Comment: Rule changes are welcome but new system needs clarification

Questions of government remain but the easing of restrictions is a positive step, says Miles Morgan Travel owner Miles Morgan

Well, what a week last week was. Miles Morgan Travel won two amazing awards at the Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Awards, a face‑to‑face travel event for the first time in what seems like an age. Then, on Friday, transport secretary Grant Shapps revealed the biggest changes to date to the rules for international travel.

Congratulations to Travel Weekly for the AAAs. It was wonderful to finally meet up with peers across the industry, reflect on 18 months of hell and share our hopes for the travel sector going forward.

The general feeling was positive, but everyone remains nervous and is cracking on with hope rather than expectation. The winter sees cashflow for the industry at its lowest point and that is the challenge for us all, even those who normally have deep pockets. Our future remains in the hands of the virus and Shapps.

Friday saw what was, on the face of it, a good news announcement on international travel.

Despite this, I remain frustrated at the poor level of communication of these government announcements. This was highlighted by Shapps using Twitter to clarify the position regarding travel rules for children after a national newspaper got the rules wrong. Surely this should never happen on an issue as big as this? Where is the briefing document from government, with a full question and answer section, to help everyone get it right the first time? I find this hugely disappointing.

Clearly the highlights of the announcement were more countries coming off the red list, especially Turkey and, for the winter, the Maldives and Egypt in particular. Mystery still surrounds destinations such as South Africa and countries in South America that remain on the red list, while Israel, where case rates are still rising, remains good to go. The current case rates per 100,000 are 1,368 in Israel and 149 in South Africa. It is mystifying.

The abolition of the amber list is a decision I fully supported and campaigned for. I always felt amber represents a place where you don’t know whether to stop or go! Now that this has changed, one huge question remains: how do countries move between the two categories?

Unless I have missed it, no formal review dates have been put in place and, significantly, no structure for any changes has been laid out. If countries simply move to the red list on a Thursday for a deadline of 4am on Saturday, we have a huge problem.

This harks back to early June, when Portugal was abruptly taken off the green list. In many ways, our summer business was lost by that decision. Confidence not only nosedived for Portugal but, more importantly, evaporated for summer holiday bookings in general. The feeling of potential customers was ‘if it can happen to Portugal, it can happen for my holiday’. At the time, there was concern about the spread of variants, but the traffic light change for Portugal could not have been predicted. If you remember it was for the Nepal variant.

We urgently need this issue clarified and the rules laid out to give the confidence needed to get international travel back.

It is right to say that Shapps has to react to anything he sees that presents a public health risk, but this is about how he implements any change he makes.

I would suggest a two-week period of notice [of a country turning red], during which time every returning passenger has to take a PCR test that the government then genome-sequences. This hits the right balance of public health safety and gives potential travellers confidence to book.

I have included the suggestion of genome sequencing as during the summer only a tiny proportion of positive tests have had this scrutiny. I find this disappointing. While the travelling public were ripped off by Covid testing companies, the government left the gate open by failing to analyse the tests and check for variants of concern.

As ever with me, my glass is half full. If Shapps can clarify how changes will be made and makes this transparent, it will positively overflow.

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