Analysis: What will be the focus for the new travel taskforce?

The travel taskforce report due by April 12 could facilitate a restart by May 17. Ian Taylor reports

The government’s Covid-19 ‘roadmap’ for England published on Monday promised a review to examine a restart “so people can plan for the summer”.

A successor to last year’s Global Travel Taskforce will report by April 12 with recommendations “aimed at a return to international travel as soon as possible while managing the risk from imported cases and ‘variants of concern’”.

The government will then decide on a restart date “no earlier than May 17”.

For now, the document notes: “The government will continue to protect against the risk posed by imported variants.

“In England, travel abroad for holidays will still not be permitted and from March 8 outbound travellers will be legally obliged to provide their reason for travel.”

However, it promises: “Once more is known about the evidence of vaccines on transmission and their efficacy against new variants, the government can look to introduce a system to allow vaccinated individuals to travel more freely internationally.”

It states: “The UK is working with other countries to lead global efforts to adopt a clear international framework [for travel].”

The document holds out the promise of a system of vaccination certification for travel, but warns this remains unlikely in the short term and restrictions “are likely to continue”.

It notes: “Any system will take time to implement [and] be heavily dependent on improved scientific understanding about the role vaccination plays in reducing transmission. A system also needs to be fair and not disadvantage people who have yet to be offered or gain access to a vaccine.

“The government does not expect this solution to be available quickly and restrictions are likely to continue for the near future.”

The document also notes: “Managing the risk of new cases entering the UK has become even more important with the rise of new variants [and] the government will act swiftly if evidence emerges that suggests more countries should be added to the ‘red list’.”

However, it adds: “There will come a point where these restrictions need to be superseded by a more facilitative model. The Global Travel Taskforce’s report will be critical to this.”

The Department for Transport will lead the new taskforce, work with “UK representatives of the travel sector, including airlines and airports” and make use of “measures already in place such as testing and isolation [quarantine], and recommendations from the first Global Travel Taskforce”.

The taskforce will report to the prime minister, whose decision on when travel can restart will depend on “the global and domestic epidemiological picture, the prevalence and location of ‘variants of concern’, the progress of vaccine rollouts here and abroad, and what more the government has learnt about the efficacy of vaccines”.

The first taskforce featured representatives from a range of government departments, along with the devolved nations. The government departments were:

  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Health and Social Care
  • NHS Test and Trace
  • Public Health England
  • Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • HM Treasury
  • The Home Office
  • Department for International Trade
  • The No 10 / Cabinet Office C-19 Taskforce

This is worth spelling out. It is a government taskforce which will consult with the industry, not a body with industry figures on it.

This is not least because it is important for public confidence that the government is seen to be taking decisions affecting public health.

Those calling for places on the taskforce for industry representatives misunderstand the process and, frankly, are unlikely to impress those they hope to deal with.

As a senior industry source told Travel Weekly: “Those calling for a seat on the taskforce need to understand that it doesn’t work like that.”

But the consultation with the industry last time was real, the recommendations made by the November taskforce were broadly welcomed by sector leaders, and they will be picked up and developed where appropriate by the reconstituted taskforce.

There is a perception among some in the industry that the first Global Travel Taskforce was wound up early this year. It was not. It ceased to exist once it reported to the Prime Minister in November.

It was not intended to sit in permanent session through the pandemic.

The taskforce’s reconstitution is hugely significant. Anyone hoping to influence it would do better to welcome the opportunity than carp about it.

And all would well to remember there will not be a smooth return to unrestricted summer travel.

As the same source told Travel Weekly: “We are not going to go from the level of restrictions we have now to nothing.

“We’ll have layers of restrictions for some time. You will be able to travel, but it won’t be like last summer.”

In total, the first Global Travel Taskforce consulted with more than 95 travel brands and associations “covering aviation, maritime, international rail and the tourism sector”. These were:

  • ADS
  • AGS
  • Airbnb
  • Airlines UK
  • Airport Operators Association
  • American Airlines
  • AMP Capital
  • Associated British Ports
  • Abta
  • Aito
  • Association of Leading Visitor Attractions
  • BAR UK
  • BBGA
  • Belfast City Airport
  • Belfast Harbour
  • Birmingham Airport
  • Bristol Airport
  • Bristol Port Company
  • British Marine
  • British Ports Association
  • Brittany Ferries
  • Business Travel Association
  • Carnival
  • Collinson
  • Commons Project
  • Cornwall Newquay Airport
  • Cruise Britain
  • Clia
  • DFDS
  • Dnata
  • Doncaster Sheffield Airport
  • EasyJet
  • Edinburgh Airport
  • Emirates
  • Etoa
  • EurostarEurotunnel / Getlink Grou
  • Finnair
  • Forth Ports
  • Fred Olson
  • Gatwick Airport
  • Heathrow Airport
  • Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd
  • Hilton
  • Iata
  • Intercontinental Hotels Group
  • International Airlines Group
  • Inverness Airport
  • Jet2
  • KLM
  • London and Partners
  • London City Airport
  • London Luton Airport
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Maritime UK
  • Manchester Airports Group
  • Marketing Manchester
  • MCSN
  • Nautilus International
  • Newcastle Airport
  • Newhaven Port
  • Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance
  • Norwegian
  • OECD Tourism Committee
  • P&O Ferries
  • Peel Ports
  • Poole Harbour
  • Port of Dover
  • Port of London Authority

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