Leading figures in the Department of Transport (DfT) and at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have confirmed that Foreign Office (FCDO) advice is key to deciding whether package holidays to amber destinations can go ahead.
Sofia Stayte, DfT head of aviation consumer policy and innovation acknowledged the difference between the government’s traffic light system for international travel and FCDO advice was “unhelpful”, but suggested the disparity is likely to remain.
Speaking at an Abta Travel Law Seminar, Stayte conceded “it’s not illegal” to travel to an amber destination despite government insistence people should not travel for holidays to countries categorised amber or red.
She said: “There are no legal implications of travelling to red or amber destinations.
“There will be people who have strong reasons to travel for family or business reasons. But it’s not what the government advises and a lot of consumers will not feel safe to do that.
Stayte insisted: “FCDO advice has a very different purpose [from the traffic light system]. It’s about the destination and not UK public health.
“It serves the needs of understanding the risks in a destination, not just of Covid. Because of the very different objectives [of FCDO advice and the traffic-light system], it’s very difficult to align the advice.”
She noted: “I appreciate that might not be very helpful.”
Stayte was responsible for drafting the government’s Covid-19 Passenger Charter published on Monday.
Addressing the Abta Travel Law seminar later in the day, CMA consumer group director Hayley Fletcher said: “There is not a hard and fast right to a cancellation refund [to amber destinations].
“Operators need to refer to consumer law. They need to look at the FCDO advice and at whether there are any unavoidable circumstances in the destination.”
However, she insisted: “Firms must treat customers fairly regardless of the guidance or advice.”
The CMA regulates consumers’ rights to refunds, including for cancelled package holidays, and Fletcher sent an open letter to the sector last week setting out the CMA’s views on when refunds are due.
This made no reference to the traffic light system.
Simon Bunce, Abta head of legal services, suggested: “So it comes back to FCDO advice.”
Abta issued a statement today saying: “It doesn’t make sense for the government to tell people they shouldn’t travel to amber destinations when the government itself has put a plan in place that allows them to do this in a risk-managed way, with testing and quarantine.
“The recent comments and mixed messages from ministers undermine the government’s own system for international travel and further erode consumer confidence.
“While we understand public health is the priority, the government has moved the goalposts on the return to international travel.
“Foreign Office advice manages the risk to people in destination. International travel is now legal again and the traffic light system needs to be allowed to work as intended.”