UK airlines, travel agents and operators have today called on the Government to urgently revise its approach to foreign travel advice, which risks preventing the industry getting back on its feet and holidaymakers back in the air.
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Despite the new Test to Release scheme coming into effect on 15th December, which allows for reduced quarantine periods for international arrivals, trade associations Airlines UK and ABTA have said the numbers of people travelling overseas is unlikely to significantly increase as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to the vast majority of countries.
Together they have called for the approach to foreign travel advice to be reviewed, following concerns that this is being used to control the pandemic in the UK as opposed to its actual purpose, which is to assess the risk to travellers in destination.
In particular, they have asked the Government to urgently review their travel advice to allow for travel to countries where infection rates are comparable to or lower than the UK and have developed public health responses to the pandemic.
Advice against non-essential travel invalidates travel insurance, meaning that many potential business or leisure customers who would be willing to travel because of the new testing regime, will not do so because they will be understandably reluctant to travel against FCDO advice, and without insurance. It also means that tour operators are required to refund customers who have bookings and no longer wish to travel. With only five countries in Europe linked through travel corridors, this is another blow to an industry already reeling from its worst ever crisis, and lessens the impact of the new testing regime.
Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK said: “The Government has taken welcome steps over the past couple of weeks to open up international aviation, but airlines will only be able to fully take advantage of the Test to Release scheme - and realise the demand for travel that we know exists - if the travel advice is looked at in parallel.
“At the moment, this incoherent approach risks adding to the tens of thousands of job losses we have already seen, which have devastated the aviation sector this year.
“This is not about sending people to dangerous places - nobody wants that and the Foreign Office is absolutely right to rule this out. But there are countries on the banned list, that we think could be opened up on either a national or regional basis.
“Reviewing travel advice will give our beleaguered industry its own much needed ‘shot in the arm’ this winter.”
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association said: “While the introduction of Test to Release does open the door for some international travel, the reality is that the Foreign Office still advises against travel to most countries. As long as that remains the case, there is no recovery in sight for the travel industry.
“Managing public health and putting measures in place to control the spread of the virus must be the Government’s priority, but we have been concerned that Foreign Office travel advice has drifted away from its purpose of protecting the health and safety of travellers in destination.
“The Foreign Office travel advice should be reviewed urgently so that advice against non-essential travel in relation to COVID-19 is restricted to destinations where it is clear that the risk to travellers is unacceptably high, based on clear and transparent criteria.
“The travel industry was among the first to be affected by the pandemic and it will be the last to recover. Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost and viable companies have gone out of business. It is important the Government supports the industry and takes the necessary steps to open up international travel. The UK’s economic recovery will be dependent on having good global connectivity, a strong travel industry is critical to that.”
Andrew Flintham, the Managing Director for TUI UK & Ireland, said: “We know there’s a huge appetite to travel overseas on holiday, demonstrated by the surge in demand whenever travel corridors are opened up. The Test to Release scheme was a positive first step for some, but we really need the government to move forward with unlocking travel on a much broader scale as the impact of the scheme is limited when Foreign Office advice is still against all but essential travel for most countries.
“As a package holiday provider we always look to the Foreign Office advice to confirm if we can operate our flights and holidays overseas. This has been well-established and respected guidance to protect the health and safety of our customers whilst abroad. However, we are concerned that it is currently being used to ban entry into countries, without detailing what the risk is to travellers.
“Without changing the approach to travel advice many popular destinations will remain off limits, resulting in more cancelled holidays and disappointed customers.
“We look to continue working closely with the Government to deliver positive solutions for the travel industry and hope many more holidaymakers will get to enjoy some winter sun.”