The cost of PCR testing for international travel in the UK is double that of testing in other European countries, according to analysis by Abta and the Airport Operators Association.
The lobby groups said a UK pre-departure PCR test costs, on average, £128 per person, while the average pre-departure test cost across eight key destinations only comes to just under £62 – less than half the UK price level for a similar PCR test.
They said individuals travelling from the UK to a European destination would pay an average of £306 for testing as they will need a UK pre-departure test, a pre-departure test in their destination country at the end of their holiday and a post-arrival test in the UK if they have flown to a green country under the new traffic light system announced today.
Abta and AOA called on the government to look at whether people who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing when travelling to green list countries.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “The restart of international travel needs to be affordable and accessible for everyone – so that people can take their much-needed overseas holidays and visit the family and friends abroad whom they’ve not been able to see for such a long time.
“Travel to the lower risk, green categorised countries should be as unrestricted as possible. The requirement for a PCR test when you arrive back from a green list country could prove a cost-barrier for many people – we welcome the fact that the Government commits to engaging with industry on this issue. Small changes, like requiring a PCR test only if the individual gets a positive result from a lateral flow test, would make international travel more accessible and affordable whilst still providing an effective mitigation against re-importation of the virus. The Government should also consider whether those who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing requirements, should scientific evidence suggest reduced transmissibility.”
Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association said: “The cost of testing could act as a significant barrier to the meaningful restart to aviation and should not be underestimated. With UK pre-departure and post-arrival tests costing around double the average in countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, UK travellers are penalised for wanting to travel from the UK.
“With the government offering free rapid tests domestically, it is vital that business travellers and holidaymakers can make use of these for green-listed countries upon their return. The Government should also work to reduce, if not eliminate, the cost for pre-departure tests in the UK.
“Without a cost-effective solution like this, a summer holiday will be out of reach for many and damage an already badly hit aviation and travel industry even further.”
Henry Smith MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Aviation said: “The sky-high cost of PCR tests run the risk of being a major disincentive to travel for many and the Government must ensure that these costs are kept as low as possible, we simply cannot afford to have a framework that burdens people in the UK with double the testing costs of other European nations.
“We should be looking to less expensive and burdensome tests which are now the standard and accepted test in every other part of society rather than having Europe’s most expensive tests which will only make travel unaffordable for many.”
UKinbound warned the cost of testing may also put off international visitors to the UK, despite the successful vaccine rollout on these shores giving confidence.
Chief executive Joss Croft said: “It is good news that we now have further detail on the reopening of international travel. We know that there is strong demand to visit the UK, and that our world leading vaccination rollout makes us a more attractive destination.
“However, the industry will be very concerned that the cost of testing may be a significant barrier to recovery.”
He warned testing costs for a family of four visiting the UK from a green list country, who would need to take two PCR tests to enter the UK in addition to further testing on their return home, could be as much as £2,000 per family, “making us completely uncompetitive as a tourist destination”.
Croft said the UK already ranks 140th of 140 countries on price competitiveness and believes “further barriers will only drive visitors to go elsewhere”.
He called on government to “consider replacing on-arrival PCR tests with more-affordable lateral flow tests for visitors from countries on the green list, and, if negative, removing the need for a second PCR test.”
Croft pointed out “UK rates are often double those of our competitors in Europe” and also called for “a unified four-nation approach” to testing.
Making the case for inbound tourism, he said international visitors spend three times as much per trip as domestic tourists and predicted the UK is losing £550 million per week without inbound visitors.