Agents predict surge in bookings as restrictions ease

Agents have welcomed the announcement from transport secretary Grant Shapps about an easing of overseas travel rules, hoping it will boost bookings, but warn there must be no further complex changes.

The traffic light system will be scrapped from October 4 and the red list of countries will remain – with anywhere else considered green.

Fully vaccinated travellers won’t need a pre-departure test before arrival into England from a non-red country and from later in October, they can replace the day-two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow.

Eight destinations will come off the red list from 4am Wednesday (September 22) include Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer welcomed the announcement, saying it will boost consumer confidence, but he urged the government to implement changes in time for holidaymakers heading off at October half-term.

“We also welcome the removal of eight more countries from the red list, some of which are important winter sun destinations, though we need more countries to come off the red list in due course. The government needs to be much more transparent in its criteria for placing countries on it,” he added.

“Today’s announcement is a good step in the right direction, but it will not in itself be enough to undo two years of damage to the overseas travel industry, caused as a direct result of government policies.

“Targeted financial support for travel agents and tour operators is the only way to make good this damage and stem further job losses following on from the nearly 100,000 jobs which have already been lost in the outbound travel sector.

“As these new measures apply to England, we urge the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to update their international travel policies as soon as possible.”

More: Government confirms amber category to go as Turkey leaves red list

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, echoed Tanzer, and said: “The simplification of the traffic light system and scrapping of costly PCR testing for fully vaccinated travellers is welcome news for the travel sector and will hopefully have a positive impact on future bookings.

“However, this news comes too late for many businesses who have been severely impacted by a second summer season decimated by government restrictions and uncertainty over travel.

“Businesses have faced extreme cash-flow problems and with the furlough scheme coming to an end, travel business owners are now in an even more difficult position than last September.”

The Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive, Julia Lo Bue-Said, said the changes will be “heartening” for the industry and make life “a lot easier” for vaccinated travellers.

“Turkey, Egypt and the Maldives coming off the red list is especially welcome, giving the British travelling public more options for a sunny half-term break,” she said.

“Many travel businesses have been clinging on by a thread and these changes deliver some hope that confidence to travel can be rebuilt.

“It is testament to the joined-up lobbying behind the scenes by leaders within the industry community that a step change has been announced today.

“[This] brings our travel framework closer aligned to those of our EU counterparts, although they do not insist on any testing for their fully vaccinated citizens.”

Jacqueline Dobson, president at Barrhead Travel, called for a “swift confirmation of a four-nations approach”, adding: “This is a pivotal window of opportunity for recovery and other UK nations simply cannot risk falling behind.”

She also called for clarity that the lateral flow tests will be free or highly affordable.

The removal of pre-departure tests means the agency chain is expecting more demand from those “who have been desperate to travel but have been daunted by the possibility of foreign quarantine”.

Lisa Henning, managing director at The Inspire Group said the news will “unleash the significant pent-up demand” for international travel.

“We also need to have sensible time restrictions for passengers to return to the UK if a country moves to red,” she said.

“As an industry we now have to work hard on instilling consumer confidence and maximise on the half term and Christmas opportunity.

“Let’s hope today’s news signifies the beginning of a massive restart for the industry.”

Steve Norris, EMEA managing director for Flight Centre, said: “This long overdue update should make travelling abroad simpler and more financially accessible for the public after months of wrestling unnecessarily complex rules, tests and costly restrictions.

“Flight Centre has already seen impressive enquiries throughout the summer, and we predict a surge in popularity in overseas trips to meet months of pent-up demand.

“Flight Centre can only plead that the government doesn’t make any further complex changes and, most importantly, that they will give due warning if a country moves to the predicted ‘no-go’ list.”

Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director of Global Travel Collection UK, expressed relief about the end of the  “PCR testing circus” but said the pitiful pace of progress has irreversibly damaged our course of recovery.

For any meaningful resumption of trade, world leaders must unite to create one, global and sustainable travel structure. It is simply not logical to connect the world with disjointed, antiquated travel regulations. Our industry’s capacity to recover remains suppressed until this is overriding issue is resolved.”

Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haslemere Travel and chair of Aito Agents tweeted: “Delighted to hear that from 4th October it will no longer be necessary to take a pre departure test to return to the UK and that ‘later’ in the month, the Day 2 PCR will be move to a lateral flow #savetravel. If you are fully vaccinated I must add.”

Amanda Matthews, director of Designer Travel, commented in a tweet: “I bet all the testing companies who have made millions are now going to need furlough!! It’s a good day for the travel industry though and not a day too soon.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said the corporate travel body was “delighted” about the simpler rules but added: “It is imperative that there is no more yo-yoing nor re-introduction of unnecessary regulations.

“Safe travel is essential for our economy and position as a truly global Britain.

“We ask the government to now lead the way in establishing international protocols that safeguard the future of the travel industry.

“It is only once all countries have the confidence to open their borders that our industry can truly recover.”

Andrew Crawley, American Express Global Business Travel’s chief commercial officer, agreed the streamlined system will give corporate travellers more confidence.

“However, waiting weeks to implement reforms means our economy will miss out on billions in revenue that the travel industry could be generating – especially since this is usually one of the busiest periods for business travel,” he commented.

“The UK economy is losing more than £4 billion a week due to restrictions hindering recovery. Previous travel system changes have been brought in within days. Why do we have to wait weeks? The government must do better.”

Pablo Caspers, chief air supply officer at eDreams Odigeo, welcomed the simpler rules, saying they will boost bookings.

“In the past we have seen how reactive travellers are to travel policy changes,” he said.

“We expect there to be increased interest in October half-term holidays given the simplified rules, reduced risk of quarantine and reduced testing costs.”

The union that represents many travel staff welcomed the news and called again for financial support.

“The changes…should be backed with a bespoke financial support package for our travel industry which has been on its knees after 18 months of near complete shutdown,” said TSSA union leader Manuel Cortes.

“We must get travel going again if we are to have a travel trade at the end of this pandemic. Our high street travel trade has taken an unprecedented battering with far too many jobs lost and businesses going to the wall.

“What we have heard today from Shapps should be the beginning not the end of action to support safe travel.”

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