Travel industry leaders say too many key destinations have been left off the UK government’s green list of ‘safe destinations.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that 12 countries – including Portugal – were on the green list, while Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal were added to the red list this afternoon.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel association Abta, said: “Although it was good to hear the minister say he wants people to be able to travel this summer, this is a slower and more cautious approach than previously outlined by the government and will delay the industry’s recovery.
“We understand that public health is the government’s priority, and it was always expected that the return to international travel would be gradual, but the government must use the next review to open up travel to more destinations, using the traffic light system to manage risk.
“We also need the government to commit to supporting travel agents and tour operators through what will continue to be difficult times ahead. Travel will be one of the most restricted economic sectors coming out of the pandemic and this needs to be recognised through adequate grants to support these businesses.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents UK-registered carriers, said: “This is a missed opportunity and with so few countries making it onto the green list represents a reopening of air travel in name only.
“By contrast the EU has said vaccinated people will be able to travel without restrictions which leaves the UK at risk of falling behind and not opening up international travel to key markets across Europe as well as the United States.
“We strongly believe that, alongside the domestic economy, travel can be safely reopened and so we must see major additions to the green list at the next review point in three weeks, alongside a simpler and much reduced testing burden so that travel does not become the preserve of the wealthy only.”
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) said Shapps’ announcement “does not go far enough to reconnect the UK to its most important markets”.
Chief executive Dale Keller said: “This tepid reopening marks an important first phase but the very limited number of countries initially allocated as ‘green for go’ from May 17 will leave a lot of people disappointed and aircraft and jobs grounded.
“The majority of countries remain in the amber category with arrival restrictions unchanged from today regardless of vaccination status, so there is little prospect of business or leisure traffic building significantly on these routes in the first phase.
“Travel remains the most impacted major sector and the entire industry is doing whatever it takes to work with the government to encourage more aligned and effective processes for safe and efficient travel to resume at scale. Governments clearly still have much more to achieve in this regard.”
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “It is disappointing that so few countries are on the green list. This is not yet the meaningful, four-nation restart UK airports and the economy need.
She said UK airports are “ready” to handle more passengers and said: “Aviation is essential to connect families who have not been able to meet for so long, to provide well-earned holidays, and for businesses to reach new and existing customers abroad.
“To ensure this can restart effectively, the UK government must play its part by adding countries to the green list, making testing more affordable, through the use of widely available rapid tests, and by simplifying the processes and providing sufficient resource at the border.
“The unacceptable queues passengers experience at the border in some airports put passenger welfare and safety and security in UK airports at risk.”
She said that about one million UK jobs were supported by UK aviation before Covid, “so a full recovery must be a priority for government”.
“Ministers need to use the upcoming reviews to reduce restrictions for fully vaccinated people, just as the EU and the US are planning. This is particularly important for restarting the UK’s inbound tourism sector,” added Dee.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the announcement was“a positive start” but called for “a significant extension of the ‘green’ list in early June” and “a change to the testing requirements so that fully vaccinated people can travel without restrictions”.
“The Government should help people plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer holidays so that passengers are not faced with high prices for last-minute bookings,” he added, also reiterating his calls for more support at the borders to reduce the chance of long queues at immigration.
Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick said confirmation of the restart was “very welcome news” and that he was “particularly pleased” Portugal made the green list.
“However, as soon as vaccination and infection rates make it safe to do so, we need more countries regularly added to the green list if the airport and our supply chains are to rebuild and protect as many jobs as possible,” he added, noting airlines are “very well-prepared” to safely welcome passengers back.
The chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), parent of Mancheter, East Midlands and Stansted airports, said “many people will be frustrated that today’s announcement”.
Charlie Cornish said it “does not allow for a broader restart of international travel, with so few countries on the initial green list”.
“The aviation industry will be especially concerned that the Government appears to have ignored clear scientific evidence, which shows that testing and vaccinations can support safe travel to a larger group of low-risk destinations,” he said.
“The British public will understandably question why our world-leading vaccination programme has not earned them the freedom to travel abroad without expensive and inconvenient tests – a freedom that other governments, including the European Union, will be giving to people who have been vaccinated.”
He called for a “true aviation recovery plan” and added: “It is essential that we see meaningful progress towards restarting international travel at the first review of the green list in the next few weeks, ahead of the peak summer season.”
British Airways moved to announce the resumption of routes to Faro, Portugal, from Heathrow, Newcastle, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Chief executive and chairman Sean Doyle said more countries should be added to the green list as other countries’ vaccination programmes match that of the UK – and said it was “disappointing to hear” the government urge travellers to avoid amber destinations.
He said: “We should see more destinations going ‘green’ before the end of June.”
And added: “We cannot stress more greatly that the UK urgently needs travel between it and other low-risk countries, like the US, to re-start the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy said he was “pleased” the government has committed to the reopening of international travel but warned “there is still a long way to go to meet the huge customer demand for our flights and Atol-protected package holidays”.
He called for a “simple and affordable testing regime” and added: “We look forward to further positive news about where we can fly to in the coming weeks.”
Heapy said he expected a spike in bookings despite the operator already having suspended its return until June 24 – which it remains “totally committed to”.
“We will be working tirelessly over the next few weeks to ensure that everything is ready for the moment our customers arrive at the airport to begin their much-needed holidays,” he added, urging customers booked to destinations not on the green list to hold off contacting the company – promising it will be in touch once it has made “considered decisions”.
Tui’s UK managing director Andrew Flintham said it was “vital” the government increases the number of destinations on the green list on its next review in three weeks, as vaccination rates around the world improve.
“While we were expecting to see just a handful of destinations on the green list, this is an overly cautious start,” he said.
The UK’s largest tour operator said it was adding an additional five flights a week to Portugal from May 17 after its confirmation on the green list.
It is offering customers due to depart before the end of August “maximum flexibility” to change their holiday 14 days before travel.
Flintham added: “We continue to do everything we can do help customers get away this summer.”
Ryanair announced 175,000 extra seats to Faro, Lisbon and Porto.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “The decision to put so few European countries into the green tier is simply not justified by the data or the science and is inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy.
“We have shown that unrestricted travel to much of Europe is safe and would carry very little risk for the NHS. And with European governments starting to allow their citizens to travel restriction-free if vaccinated, UK citizens risk being left behind and unable to get the best rates for hotels as they will be booked up by European tourists.
“This decision means that so many people will continue to be unable to see their families and loved ones, develop their businesses or go on a much-needed holiday abroad.”
He urged the government to “provide transparency on decision-making, and clarity on when we can expect other European countries to join the green list” so consumers and airlines can plan for the summer.
Lundgren also called for a reduction in the cost of testing – and for government to review removing the testing requirement for people returning from green list countries.
He said easyJet is “ready and able to ramp up” this summer.
Pilots union Balpa said the progress of the vaccine rollout in the UK and Europe should have meant a “much longer green list”.
General secretary Brian Strutton said: “This excess of caution from the government is extremely disappointing for everyone who works in the travel sector and the millions of people who are desperate to jet away on holiday or business.
“Almost all tourist hotspots in Europe including Spain, France and Greece are in the Amber category which is as good as red as far as most tourists are concerns, with potential 10-day quarantine needed on return.”
Strutton also called for the US to be added to the list as soon as possible, adding: “The Government has at least committed to review the categories regularly. The Government must flick those amber lights to green as soon as it possibly can.”
The Business Travel Association said the inclusion of Singapore “shows the Government’s commitment to both business and leisure travel”.
But chief executive Clive Wratten called for the addition of “key business destinations” the US and UAE, which he said have “low infection and high vaccination rates”.
“Today is a small but encouraging step towards getting British business travelling and trading once more which is crucial for the UK economy,” he said.
Amex GBT chief commercial officer Andrew Crawley said “it is hugely disappointing that the United States has not been included on the green list” and “progress has been too slow” on talks with the Biden administration.
“Keeping US-UK travel closed is detrimental to the economic recoveries in both countries,” he said. “And prevents the UK from engaging with its biggest trading partner outside of Europe. Transatlantic routes are among the busiest in the world and worth billions of pounds to both UK and US airlines.”
Brittany Ferries said the announcement meant it was “forced” to push its full schedule resumption back to June 6, from May 17.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said it expects demand for travel to the continent to increase following the announcement.
Gloria Guevera, president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) welcomed the “first initial step” but said the industry would be “hugely disappointed” the US was not included on the green list.
“While we understand that protecting public health should be the priority, the UK is being too cautious and risks losing its hard-won competitive advantage achieved by the early vaccine rollout by being too slow to allow the significant resumption of international travel,” she said.
“Holidaymakers and business travellers will be disappointed by today’s news, with so few countries on the ‘green list’, while Europe steals a march on the UK by continuing to open up and welcome visitors back.
Henry Smith MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Future of Aviation, said the announcement was “a welcome step in the right direction” but added: “There remains much more that needs to be done to support our aviation, travel and tourism industries.
“Nobody is arguing for the lifting of all restrictions,” he stressed. “But it is disappointing that the number of nations on the green list remains extremely limited and that vaccinated people will remain subject to restrictions when travelling to low risk nations.
“Restarting international travel is about more than summer holidays, it is about reuniting families and rebuilding our economy. Today’s announcement must be the start of a concerted and considered plan for the full restart of international travel including the removal of restrictions for low risk countries.
“After a devastating year for our aviation, travel and tourism industry and communities we cannot afford another false start.”
UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft welcomed the “positive step forward” but said the inbound sector “cannot afford another false dawn and a stop-start recovery”.
“The sparsity of countries on the green list and notable absence of the US and much of Europe, along with the cost of testing and the continuation of quarantine measures, present further devastating barriers to business.
“This is not job done.”
Consumer group Which? warned “thousands of people will now be looking to arrange a long-awaited holiday or visit loved ones overseas”.
Travel editor Rory Boland urged holiday companies to “be honest about the risks holidaymakers may be taking on” when they book and urged holidaymakers to “do their research before booking” so they understand their refund and amendment rights.