The “failed and damaging” traffic light system must be abandoned now by government to avoid the total collapse of the travel sector, the World Travel & Tourism Council has urged.
The system for grading countries green, amber or red for international travel needs to be scrapped if there is any hope of saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Without action, more businesses will collapse and more jobs will be lost, delaying the country’s economic recovery, the WTTC warned in the wake of Portugal being removed from the non-quarantine green list with little over four days notice.
The UK also faces losing out on crucial funding, investment and spending. Conference investment in the country is already being pulled and moved to neighbouring European nations.
The competitive advantage generated by the UK’s successful vaccine rollout could also be squandered.
The WTTC wants to see fully vaccinated travellers, and those with proof of a negative test, to travel once more to countries with similar or higher vaccination levels to the UK and to destinations with proven low-infection rates.
A shift to a more transparent and easier to understand approach would restore consumer confidence and provide a much-needed boost to travel and tourism businesses which have suffered severe setbacks due to the traffic light system. the organisation argued.
The WTTC believes the restoration of free mobility is essential to help drive the economic recovery from the pandemic, with a further 218,000 jobs at serious risk, if international travel continues to be off limits for most of the summer – in addition to 307,000 jobs lost across the UK sector last year.
While it recognising the importance of protecting public health and the need to avoid travelling to countries or destinations with a demonstrably higher Covid-19 rate, the global tourism body has long advocated that a combination of vaccines, testing, digital health passes and health and safety protocols to safely unlock international travel.
Senior vice president and acting chief executive Virginia Messina said: “It’s time the government abandoned the hugely damaging traffic lights system.
“Consumers, airlines and the wider travel sector were promised a watchlist and three weeks’ notice of any changes from green to amber, and not just four days. It has been incredibly disruptive and costly for both travel and tourism businesses and consumers. It simply hasn’t worked.
“What’s needed now is a watertight government policy enabling those who’ve been fully jabbed to travel freely, and not have to self-isolate on their return.
“Those who are not fully vaccinated should be able to travel with proof of a negative test, like what we are seeing in the EU. The travel sector needs this now if it is to survive this summer as domestic travel alone will not save the day.”
Great Rail Journeys chief executive Peter Liney said: “The impact of the government’s indecision around the return of international travel cannot be underestimated on the future of the travel sector. It is devastating the travel industry and creating chaos for both customers and businesses alike.
“The first week of June saw sales across the board drop by 40% compared to May run rates, directly in response to the latest Government travel announcements which saw the abrupt removal of Portugal from the green list.
“That comes on top of significantly reduced bookings for European holidays, with 2021 bookings being less than a fifth (19%) of normal trading compared to 2019. Current booking levels are simply unsustainable and consumer confidence in taking a much-needed break is being squashed once again.
“The prompt retraction of Portugal from the green list is disheartening and counters the government’s own six-month travel review where a commitment was made to introduce a green ‘watchlist’ as an early indicator a country could change from green to amber. This recognised the holiday turmoil created last summer, with a promise not to repeat. Already they have gone back on their word.
“We need consistency, data and logic to underpin government decisions if we have any hope of navigating our way back to international travel. All seem to be lacking. Alongside all travel operators, we are crying out for clear guidelines for the safe return to overseas holidays. We hope this, alongside wider recognition and support for the sector, materialises before it is too late.”