Calls for greater clarity and more solutions from the Government have rung out following publication of the findings of its taskforce into international travel in the wake of the pandemic.
The Global Travel Taskforce has stopped short of confirming whether foreign holidays will be permitted from May 17 or which destinations people can visit without self-isolating on their return.
Announcing the group’s findings, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps did confirm a traffic light system would be used to categorise countries based on risk, but the Department for Transport says it will not be until early next month that it will decide “which countries will be on which list”.
Mr Shapps also said the Government would work with the travel industry and private Covid testing providers to reduce the cost of foreign trips.
But reaction to the findings from MPs and the travel industry has been mixed, with Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon saying it again showed the Government lacked a plan for the travel industry, including on financial support.
“Time and again the UK Government have been devoid of strategy when it comes to protecting our borders against Covid,” Mr McMahon said in a statement.
“At a time when cases are rising across Europe and the threat of variants remains deeply worrying, we need a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, to help protect the gains of the vaccine. The first priority has to be keeping people safe.
“Labour will look at these proposals, but proper details and clarity about strategy are vital. This must include the criteria by which the ‘traffic lights’ will be decided, as well as clear information for travellers and industry, about what test will be required and resulting costs.”
He added: “It will take a long time for international travel to recover from the impact of the virus. The Government must come up with a comprehensive financial support package for the aviation sector and its supply chain which supports almost a quarter of a million jobs and protects the environment and stimulates further decarbonisation of the industry.”
The Business Travel Association (BTA) lambasted the report as “yet another hammer blow” for business travel, and called on the Government to “at the very least” maintain the furlough scheme for the travel industry until September.
“Whilst we welcome the acknowledgement of the importance of business and leisure travel to the UK economy, this theoretical framework provides no more certainty than the Prime Minister’s brief comments on Monday,” BTA CEO Clive Wratten said in a statement.
“The traffic light system is something we have long campaigned for. However, it is only one piece of the jigsaw if the aviation, business, and leisure travel industries are to survive.
“We urgently ask the Government to at the very least maintain the current furlough scheme until September for the entire travel supply chain. This will hopefully enable us to contribute to UK plc as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Rory Boland, editor of industry publication Which? Travel, said the report was “an important step towards resuming international travel” but did not go far enough.
“The report correctly identifies some of the key barriers facing travellers, but it falls short in providing solutions,” Mr Boland said in a statement.
“Holidaymakers will still face the eye-watering costs of Covid tests, which are currently much more expensive in the UK than in many other European countries, and risk pricing people out of taking a holiday.
“There is also little detail on reassurances that destinations won’t suddenly be moved from green to amber or red, putting travellers at risk of last-minute changes and unaffordable quarantine costs.”
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) welcomed the report, saying it would help airlines prepare for the return of international flying.
“Clearly we would like the Government to sharpen their pencils on the plan in advance of implementation but the framework creates the building blocks to open up further through the built-in review periods,” the board’s CEO Dale Keller said in a statement.
Mr Keller said BAR UK supported the traffic light categorisation system for travel destinations and would “propose further initiatives and enhancements, such as acceptance of rapid lateral flow tests, to further reduce cost and complexity for travellers from lower risk countries”.