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Relaxation of travel curbs ‘agreed on UK-wide basis’

Agents in Scotland last night welcomed the Scottish government’s move to align with Westminster in dropping testing for fully vaccinated international arrivals from February 11.

The measures were agreed by the government in Edinburgh “following engagement with all four nations and will protect the travel and tourism sectors north of the border”.

The devolved governments in Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to publicly confirm their stances.

However, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport Michael Matheson said: “These measures will significantly open up international travel and were agreed on a UK-wide basis.

“The measures will be extremely welcome for the Scottish tourism and aviation sectors, encouraging travel from our airports.

“While this is a positive step which will be welcomed by many we believe further surveillance measures will be necessary across all nations – as intelligence will help in terms of variants of concern.

“It was agreed further work to take this forward will be carried out over the coming weeks.”

Abta and UKinbound yesterday called for a four-nations approach to the relaxation of testing rules.

Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president Mike Tibbert, said: “The seemingly endless changes and updates to travel regulation have been immensely disruptive for the whole of Scotland’s travel sector, with devastating effect on our economy and individual businesses.”

He called for strategic planning for the future, adding: “We need reassurance that, if new variants are discovered, we do not return to knee jerk, draconian measures to shut down international travel.

The World Health Organization has stated that international travel bans ‘do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress.’

“If we have no global strategy, the least we can do is have a four nations’ strategy to prevent us reverting to the disastrous measures of the last two years.

“We need to get the message out that, with the correct mitigations in place, travel is safe and that our country is open for business.

“Our members, travel agents across Scotland, anticipate a strong summer of bookings as Scots whose travel plans have been hampered or quashed by the previous restrictions, are able to return to the freedom of travel.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said: “We welcome the removal of Day 2 testing across the UK from this February and we know fully-vaccinated travellers will be relieved to say goodbye to these costly tests.

“Travel was the last industry to bear the burden of restrictions so removing the requirement to test after arrival is a vote of confidence for all travel businesses this summer. We now want to see the government set-out a long-term recovery strategy and hear how it intends to tackle future variants so that travel need not suffer future economic disruption.

“Holidays for 2022 are well and truly back on the table and we fully expect this announcement to prompt more customers to firm up their travel arrangements this year – particularly with half-term and Easter round the corner.

“Confidence is growing, so demand is naturally rising. Anyone looking to travel this spring or summer should book now to avoid disappointment; availability will dwindle faster than usual as people look to make up for lost time.”

In other reaction, dnata Travel Group UK and Europe chief executive Ailsa Pollard said: “After an increasingly positive January, this could be just the boost that would-be holidaymakers need to make a booking and get away in the February half term, and demand for the likes of Spain and Dubai will only continue to grow.

“It’s important now that the industry and the relevant authorities work together to ensure a plan is in place to prevent disruption in the event of future variants, so travellers can once more trust they can enjoy the many benefits of getting away again without hassles or interruption.”

The Department for Transport, confirming the removal of testing restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers in time for February half term, said: “While the red list will continue to remain in place as our first line of defence against future variants of concern arriving from abroad, the government is looking to replace the hotel quarantine policy with other contingency measures including home isolation and further details will be set out on this later in the spring.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “The removal of tests for vaccinated travellers could reduce some of the costs and administrative hassle of travel, which is good news for those who plan on taking a holiday or trip abroad soon.

“Tests may still be required to enter certain countries, so travellers should be mindful of the specific Covid entry requirements in their destination country.”

Ian Bell, head of travel and tourism at audit, tax and consulting firm RSM, said: “Clarity and consistency of messaging will be key to ensure consumers understand the new rules as the constant changes to travel restrictions throughout the pandemic has hampered consumer confidence.

“It is hoped that the new rules will give the whole sector a much-needed boost to maximise pent up demand.

“The industry will always be cautious of any new variants and the reintroduction of measures, and like everyone it will need to learn to live with Covid-19; but today it is hoped that the sector is entering a period of stability with which the industry can look to recover.”

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