Abta says the government’s decision to mandate PCR tests and self-isolation on all arrivals into the UK is a “huge blow for travel businesses”.
The association says the changes will “impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery” and reiterated calls for sector-specific financial support for the travel sector.
Reportedly from Monday, fully vaccinated arrivals into the UK from all destinations will have to take a PCR test rather than a lateral flow antigen test to prove their Covid status.
Arrivals will be asked to self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
PCR tests had been a requirement for all arrivals to the UK up until October 24, when the government allowed lateral flow antigen tests as proof of Covid status.
The more expensive PCR tests can be genomic-sequenced in order to test for variants, unlike the cheaper rapid tests. However, transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman pointed out in the summer that only about 5% of PCR tests had been sequenced.
Travel firms had been calling for a switch to cheaper testing for months beforehand as the cost of PCR tests was putting customers off booking. Aviation leaders have said as recently as November 17 that there is “no justification” for tests for fully vaccinated travellers whatsoever.
An Abta spokesperson said the association “understands that this is a rapidly evolving situation and public health must come first” but warned “the decision to require all arrivals to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned is a huge blow for travel businesses, many of whom were only just starting to get back on their feet after 20 months of severe restrictions”.
The spokesperson added: “These changes will add cost to people’s holidays which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme.
“The government must also now consider offering tailored support for travel businesses, which have been amongst the hardest hit during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Travellers will understand the rationale behind the government’s decision to reintroduce mandatory PCR tests for those returning to England.
“However, as Which? research has consistently shown, the private testing market isn’t fit for purpose – with serious implications not just for travellers but public health more generally.
“Testing firms have struggled to provide tests on time over the past year, so it is hard to have confidence they will be able to cope with this spike in demand at short notice.
“Now that the government has taken the decision to make PCR tests mandatory, it must take steps to properly regulate the marketplace and implement the CMA’s recommendations so that consumers can have confidence they are booking with a provider they can rely on.”