekend “scrambling” to help customers.

All arrivals into the UK will be required to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they can provide a negative result, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Saturday. It was confirmed the next day the rules would come into effect at 4am on Tuesday (November 30). Ten countries – including South Africa – are now on the red list.

Trips to Lapland, Spain and South Africa have all been affected by new travel restrictions imposed by governments in the UK and overseas, Designer Travel owner Amanda Matthews said during a Travel Weekly webcast.

She called for free day two testing through the NHS and pointed out private testing providers were currently not set up to return results within 24 hours.

“We’re taking all these calls in a period when we’ve got no answers,” she said. “It’s just unacceptable.”

She said the industry had initially been “scrambling around” on Saturday trying to find out when the latest travel testing requirements would be introduced once Johnson made the announcement.

The government’s messaging showed “a lack of respect and understanding” of the travel industry, Matthews said.

Caribtours managing director Paul Cleary called the government’s messaging “ridiculous”, “stupid” and “ill thought through, as always”.

Alan Cross, Jet2holidays’ head of trade, said it was “dangerous” when people were left to interpret the rules changes themselves.

“Miscommunication happens as a result of that,” said Cross. Agents, he said, were often left trying to get “clarification from not just the [UK] government, but other foreign governments” in a bid to make sure information being given to customers is correct.

Cleary, who was in Cape Town, Sotuh Africa, when the news broke, but managed to use in-house staff to book return flights via Istanbul to Manchester.

“I feel really sorry for people who don’t have those resources, or who are maybe a little bit confused,” he said.

Matthews said “a number” of families due to travel to Lapland before Christmas had already cancelled over concerns about isolating at home.

She said Designer Travel usually does “hundreds” of Lapland bookings for families each year, where passengers fly out and return in one day.

Since October 24, the UK government has required Britons returning from non red list countries to use lateral flow antigen tests as proof of Covid status, with holidaymakers permitted leave home before taking their day two test.

Matthews said day two testing was previously “not a problem” as travellers could “go out and about as soon as they got home”.

Spain’s decision to tighten entry requirements and make all arrivals aged 12 and over show proof of vaccination had caused Matthews’ business “an enormous” problem.

She said: “We’ve got some families that have taken children out of school, but most are going over Christmas and you’re trying to say to clients, ‘we don’t know, you’re going to have to wait two weeks before to see whether that all needs to drop’.”

And Matthews said her team had been unable to ease fears one couple have about their £45,000 wedding in South Africa next month.

“All these [government] announcements seem to be timed,” she explained. “When there’s no one to ask. There are no answers. Even when the prime minister was asked when will this kick-in he didn’t have the answer.”

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