Industry leaders welcomed transport secretary Grant Shapps’ announcement of regional corridors to island destinations today despite the policy’s immediate impact in triggering quarantine restrictions on travel to seven Greek islands including Crete.
But the welcome was tempered by demands on the government for urgent action on testing and business support for the sector.
Shapps unveiled a regionalised travel corridors policy to MPs, but noted the first impact would be to impose restrictions on travellers returning from Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Lesvos, Tinos, Zakynthos and Serifos from 4am on Wednesday despite the rest of Greece remaining free of quarantine.
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “This is a step in the right direction which in time could help open up more markets for international travel.”
But Alderslade added: “A comprehensive testing regime is urgently required to enable connectivity to and from countries like the US.
“The transport secretary has intimated progress is being made but it’s critical this is signed off and implemented by the end of this month.”
Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “Treating islands separately to a mainland for the purposes of quarantine is a welcome step in the right direction.
“But this change is unlikely to improve consumer confidence significantly. It is essential we find a safe alternative.
“Industry has been calling for government action on a testing regime for months. While there are certainly some issues with testing on arrival as the transport secretary outlined, there are other options available which could improve the situation.”
Dee said: “Government must work quickly and decide upon a testing regime which can be put in place as soon as possible.”
She warned: “The aviation sector cannot continue operating against these headwinds for much longer. The AOA estimates more than 100,000 jobs are at risk unless the industry can re-start properly.”
A Heathrow spokesperson also welcomed the announcement “that testing to shorten quarantine is under active consideration by the government and that air bridges to islands will now be instated where appropriate.
“The government needs to build on these developments and show global leadership to establish common international standards for testing before flights.”
Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish said: “It’s good that Grant Shapps is responding to the concerns of the aviation industry, and committing Government to look at how testing can be used to reduce the time people need to spend in quarantine.
“Adopting a regionalised approach to travel corridors is also welcome news and long overdue.
“Even though it will initially mean restrictions on travel to some Greek islands, it should enable key markets like the Balearics and Canaries to open up again more quickly.
“We look forward to seeing more detail about this targeted approach as soon as possible.”
But Cornish added: “The top priority should be bringing in a testing regime that will shorten the period of time passengers have to self-isolate.
“With hundreds of thousands of travel sector jobs at stake and the summer holiday season behind us, progress must be made on this as a matter of urgency.”
An Abta spokesperson noted: “Abta has been calling for the government to take a regionalised approach to quarantine measures and Foreign Office travel advice.
“Today’s announcement is welcome and the industry hopes this will lead to a more targeted approach such as that adopted in Germany and the Netherlands, which would also reflect the UK’s domestic strategy of localised lockdowns.
“However, it also highlights the requirement for a more coordinated approach from the home nations to prevent avoidable confusion.”
The Abta spokesperson added: “The travel industry has been restricted by government measures which have slowed any recovery.
“With the right policy and regulatory support, such as a testing regime, and tailored financial support to get businesses through the crisis the government can protect many jobs that are otherwise at risk.”
Alderslade warned airlines are about to enter “an incredibly tough winter period” and said “further economic support for the industry must be considered”.
The Scottish Passenger Agents Association’s president, Joanne Dooey, called for the Canary Islands to be added to the ‘safe list’ – noting winter holidays could be a “lifeline” for the industry.
She said: “A granular approach to travel corridors is something we have been seeking since the end of lockdown as one measure to help to save the travel industry.
“However, there needs to be a joined-up, four nations approach to which islands and regions are removed from the quarantine requirement and when.
“The current disparity between the nations causes, at best, utter confusion for travellers.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive, said: “A regionalised quarantine approach to islands is certainly a step in the right direction.
“However, after a brutal five months our industry is on its knees and the fact that the Canary Islands and the Balearics will not be added to the safe travel list and a number of Greek islands will require quarantine further deepens the confusion around travelling anywhere overseas.
“If we are to have a hope of salvaging the rest of 2020 we must secure the government’s support on testing at ports of entry.
“Testing combined with regionalised quarantine is the only right and reasonable approach.”
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