The travel red list must be scrapped along with the “wild west” of Covid testing, the new chief of the World Travel and Tourism Council told the Abta Travel Convention.
Julia Simpson, in the job as president and chief executive of the global organisation for five weeks, revealed that the UK is lagging behind other nations in tourism recovery.
The WTTC warned that the UK sector may only recover by a third this year while international travel spending continues to fall.
Simpson highlighted “inconsistencies” of government and urged it to move from looking internally during the pandemic to start connecting the UK internationally again.
“Now is the time to start looking outward and to start connecting internationally. Things are on the move but I do understand where politician’s heads were,” she told the hybrid event in London.
She called on the government to get rid of the red list and said people who are double vaccinated should be able to travel freely.
Simpson, previously with British Airways owner IAG, said it made “absolutely no sense” for the Dominican Republic to still be red listed while the majority of countries around the world have been removed.
There was no logic behind “chopping and changing” of the travel lists as they created uncertainty and fear that holidaymakers were going to get stuck abroad.
She questioned the need for the “wild west” of testing and the associated costs for vaccinated British travellers.
Simpson held out hope that travel restrictions between the UK and US would be lifted two weeks before the Thanksgiving national holiday in America on November 25.
“Last year, in the teeth of the pandemic, 62 million jobs in our sector were lost. I’m absolutely determined in my role to do my level best to try and restore all of those jobs and also hopefully more,” she said.
“The industry globally used to be worth $9 trillion in 2019 which was obviously a top end year. The value to the world economy was halved.”
Research on the UK is presenting a lagging picture. Money coming into the UK in 2019 was £36 billion but was cut to £10 billion in the last year as all the borders were closed.
“Our research is showing that while other economies are showing an uptick from last year, our international footfall and spending has actually gone down to £5 billion,” Simpson said.
This compares to rises seen in other parts of the world, including the rest of Europe.
“It’s quite shocking that in the UK we’ve got a completely different trend,” she said.
“Now I know probably people here in the audience are looking more interestingly at people leaving but I would say the two are kind of connected because if international travellers are put off from coming to the UK, people in the UK probably planning their holidays can also be put off by some of the restrictions that we still have here.”
Good UK domestic travel figures are belying what is happening internationally, she argued.
“We had this ridiculous red list and I’m arguing today that they’ve got to absolutely get rid of the red list. We do not need it. We can assess people on an individual basis now and if people are double vacced they should be able to travel quite freely. Other countries have been faster with that.”
With the right measures and a strong focus on international travel, the WTTC believes the UK could see travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP rise by 53% in 2022, resulting in an additional £66 billion to the economy.
International visitor spending could also see a significant increase reaching £29 billion – just 20% below 2019 levels.
Meanwhile, employment growth could see a 14% boost year on year, equating to an additional 580,000 jobs in 2022, resulting in more than 4.7 million jobs – 445,000 above 2019 levels.