Governments should abandon the concept of ‘high-risk countries’ and instead focus on how individual ‘high-risk travellers’ are treated at borders, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) says.

The body reiterated its calls for a rapid, “comprehensive and cost-effective” departure and arrival testing scheme with international consensus on the metrics used when travel resumes.

It says this would ensure only those affected are forced to isolate, while travellers who test negative can continue to travel safely while observing hygiene protocols, such as wearing masks.

Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of the WTTC, said: “Risk based on entire countries is neither effective nor productive. Redefining risk towards individual travellers instead will be key for unlocking the door to the return of safe international travel. We need to learn from past experiences and crises, such as 9-11.

“We cannot continue labelling entire countries as ‘high-risk’ which assumes everyone is infected. While the UK is currently seeing high levels of infections, clearly not all Britons are infected; the same goes for all Americans, Spaniards, or the French.

“The reality is much more complex. Not only does it stigmatise an entire nation, but it also halts travel and mobility when many people who test negative on departure and arrival could safely travel without exporting the virus.”

Guevara said governments must “recognise this reality” and “redefine” how risk is interpreted.

“We firmly believe implementing a comprehensive testing regime and the use of technology is the only practical way to restore international travel securely,” she added. “Furthermore, a comprehensive testing programme will be less expensive than the economic cost brought on by blanket quarantines and lockdowns.

“This refocus would avoid exporting the virus and enable the free movement of travellers, while still observing enhanced hygiene protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing. We must learn to live with the virus, as it will take time for the global population to be vaccinated.

“This is why WTTC has long advocated introducing a comprehensive and cost-effective test on departure and arrival for all international travellers, as a way of preventing those carrying the virus from spreading it.

“As always, there is a crucial balance to be struck between the priority on public health with the need to sustain economic activity. As well ensuring people are safe and healthy, we also need to secure the health of the global economy – and revive the 174 million travel and tourism jobs affected by this devastating pandemic.”

The WTTC’s 2019 Economic Impact Report found that travel and tourism contributed US$8.9 trillion, or 10.3%, towards the world’s GDP, accounting for one in 10 global jobs and giving employment to 330 million people.