Foreign Office travel advice and the Department for Transport’s traffic light system are expected to be aligned in relation to Covid risks when international travel restarts.
Calls for “urgent clarity” followed weekend newspaper reports that suggested FCDO guidance may not tally with the red, amber and green lists due to be implemented from May 17.
Last summer, two separate lists led to differing approaches to cancellations between tour operators and airlines, causing confusion among holidaymakers and disputes over refund liabilities. OTAs including On the Beach quit Abta after disagreeing with the association’s policy on the issue.
A source close to Global Travel Taskforce talks said the government understood the importance of the two departments aligning on travel advice, insisting: “The industry ask on that has been heard loud and clear”.
While FCDO advice is not expected to contradict the traffic light system, the taskforce report makes clear the Foreign Office can also “provide guidance on individual risks for travellers” – meaning it may highlight reasons other than Covid not to travel to a destination.
This point was reiterated by an FCDO source who told The Times that its guidance is “independent trusted advice and will remain so”.
A spokesperson told Travel Weekly that the FCDO “will continue to work closely with the travel industry” and further details would be set out “in advance of May 17”.
An Abta spokesperson said : “The Save Future Travel coalition of which Abta is a member has requested urgent clarity on the approach to Foreign Office travel advice around the restart of international travel, particularly how it will work with the new country traffic light system.”
A Jet2holidays spokesman said: “Whilst we were disappointed at the lack of detail in the recent Global Travel Taskforce framework, the UK government has demonstrated a clear ambition to reopen international travel and we welcome that.
“What we need now is clarity about when we can fly, where we can fly to, and how much a Covid-19 testing regime will cost. On top of that, we need a common sense, joined-up approach across government so that travel can be started in a convenient, safe and secure way. We will continue to support the government to achieve this.”
Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent Der Touristik UK, compared the complexity of travel planning to “a game of three dimensional chess” while Cosmos UK chief executive Giles Hawke said he expected the FCDO to be the “final arbiter” over whether package holidays can go ahead.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Hawke urged the taskforce to publish its traffic light lists well ahead of May 17 to give operators and customers time to plan. Accepting lists could change, he said: “What difference does it make if they tell us now or in two weeks’ time?”
Some industry experts expect the lists to be revealed late next week, but the government will only commit to its initial timeframe of “early May”.
Travel consultancy The PC Agency predicted 20 to 30 destinations would be on the green list, including a number of Caribbean islands and British overseas territories. However, the source close to taskforce talks said there was “no indication” decisions had been made and insisted any reports were “speculation”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he “wants to” resume the islands policy introduced last year to allow travel to holiday hotspots with lower infection rates than their mainlands.
Speaking at an Airlines UK event, Shapps also confirmed “regular” bilateral talks on the resumption of UK-US travel – although the UK was later added to America’s ‘Do Not Travel’ list over variant concerns.
Meanwhile, Turkey is ready to welcome British travellers after lifting a suspension on direct flights from the UK and Spain’s tourism minister told the WTTC global summit that his country – the UK’s largest outbound market – will welcome visitors again from June.