Industry bosses have slated the government’s Global Travel Taskforce report, warning it could make travelling even harder for holidaymakers than last summer.
On Friday (April 9), the taskforce outlined its framework for the restart of international travel, confirming a requirement for ‘gold-standard’ PCR tests post-arrival.
An initial list of destinations under the ‘traffic light’ system will be published by early May, alongside confirmation of whether international travel can restart at the earliest possible date of May 17.
Gemma Antrobus, Haslemere Travel owner and Aito Agents chair, told a Travel Weekly webcast: “The traffic light system is practically the same as last year. In fact, it’s worse because…if it was a green country, you didn’t need a PCR test.
“I’m a little bit fed up with being grateful for information that’s not particularly helpful.
“We still continue to be in the dark about how to run our businesses profitably.”
John Bevan, dnata B2B chief executive for Europe, commented: “We are a little frustrated. It’s good that there is a framework with the traffic lights; it will be even better once we know who’s in which category.
“It doesn’t feel it’s going to be wildly different to last summer at the moment.”
Alistair Rowland, chief executive of Blue Bay travel and chairman of Abta, agreed, saying: “It’s definitely a disappointing Friday after a disappointing Monday [when the government initially outlined a traffic light plan]”.
Commenting on the need for more expensive PCR tests for ‘green’ destinations, he said: “If you’ve been vaccinated, and you’ve done your lateral flow [test], and you’re in the green country, [with] no variant of concern, it’s completely overkill and unaffordable as well.”
He feared the complexity of a system with a ‘green watch list’ could make this summer worse than last year.
“It’s looking like there’ll be very little in terms of any form of travel until mid-June,” he added.
Bevan said the industry needs plenty of notice about movement on the watch list, unlike last year’s air corridor changes.
“We just need more warning. There’s more than enough data out there to be able to model this super well,” he said.
“I’m surprised they can’t tell us already or give us an indication.”
Antrobus said early May is too late for airlines and tour operators to find out the destinations in each tier if they are to plan for a resumption of holidays from May 17.
“The amount of talking that we’ve done to government – from the various trade bodies, the lobbying, individuals, and every agent in the country sending a letter to their MP – I don’t know whether they choose to not understand, or they really just don’t want to engage,” she said.
She warned that prices for travel in May could be “horrifically expensive” because of limited capacity – on top of the costs of PCR tests.
Furthermore, high street agencies can open their shops on Monday (April 12) but they have nothing to sell, she commented.
“It might as well be an empty supermarket. There’s nothing for them to sell to make any money on the day that they open – and that’s a disgusting position to be put in by our government,” she said.
Bevan said the price of PCR tests was “ridiculous”, adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family holiday.
He also wondered if regions, such as the Canaries, will be treated differently to other parts of their country.
“If the Canaries got to a decent level, could they open it? That would be a lifesaver for the British travel industry,” he said.
“Will they learn from last year, who knows?
“There’s very little in there to give us any kind of confidence that we’ll be able to plan, and we’re only weeks away.”
Antrobus said the watch list uncertainty would also affect the cruise industry as ships often call at several destinations on one itinerary.
“It’s just going to be a logistical nightmare,” she said.
Summing up the report, Bevan said: “I did think that, having consulted for quite a while with a wide number of companies…it’s a shame that it’s come out with really quite a narrow view on it and options that are really basically saying ‘we’ll make it difficult so only the really determined will go on holiday this summer and possibly to a handful of destinations and wait until we tell you which ones they are’.
“At every hurdle, it doesn’t seem to really go forward that much. I’m just disappointed with the PCR tests, that’s an odd barrier to put in.”
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