Industry leaders have voiced their disappointment at the government’s decision to require double-vaccinated travellers returning from France to quarantine for 10 days.
The government said the move was made due to concerns over the prevalence of the beta variant of Covid-19. It comes as restrictions for double-jabbed travellers returning from amber list countries are due to be eased from Monday.
The rules mean any traveller returning from France will be required to quarantine at home for 10 days and take a test on day two and eight. They will apply to anyone transiting through France on their return.
An Abta spokesperson said: “While we understand that public health must come first, this announcement will undoubtedly dent consumer confidence in overseas travel just as we are about to see many amber-listed countries opening up for UK visitors in time for the summer holidays.
“Continuing changes to travel restrictions will delay any meaningful recovery for the industry and this news is just the latest example of why a tailored package of financial support for the travel and tourism sector must be introduced.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “These random rule changes make it almost impossible for travellers and industry to plan ahead, and can only further undermine consumer trust at the very peak of the summer season.”
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the decision was “not backed up by the science or transparent data” and accused the government of causing confusion and uncertainty and “making it up as they go along”.
He added: “This move pulls the rug out from under our customers who have already travelled to France or who are booked to travel there and so it is them I feel for.”
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said: “The last few government announcements are a catastrophe for the travel industry. Creating confusion and worry not of the virus but in customers’ fear of their freedom being restricted on return from travel.
“People want and need to travel. Customers are not scared of the risks. The vast majority are no longer at high risk of this disease because we are jabbed or we are young. The most vulnerable are more protected from this risk than many others we don’t protect them from.
“Yes, we must monitor new variants but they are inevitable. The government has to give us our freedom back.”
He added: “The vaccines will stay ahead of variants as they do with flu but we have to live with some risk. Most importantly we have to live.
“Scrap this traffic light system, monitor variants and ensure everyone is double jabbed. Allow our travel industry to trade.
“If not, then the need for financial support for the overseas travel sector until we have had a period of unrestricted trading is beyond critical.”
Danny Callaghan, chief executive of the Latin American Travel Association (Lata) and chairman of the Travel Industry Alliance said: “Yet another cowardly, late-Friday-night announcement sees the final nail in the coffin of travel for 2021.
“This reveals what we had started to suspect – that the whole Global Travel Taskforce consultation was a meaningless way to keep the industry at bay for a few extra months.
“Political journalists are clear that France was to be put on the red list, but the government was too scared to actually go through with that. This begs two questions: what exactly is the risk to the UK posed by arrivals from France; and if France does pose a significant risk, why is it not on the red list? It seems that politics and vanity trump safety every time, as we saw with the thousands of people allowed to-and-fro for the Euro matches at Wembley.
“This level of hypocrisy, lack of clarity and integrity is what I would expect of a tin-pot dictatorship, not a country that is supposedly an exemplar for modern democracy. Utter disgrace.”
Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president Joanne Dooey said: “We’re way beyond U-turns now. In 2020, we described the sudden changes of direction with travel corridors as being like the hokey cokey, as we didn’t know from one minute to the next if a country was in or out.
“Now it’s like some surreal game of Jenga or Twister – but at least those games have rules. We’ve been asking repeatedly for the data on which the decisions are being made. It’s only fair that the public understands the rules and the justification for these confusing and costly pronouncements and U-turns.
“There are rules in all games and participants all know the rules before they begin. But in the travel chaos we’re experiencing there are actually no rules. We thought we had a clear traffic lights system in play, but even this has changed as we now have sub layers of green ‘watch list’ and ‘amber plus’.
“Where do testing and vaccination fit in? How can we move to a reasonable and meaningful return to international travel? Or are our governments simply shutting the door on the travel sector and the significant financial contribution it makes to the Scottish economy, the jobs it provides and the role it plays in making a small country like Scotland have a global impact?
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “The timing of these sudden changes to restrictions for travel to and from France will cause chaos for huge numbers of people just as the summer holidays are beginning.
“These changes are a reminder that travelling this summer comes with considerable risk.”
Some MPs opposed the move. Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the Future of Aviation said: “This announcement is a real setback to international travel. We all expected that the traffic light system would provide much needed certainty yet our current approach has only delivered confusion which continues to prevent any meaningful recovery for our aviation, travel and tourism sectors.
“Yet again, a last-minute announcement raises significant questions about whether the traffic light system is fit for purpose in its current form and pushes the UK further behind Europe despite our world leading vaccination programme.
“We cannot afford to continue with this on again, off again approach to international travel which is leaving consumer confidence in tatters pushing businesses to the brink and will lead to further job losses.”
But health secretary Sajid Javid said: “We have always been clear that we will not hesitate to take rapid action at our borders to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the gains made by our successful vaccination programme.
“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants.”