Industry leaders have expressed shock and anger at the government’s decision to remove Portugal from the green list of destinations open to travel without quarantine.
There had been hopes the green list would be expanded. Instead, it’s understood there have been no additions and Portugal, the only significant holiday destination on the list, has been removed.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “This shock decision to add Portugal to the amber list is a huge blow to those currently in Portugal and those who have booked to be reunited with loved ones or take a break this summer.”
He insisted: “It simply isn’t justified by the science.
“To add no more countries to the green list when most of Europe’s infection rates are on a downward trend and many places [have] infection rates below that of the UK, such as the Balearics and Malta, makes no sense.”
Lundgren argued: “When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan.
“The government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing peoples’ plans into chaos with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel.
“This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world. While our European fleet is gearing up for summer as European governments open up travel, the UK government is making it impossible for airlines to plan.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.
“Everyone wants to protect public health, but the point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely.”
Holland-Kaye argued “Britain is the worst performing economy in the G7 and in the week the Prime Minister hosts G7 leaders, he is sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.
“Rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from green countries and slash the cost and complexity of testing.”
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate agreed, saying: “It is bitterly disappointing news for our passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the amber list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for green travel.”
However, Wingate noted: “It is in all of our interests to ensure we only take forward steps out of the pandemic. We hope the rest of Europe follows the UK’s speed of public vaccination so that safe and easy travel to and from the UK becomes a reality quickly, particularly as travel between mainland European countries is opening up already.”
He added: “We remain optimistic that summer holidays abroad will be a reality.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade described the decision as “a body blow” and said: “Despite vaccinating millions more people in the UK and Portugal we have gone backwards since the original country list was published.
“The vaccine dividend we had built up has now been eroded and the UK will fall further behind the rest of the EU.”
He insisted: “This is no way to treat passengers. The government promised a green watch list to avoid this very scenario of people being stranded overseas – where is it?
“This decision adds to the belief that ministers don’t actually want international travel this summer. If that is the case they should be open and tell us, and put in place longer-term support measures for an industry now on its knees.”
Tui UK managing director Andrew Flintham said: “This is another step back for our industry.
“After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.
“We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a week’s notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush home. They have failed on this promise.”
Flintham added: “Unlike other European countries and despite multiple requests, the government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations.
“We must see the methodology so we can help our customers and plan our operations accordingly.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “It’s clear the government’s domestic health strategy is continuing to prevent any meaningful resumption of international travel.”
But he noted: “You can’t build the recovery of a multi-billion-pound sector while mass market holiday destinations remain off the green list.
“Travel agents and tour operators haven’t been able to generate income since the start of the pandemic and have been depending on the return of international travel to bring some much-needed relief.
“The government now needs to come forward with tailored financial support for the sector, which recognises the travel industry’s recovery will be slower than in other sectors of the economy, and takes account of the unique challenges businesses in the sector are facing.”
Tanzer added: “We need to see the government use the next review of the traffic-light system on June 28 to deliver meaningful progress.”
A British Airways spokesperson said: “This is incredibly disappointing and confusing news. The UK has reached a critical point and urgently needs travel with low-risk countries like the US to re-start the economy.
“With high levels of vaccinations in the UK being matched by other countries, we should see the UK Government adding destinations to ‘green’ as soon as possible – not turning its back on a traffic light model we were led to believe was based firmly on scientific data.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, described it as “another huge blow” and said: “The continuing overly cautious approach to travel will disappoint and puzzle many, given the success of the UK vaccine rollout.”
She warned: “Summer 2021 is shaping up to be worse than last summer, which was the worst in aviation history.
“The UK and devolved governments must now decide. Either let the UK have a vaccine dividend, as the EU and US plan to do, and reopen travel in a meaningful way at the next review point on June 28. Or give the aviation and tourism industry substantial sector-specific support to help us protect jobs and weather another disastrous summer.”
Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish suggested: “It is now clear the government doesn’t trust its own system and international travel is being unfairly scapegoated, with tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
“If we followed the approach being taken across Europe, lots of other countries – like the US, Germany and Italy – would be classed as green.”
Cornish argued: “The lack of transparency is shocking and totally unacceptable. If the government has information that supports its decisions, it needs to publish it. We are being left in the dark about how it is making these choices, with no opportunity for scrutiny or challenge.”
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Today’s announcement has effectively closed UK borders. It’s a devastating day for the travel industry. Removing Portugal from the green list will destroy any confidence in international travel.
“It is imperative now that the government extends the furlough scheme for our sector. We are being prevented from operating on any scale whatever and need targeted support if we’re to survive.”
Martin Ferguson, American Express Global Business Travel vice president of public affairs, said: “The entire travel industry feels exasperated by today’s news.
“The UK government must use its G7 presidency to lead international collaboration on globally-accepted digital travel certification standards that will enable the safe reopening of vital international trade routes.”
World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) senior vice-president Virginia Messina expressed “huge disappointment” and suggested the government had “once again cold-shouldered travel and tourism”.
Messina said: “There are so many countries with similar vaccination levels and low infection rates as the UK, such as the US and Malta, to which travel should be restored immediately.”
She said moving Portugal to the amber list “will crush the confidence to travel, depress forward bookings and deter holidaymakers” and insisted: “The WTTC believes the time is right for the UK to open the doors to safe travel and allow all those who are fully vaccinated or can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to travel freely.”
Henry Smith MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, described the decision as a “hammer blow”.
Smith said: “This will come as a devastating blow to our embattled aviation, travel and tourism industries and reinforces [the fact] that the current framework for international travel was a restart in name only.
“Our world class aviation industry is on its knees and our overly cautious approach risks being the final straw for the many businesses.”
He warned: “The government must avoid a total summer shutdown and ensure key markets reopen on June 28 or risk further job losses and pushing businesses to the brink.
“If they remain unwilling to open up international travel even to low risk nations, they must urgently work with aviation, travel and tourism businesses to agree a full and comprehensive package of financial support.”