Travel and aviation leaders are demanding an urgent response from the government to requests for financial aid and a pathway to relax border restrictions, accusing ministers of “laying blow after blow” on the industry.
The heads of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Airlines UK, Business Travel Association (BTA) and other industry bodies hit out after the government confirmed the imposition of compulsory hotel quarantine on arrivals from 22 destinations.
Home Secretary Priti Patel also announced a new requirement for a pre-trip declaration of the reason for travel, to be checked by carriers, enhanced policing of travellers at airports, and a review of the quarantine exemption list.
BTA chief executive Clive Wratten hailed the introduction of quarantine hotels as “another death knell” for the industry “especially for business travel” which he said was “handcuffed by these restrictions”.
He said: “Public safety must come first, but we question the timing of this announcement and the lack of investment in a long-term strategy to get the UK travelling again.
“Placing the burden of proof for the validity of travel on international carriers is an untenable situation for companies and staff already at breaking point.”
Wratten insisted: “The government must offer targeted financial support to our industry beyond April.”
‘Blow after blow’
Karen Dee, chief executive of the AOA, welcomed the fact that “the Prime Minister has listened to our concerns and the new measures only apply to a limited number of countries”.
But she said: “Strict travel restrictions were only introduced recently and it remains unclear what additional public health benefit mandatory hotel quarantine would have.
“It is vital the government sets out when and how we can ease all these measures safely and provides people with reassurance that travel will be possible again in future.”
Dee added: “The government keeps laying blow after blow on an industry already reeling from the worst year in aviation history.
“The Australian and New Zealand governments backed up their government-ordered aviation shutdowns with more than one billion dollars in aviation-specific support. It’s time the UK government backed its tough stance on borders with similar financial support.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, noted: “We already have very stringent controls at our borders. These latest measures come on top.
“We urgently need a roadmap out of these restrictions so that travel can resume as soon as it is safe and airlines and customers can make plans. We can only connect the UK to the world if we have a viable airlines sector”.
Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) agreed the government should turn to planning a pathway towards re-opening international travel.
He said “The aviation sector is struggling with the depth and duration of this crisis and we can only hope we have now reached rock bottom.
“Now is the time to support the sector and to plan a strategic pathway towards the safe re-opening of international travel.”
A spokesperson for Abta said: “We understand the need to introduce temporary additional restrictions in response to emerging new strains of the virus, but this needs to come with support for the jobs and businesses affected and a clear roadmap forward for travel.
Job losses ‘alarming’
“Jobs are being lost at an alarming rate and longstanding businesses have gone to the wall. The lack of financial support targeted at addressing the consequences of international travel restrictions needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
The spokesperson added: “The government needs to work with the industry to develop a route forward for reopening travel, reviewing all of the existing measures and coordinating with overseas governments.
“The vaccine roll-out is positive, [but] the industry cannot wait for the whole UK adult population to be vaccinated before travel restarts – and businesses cannot afford to lose another summer.”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “We accept tighter border controls if that is what is necessary.
“What we do not accept are ill-thought through statements from ministers telling the British public not to even think about booking future travel plans, particularly when there are many extremely flexible booking options.”
She asked: “Why do members of the government feel it is their place to further crush confidence?”
“Death knell” for Scottish travel
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) warned that compulsory hotel quarantine could “sound the death knell” for the Scottish travel industry.
Alan Glen, past president and council member of the SPAA, said: “Hotel quarantine on top of testing, self-isolation, the closure of travel corridors [and] passenger locator forms will decimate the Scottish travel industry, which is already on its knees.”
He said: “It is unlikely there will be any recognisable Scottish travel industry left.
“We’re asking the UK and Scottish governments for focussed and realistic financial support for the Scottish travel industry which is being annihilated due to its inability to trade.”
Abby Penston, chief executive of business travel consortium the Focus Travel Partnership, argued: “Essential workers need to travel. Prioritising the management of the safe travel of these individuals is key.
“Containing them in a hotel at the cost to their employer is not conducive to ensuring essential work can be carried out.”
She suggested: “If the government would work closer with the trade and understand the value of a responsible travel management company, this could negate the need for these extreme measures.”
Financial aid call
Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer, American Express Global Business Travel, also called for financial aid for airlines and travel businesses. He said: “Public health and safety must be our top priority. But these new restrictions will be catastrophic for the travel industry. Confining the mandatory hotel quarantine to passengers arriving from high-risk areas appears logical, but the benefit to public health remains unclear. This is another knee-jerk reaction. It makes it impossible from businesses to prepare.”
Rory Boland, travel editor for consumer group Which?, said mandatory quarantine in airport hotels for some UK arrivals “will help reduce the spread of new variants” but believes the cost “will not only put people off booking holidays this year, but also potentially prevent thousands of the rebooked holidays from last year’s cancellations from going ahead.”
He called on the government to crack down on airlines not refunding customers, saying doing so would “improve compliance” with the new restrictions.