The aviation and travel sectors welcomed news that the red list of destinations has been cut – but called for confirmation of when the day-two PCR tests will be replaced by lateral flow options.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement yesterday, saying the red list would be slashed from 54 countries to just seven from 4am on Monday.
Passengers will be able to send a picture of their test when day-2 tests switch to lateral flow later this month, “followed by a free PCR if positive”.
The government has not given a date for when the need to take PCR tests will end, although it appears likely that the change will be made in time for school half-term holidays in England starting on October 22.
Shapps told Sky News this morning that the switch from PCR day-2 tests to lateral flows will be announced “in the coming days”.
He added: “We want to get this done for half-term.”
The latest travel update builds on the announcement from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) earlier this week that it has lifted advice against all but essential travel for more than 30 countries and territories.
The Department for Transport said: “More advisories will be removed as countries and territories come off the red list, making it easier for people to be covered by insurance when travelling to a wider list of destinations.
“The government will continue to maintain surveillance at the border through testing and genomic sequencing, so that we can respond rapidly if risks from any country increase.
“The government can also confirm passengers taking postal tests will be able to send a picture of their lateral flow test as a minimum requirement to verify the test result, with the ambition remaining to have this in place for people returning from half-term breaks by the end of the month.”
‘Best news the industry has had in a while’
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said the latest updates were “the best news the industry has had in a while”.
“It’s also positive to see the government has confirmed lateral flow tests will replace day-2 PCR tests from late October, but we desperately need to know the exact date so families can plan for the half term break,” she said.
“Although travel to many South American destinations is still not possible, the destinations that have been removed are ideal for travel agents booking clients on long-haul and forward bookings for 2022 and beyond.
“While this is a hugely positive step forward, it does beg the question as to why all of a sudden 47 destinations that were previously deemed to be high risk, are now safe to travel to?
“We’d still like to see the removal of inhumane hotel quarantine from remaining red list countries and replaced with home self-isolation and appropriate testing instead.
“As ever, we will need the FCDO advice to align as much as possible, travellers will still need to take into account that not all destinations are allowing Brits in and will need to check relevant country’s entry requirements.
“While this news means that travel is the most accessible it has been in almost two years, it is still complicated.”
She also tweeted: “Please remember that regardless of the governments policy on international travel we still need to hear from #Wales, #Scotland and #NorthernIreland Also destination restrictions may apply and will need to be checked #travel”
Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, said the red list announcement is “a resounding relief for our industry – recovery now feels more palpable than ever before”.
She added: “It is especially welcome to see countries like Mexico, which will form an important part of our winter lates market, being removed from the red list. The move brings the UK market further in line with our counterparts across Europe and the US and hopefully marks the beginning of a stronger recovery for our industry.
“Red listed countries don’t just impact holidays – they have real consequences for families and friends who have been waiting a very long time to be reunited. Demand for late bookings is still growing and we expect this announcement will prompt more people to confirm long-awaited plans.”
Kirsten Hughes, UK managing director at Travel Counsellors, said the red list news was an extremely positive step, adding: “We have seen huge pent-up demand for countries including South Africa, Thailand and Costa Rica.
“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, our leisure travel trading figures exceeded those for the same week in 2019.
“We are truly seeing the resurgence of long-haul, as leisure travellers have a strong desire to see some winter sun, with popular destinations including the US, the Maldives, UAE and Caribbean, in addition to shorter haul destinations such as Tenerife. Today’s news will encourage even more people book their well-deserved break.”
Aito chairman Chris Rowles said: “While we don’t expect a huge rush of family half-term holiday bookings – it is very late in the day for such plans – this is most definitely a positive step in terms of travel at last re-opening again.
“Consumers will now have considerably more confidence in respect of travelling abroad, which bodes very well indeed for the coming winter sun and ski seasons.
“Slowly, but surely, we are starting to emerge from the past 19 months of cancellations, deferrals and the inability of many in the travel industry even to trade.”
Liz Mathews, general manager of Flight Centre UK, noted that the agency has already seen bookings doubling in the first week of October compared to the same period in September following the removal of the traffic light system.
“With Brits biting at the bit to explore again, we predict winter sun destinations such as Mexico, Bali and South Africa to be the top of the list for those wanting a bucket list break,” she said.
“For the travel industry and the British economy to finally begin its much-needed recovery, we ask transport secretary Grant Shapps to ensure that we stick to a one-way system of progress as much as possible, allowing for consumer confidence to grow, and for the industry to prepare for traditional peak sales in January.”
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said the “scything changes” to the red list were a “fantastic boost” for business and leisure travel.
“The government must now bring us into step with other countries by dropping day-2 testing requirements and leading the way on international protocols for entry,” he commented.
Karen Dee, Airport Operators’ Association chief executive, urged confirmation of the date of the day-2 test change, saying: “With the autumn half-term holiday rapidly approaching, particularly in Scotland where many schools will break up for half term next week, the UK and devolved governments cannot afford to delay confirming the date when day-2 PCR tests will move to lateral flow test any longer.
“The longer ministers wait, the bigger the impact on forward bookings and the pace of aviation’s recovery.”
Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, welcomed the red list news but added: “However, it is disappointing for our customers to have no definitive clarity yet on when the lateral flow changes will be introduced.
“With the crucial October half-term just two weeks away we urgently need clarity so that passengers can plan ahead. This is the key booking period between now and Christmas, so time is of the essence.”
‘Genuine reopening of international travel’
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy said the red list reduction “marks a genuine reopening of international travel” .
He said: “The enormous demand, which has been pent-up for so long, means we are enjoying a strong booking period as customers respond to the assurance that the UK government is finally giving them.
“Although today’s announcement does not directly impact any of the destinations we are currently operating to, we applaud the government for the steps it is taking to reopen international travel properly.
“There is still a way to go and we will continue to call for travel to be made easier, in particular around testing, but we are definitely on the right track.”
British Airways immediately announced it would be resuming services and increasing frequencies to several destinations and Virgin Atlantic described the cut in the red list and recognition of many more countries’ vaccination status as “another positive step”.
“However, to ensure the full economic benefits are realised and that Britain’s global ambitions are met, all testing for fully vaccinated travellers from low-risk destinations must be removed, bringing us into line with Europe and the US,” said a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson.
“We look forward to receiving the date for the reopening of the US border for fully vaccinated international visitors as soon as possible, allowing the UK to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues.”
Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish said the update was “brilliant news” for holidaymakers, people visiting friends or family and business.
“Customers can now book with confidence, safe in the knowledge that testing is affordable and easy to understand,” he said, hailing “the most choice people have had since before the pandemic”.
Elsewhere, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) called for the UK’s red list to be scrapped all together.
Julia Simpson, president and chief executive, said there is “ no justification for a red list to remain in the UK”.
“Other countries have realised that blanket country measures are no longer needed and instead assess on individual risk and whether travellers have been fully jabbed,” she said.
“While this is great news for countries such as South Africa which have been severely impacted by their red list status, welcoming all fully-vaccinated travellers, regardless of country of origin, is key to restarting safe international travel.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland cautioned that only partial information had been provided about how the new testing system that allows fully vaccinated travellers to take a lateral flow test rather than PCR when back in the UK will work.
“With half-term fast approaching the government must urgently lay out when this will be introduced and how it will ensure a properly functioning system is in place,” he said.
“While the red list has been reduced, that only reflects the requirements for arriving back in the UK. Travellers should be aware that they may still face restrictions on entry to many destinations, especially those under 18 who are not yet vaccinated.”