Leading industry players have suggested the criteria for placing destinations on the government’s green list have not been applied uniformly – with part of the decision political.
Paul Charles, industry commentator and chief executive of marketing firm The PC Agency, said the “underwhelming” green list was “shorter than many were predicting” at 12 destinations.
He reiterated it was “obviously welcome” that travel is allowed to resume from May 17, which is “what we were calling for”. But he said the industry was “surprised” at the outcome “bearing in mind there are so many destinations around the world which have worked so hard to meet the government’s criteria, and do meet it”.
Charles accepted there were some “great destinations”, such as Portugal, Israel and Gibraltar, on the list, but questioned the inclusion of small destinations such as Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, while other British Overseas Territories, such as the Turks and Caicos Islands, “which equally meet the criteria”, were omitted.
He said the list added “fuel to the fire” of suggestions that it is “a very political move”, adding: “It’s a bit of an insult, frankly, to some of those destinations, to see a country like Brunei on there, which I can assure you does not meet the government’s criteria.”
Steve Heapy, chief executive of short-haul tour operator Jet2holidays, the UK’s second-largest package holiday firm, agreed the list was “disappointing”.
“The number of destinations is very small,” he said. “I understand the government would be very cautious. That’s fine. But I don’t think the criteria has been applied uniformly.”
Clarity on whether islands will be treated different to mainlands was still being sought on Monday, said Heapy, who stressed the government “have committed to that”.
“We’ve heard, over the weekend, it might be a resource issue,” he added. “If that’s the case, that’s not acceptable.”
Heapy said Faro was the “one destination that we do” and reported a “decent uptick in bookings”.
But he said he was not expecting, “realistically”, to have more information on which destinations will be added until the first week of June.
Calling for the inclusion of European islands in Greece and Spain to be added, he said: “I would hope those would come on [but] we don’t really know the details, so how would the government decide what is red, amber or green?
“We understand these four criteria: the infection rate, the vaccination rate, the prevalence of variants of concern, and access to sufficient medical facilities, including the ability to do genomic sequencing – but we don’t know where each of those four things have been set. So it’s very difficult to predict what will be red, amber or green.
“It would be very helpful to understand what the government’s criteria is,” Heapy said, but added he could “understand their reluctance” because “people are going to be second-guessing it day in day out, which is going to make things even more confusing”.
Paul Cleary, chief executive of luxury operator Caribtours, agreed the green list was “underwhelming”.
He said demand has been “coming in” in recent weeks and he had been “feeling really good” about the restart, until Friday.
Cleary said the government had been “disingenuous” by sticking to its May 17 restart commitment with so few mainstream destinations.
He said he was “really disappointed” by the breadth of the list but “really pleased about Portugal” being included and that “travel isn’t illegal anymore”.
Paul Charles, who has been analysing data to predict which countries will be included on various travel lists throughout the pandemic, said he expects more European destinations, and Caribbean islands, to open up by the end of June.
“You’re going to see a different picture,” he said, but pointed out that it is “torrid” for airlines and tour operators “because seven weeks is still a ridiculously long time to wait for vital revenues to be coming in”.
He added: “The government may think it’s not too long, but it’s a long time in a season, and a quarter when you want to grow your summer season.”
Comment: Green still means go