Blanket quarantine measure will keep revival of the economy on hold, says Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten
The imposition of a 14-day quarantine, confirmed by the Home Secretary on June 3, is the wrong solution at the wrong time for a nation that needs to rebuild its economy – now.
The quarantine the government is imposing on international travel is a blunt instrument risking the permanent loss of many travel industry jobs. It ignores targeted solutions that can reignite our battered economy.
The ‘travel corridors’ or ‘air bridges’ being widely proposed, and already successfully used in the Baltic states, would be an equally effective way for people to travel safely.
They would preserve vital supply chains and, most importantly, provide economic stimulus. Their introduction should be planned without delay.
Beyond Westminster, there is almost universal agreement that the introduction of quarantine next week is the worst possible move for the UK travel industry and the millions who wish to travel once more.
While most commentators focus on the impact quarantine will have on much-needed holidays, few acknowledge its impact on business travel. Corporate travel contributes £600 million a day to UK GDP and stimulates trade across the world.
A blanket quarantine will keep revival of the economy on hold. We need urgently to agree alternatives that are practical and make economic sense.
When evaluating the next steps, we must be careful not to be seduced by the appeal of holiday destinations or be over-focused on the importance of air travel.
The air bridges suggested by the Secretary of State for Transport – then set aside, then reintroduced as an option – provide an excellent starting point.
However, it would be wise to see them more as travel corridors than air bridges. Eurostar is a critical business link for the UK economy and should surely become one of our first corridors.
Beyond re-establishing a new entente cordiale, it will be critical that we establish travel corridors that meet the needs of the business as well as the leisure traveller.
Research in June among our member travel management companies, which account for 90% of UK business travel spend, reveals the destinations in high demand.
In Europe, it is the core trading centres that come out top – Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, supplemented by Geneva and Munich. Globally, New York, Dubai and Hong Kong came top, followed by Singapore and Los Angeles.
There is considerable pent-up demand for both short and long-haul business travel.
Being on our list does not mean a travel corridor will automatically be possible, especially if the local ‘R’ infection rate is too high.
But arrangements need to be in place to activate the corridor as soon as it’s safe to resume travelling.
Equally, the business travel supply chain must play its part so that an infrastructure of fleets, supplies and personnel are in place to service the corridors as they open.
Our message to government is clear.
Bring a halt to quarantine as soon as possible. Immediately commence establishing travel corridors, especially for the destinations business travellers need to reach.
We need to stimulate rather than restrict our nation’s ability to trade globally in a post-Brexit world.
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