The lifting of government quarantine restrictions for limited forms of business travel does not go far enough.

The criticism came from the Business Travel Association after transport secretary Grant Shapps revealed that “high value” corporate travellers will get exemption from self-isolation from Saturday.

BTA chief executive Clive Wratten said: “The announcement that government-selected categories of business travellers returning to the UK are exempt from quarantine is a step in the right direction.

“However, business travel takes many forms and all should be exempt.

“Engineers, humanitarian workers, retail buyers and many other professionals travelling for work are all crucial to the UK economy.”

Advantage Travel Partnership called on Shapps to clarify the definition of “high-value” so that its travel management company members can “hit the ground running sand advice their clients accordingly”.

Chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said described the change as a “significant milestone”, subject to the fine print.

Advantage said: “Time again the hospitality industry has been afforded support and flexibility with regards to Covid-19 restrictions, not least currently whereby business lunches are permitted.

“It’s about time that business travel, worth £220 billion to the UK economy, can also benefit from appropriate flexibility and support from the government to ensure no more time is wasted with regards to recovery.”

Kieran Hartwell, corporate managing director of Travel Counsellors for Business, said there will be many business travellers who don’t fall into Shapps’ criteria.

He added that “whilst our Travel Counsellors continue to support specific groups, such as essential workers, to travel the globe safely, there are many clients who will feel that this announcement does not go far enough, or can be readily applied to them”.

Hartwell said: “We are investigating the specific terms and conditions surrounding this new announcement, including how Shapps is defining ‘high-value,’ and any stipulation on the specific roles and industries that apply, but the news signifies a step in the right direction for corporate travellers in the UK.

“Together with recent announcements on the reduction in quarantine to five days, and high hopes for the prevalence of a vaccine next year, it goes some way to forming a positive picture.”

Abby Penston, chief executive of the Focus Travel Partership consortium, said: “We represent 60 business travel management companies in the SME sector who typically turn over £1 billion a year and look after the travel arrangements of thousands of business travellers from all industry sectors including oil rig workers, construction engineers, charity workers and manufacturers as well as people within the arts, media and journalism.

“Unfortunately the new rule does not include those in middle management or even those representing small businesses, which fuel this economy and will be key to unlocking recovery.”

Chris Galanty, global chief executive of Flight Centre’s business travel divisions – FCM Travel Solutions and Corporate Traveller – said: “Both FCM and Corporate Traveller have clients in media, entertainment and TV production so the fact that business travellers in these sectors are exempt from quarantine will encourage them to resume travel.

“But the criteria for ‘high value’ still means that many business travellers, who are vital for the successful operation of their company, will still need to quarantine.

“We need to see measures in place that facilitate safe travel by any employee who needs to travel for business purposes.”

The limited relaxation of quarantine rules came 24 hours after the World Travel & Tourism Council backed official calls from European safety and disease control bodies for an exemption on self-isolation for 72-hour business trips.

WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara supported the government’s new initiative, claiming the move “will bolster business travel and provide a significant boost to the fragile UK economy”.

The Department for Transport issued further details last night, saying the “limited number of exemptions” from quarantine would include business travellers “who meet a set of required criteria”.

The DoT said that “individuals undertaking specific business activity which would deliver a significant benefit to the UK economy – including activity that creates or preserves 50-plus UK jobs – will no longer need to self-isolate when travelling or returning from non-exempt countries”.

But they will only be exempt “when undertaking the specific business activity and will only be able to meet with others as required by that specific activity”.

Further information will be available on gov.uk when these exemptions come into force, the DoT added.

Exemptions will also come into force at the same time for domestic and international performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists, and recently signed elite sportspeople, “ensuring that industries which require specific, high talent individuals who rely on international connections can continue to complete their work”.

Public Health England “do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review,” according to the transport department.

The current 14-day quarantine period for regular travellers is being cut to as few as five from December 15 if arriving travellers obtain a negative Covid-19 PCR test result.