Comment: More clarity is needed on government plans

We’ve successfully ‘quashed quarantine’ but the new traffic light system needs more clarity if we’re to boost confidence in travel, says The PC Agency’s Paul Charles

It’s been a weekend of remarkably good news for once in our sector. After weeks of coronavirus-induced misery in terms of zero revenues and hefty refunds many operators, agents, airlines, ferry firms, cruise lines and Eurotunnel have now reported their busiest sales days for years.

The reason? We’ve successfully quashed quarantine and seen a much-welcomed government U-turn on the blanket measures put in place on June 8.

It is hats off to George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah, for successfully uniting usually sworn enemies. At the end of May, when we first read about the possible measures being introduced, George brought together some of the biggest, smallest, brightest and best names in travel and hospitality to fight the “daft and harebrained” policy, as the Sunday Times called it (Travel Weekly also played an important part in helping names sign up to endorse Quash Quarantine’s campaign).

The result is a fillip for the sector. After flying through fog, now we have some visibility. We will see amended FCO travel advice from July 6 and a traffic light system of green, amber and red zones which every country worldwide will fit into. If cases spike, the UK government will apply the hand brake and re-introduce mandatory self-isolation and firmer FCO barriers.

Understandably, our near European neighbours are hustling to try and be listed in the green and amber zones, which will mean that we don’t have to quarantine for 14 days on our return from holidays there. We know that Spain, France and Greece are in these along with the likes of Finland, Norway, Germany and potentially New Zealand and Australia.

But there’s a diplomatic quagmire emerging as Portugal and Sweden take issue with the government’s strong hint that these countries will firmly be in the red.

As will the USA. It’s no surprise that firms such as Tui have cancelled their packages to Florida until December. Rising coronavirus caseloads and deaths across the US, as well as President Trump’s travel ban, mean that Britain’s special relationship partner is likely to be effectively closed off until after the November Presidential election.

Apart from the diplomatic issues, other questions arise. What if we’re on holiday for two weeks in amber-listed Turkey and a major spike means that the country turns red overnight? We’d have to quarantine for 14 days on our return, with massive implications for some workers or employers who need their teams back on the job. The very threat is likely to reduce confidence in booking certain countries around the world.

It’s confidence that the government needs to build. While there is pent-up demand to book a trip overseas, there are still many people who will prefer to “safecation” in the UK instead of wearing masks during a flight, Eurostar or ferry journey. I’d expect the transport secretary Grant Shapps to outline more on this on Wednesday when he officially unveils the traffic light scheme, backed up by data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Lisbon was the most booked European city, in terms of flights, in the first two weeks of June, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and ForwardKeys.  With Lisbon currently being in the government’s red zone, there’s much to be done by the Portuguese authorities to stamp out the virus and reassure the three million British tourists who travel to Portugal each year.

As we assess the future and rebuild our sector, maybe we should also be learning from the past few months. How on earth did the travel industry find itself in a situation where quarantine measures were even considered?

Lobbying groups and firms who have a seat at the government table during regular meetings, including Abta, Tui, UKHospitality, Airlines UK and others should have prevented the quarantine measures being introduced in the first place, measures which substantially set back recovery in our sector and lost us half the summer. All of this following a decline in government confidence in the sector because of the refunds issue. At some point, there should be an inquiry into why things went so badly wrong and the groups involved failed to stop government implementing quarantine.

I share the opinions of those who believe our sector has not been well-served by those who are lucky to have a seat at the table in lobbying meetings. The 500 travel and hospitality firms and individuals who signed up to Quash Quarantine have had far more impact in achieving the change we needed to get going again, and not one of them has paid any fees or subscriptions for helping us all hopefully turn a corner.

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