Industry leaders say the government’s day five Test to Release scheme is “good news for travel agents” and a welcome step towards removing the “massive barrier” of quarantine.
From December 15, arrivals into the UK can choose to be tested for Covid-19 after five days and be freed from self-isolation on receipt of a negative result. The policy will replace blanket 14-day quarantine measures for countries not on the UK’s travel corridor list.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said the government’s day five scheme would “help to make overseas travel more attractive and manageable for both holidaymakers and business travellers” but said a testing scheme must also be put in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and reiterated Abta’s calls for a regionalised approach to quarantine.
Tanzer said it was important to keep the Test to Release scheme under review in order “to make sure that advancements in testing are used to further reduce quarantine to as short a period as possible.”
“We know that Foreign Office advice and quarantine requirements are major impediments to travel, and there is an urgent need to remove these barriers as fast as is compatible with the government’s domestic health strategy,” he said. “The outbound travel industry has been hit early and hard by the pandemic and we hope that test to release will help get people travelling once again.
“Since the start of the pandemic Abta has strongly argued for having a testing regime to cut quarantine and boost consumer confidence, so we’re pleased The Global Travel Taskforce has recognised the urgency of the situation, and responded. There is still more work to be done to get more people travelling and to support the recovery of the sector.”
John Bevan, chief executive of dnata Travel Group, said the 14-day quarantine had been a “massive barrier” to travel brands “attempting to keep the flow of bookings at a sustainable level”.
Welcoming the announcement, he said: “We’re beginning to see signs of momentum in both demand and bookings for late December travel, and into 2021, and anything that helps us build on that will be a good thing. It might just be enough for us to save the late winter sun season for a start, which will be especially good news for travel agents.
“I know that our colleagues across the ground handling and cargo operations network of dnata are actively involved in the safe handling of the shipment of vaccines and the implementation of new safety processes at airports so I’m increasingly confident about a return to something like normality – at least in terms of the ability to travel – in the first half of next year.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said the consortium was “delighted” to hear the announcement, which she described as “finally, a step in the right direction”.
She added: “It is testament to the tireless lobbying efforts that we as an industry have focused on and it is gratifying to finally be heard by the government.”
But she called for “more clarity”, saying: “For the travel industry and travel agents to step firmly on the road to recovery, it is now imperative that government begins closer collaboration and communicates developments with us in advance.
“We must have more clarity from government going forward in order to help travel agents prepare and plan if they are in any way going to benefit from what is traditionally the most lucrative selling period for travel as well as to help businesses plan for their business travel which will contribute significantly to the economic recovery.”
Steve Norris, managing director for the EMEA region at Flight Centre, said he was “delighted” at the news and said 95% of customers said they are willing to take a Covid-19 test if it reduces the quarantine requirement.
“The implementation of this new model of Covid tests will come as a relief to leisure travel brands who are hoping for a strong bounce back after a challenging year,” he said. “Anything that helps facilitate demand for international air travel, when it is safe to do so, is extremely well received by Flight Centre UK and its employees.”
But Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, warned the Department for Transport’s announcement was “only a small step towards opening Britain for business” and called for a pre-departure testing regime to replace quarantine.
“These tardy and incomplete recommendations undermine our ability to compete in the global marketplace,” he said. “The government urgently needs to introduce a requirement for all travellers into and out of the UK to have a pre-departure test. It must also give business travel an exemption from the blunt and misguided quarantine measures.”
EasyJet holidays chief executive Garry Wilson said: “The ‘test to release’ scheme is another step in the right direction. We welcome any moves which have public safety front of mind while at the same time promoting and stimulating consumer confidence to travel and go on holiday.
“It comes just ahead of what is traditionally a peak booking period for holidays so it will hopefully provide a much needed boost to our industry. Especially since we know there is pent up consumer demand which we see every time travel restrictions are eased.
“However, we urgently need clarity from the government on the costs so this is an affordable option for hard-working families.
“While this is a step forward in England, we need testing schemes in place to support customers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“And at the same time we’re still calling for further development of a more targeted, structured and regionalised approach for travel advice and quarantine.”
Intrepid Travel EMEA managing director Zina Bencheikh said: “News of a vaccine and the current quarantine rules being replaced by a testing plan means that customers are feeling more confident to book their 2021 holiday.
“We saw a spike in bookings over the weekend, particularly to bucket-list destinations such as Peru and Nepal.
“Over the next couple of months I expect to see more and more Brits securing their 2021 holiday – but flexibility and value will be key.
“We are moving in the right direction – however for travel to really open up we still need the FCDO to lift its advice against non-essential travel.
“There are many countries with low infection rates where the locals are heavily reliant on tourism and they need us to return. We know there is lots of pent up demand from would-be travellers so I’m very pleased to announce that are making it easier for our clients to get tested and secure their all-important ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate.
“We are partnering with Confirm Testing with exclusive pricing so that Intrepid travellers can get postal tests and results both pre and post departure – all part of our efforts to simplify the current travel complications and thereby help our clients explore the world safely and benefit local communities across the globe.”
Rock Insurance managing director Antony Martin said: “It means families will be more inclined to travel, particularly during the festive season and consumers can start thinking about booking trips in early 2021, knowing that they’ll only have to self-isolate for a short period of time when they return home.
“This announcement combined with the latest developments in vaccinations is hugely promising for the recovery of the travel sector and we can start looking forward to a positive 2021.”
Latin American Travel Association chief executive Danny Callaghan described the test and release development as a “welcome step forward” for the restart of tourism.
“Coming closely on the heels of the announcements about travel corridors for Chile and Uruguay, we are optimistic for the future of tourism to Latin America,” he said.
“However, we still believe that the ultimate goal for the tourism industry is the freedom of movement afforded by test on arrival, or pre departure, which would allow negative-testing arrivals to the UK to be immediately released.
“Tourism is a global industry, and UK-inbound is as important a part of the mix as UK-outbound, both to the UK economy and to airlift capacity.
“Even a five-day quarantine is a barrier to the restart of UK-inbound travel, so we will continue to work with partners, both in the trade and in the medical and scientific community, to explore and lobby for a test-and-immediate-release programme.
“We are hopeful that the rapid advances in testing, including the rollout of high-volume, almost-immediate Lateral Flow tests will help us get to a place where tourism can restart in a relatively free, but very safe, way.”
Matthew Pack, chief executive of Holiday Extras, said: “We welcome the government’s decision to cut the quarantine period for non-corridor countries for passengers who return a negative test, and believe it is a step in the right direction that will restore a lot of confidence in travel.
“As many countries without a travel corridor have falling infection rates and proven protocols in place that reduce the risk for travellers, we hope that this system will encourage more holidaymakers to consider a break once lockdown is over.
“Not only does a wider pool of countries make the prospect of a holiday more appealing, but it could help mitigate some of the damage caused by disruptions over the traditional peak period.”
Malta Tourism Authority UK and Ireland director Tolene van der Merwe said: “Prior to this recent UK lockdown we had been welcoming British arrivals who had been willing to undertake a fortnight’s quarantine upon return; this new five day option means that even more confidence will return and we are already getting lots of enquiries and even some bookings off the back of the leaked news over the weekend.”
Pablo Caspers, chief travel officer at eDreams ODIGEO, said: “The ability for travellers in England to access private testing and reduce quarantine from 14 days, coupled with the announcement that England’s current lockdown will ease on December 2 opens up the possibility of Christmas and new year travel.
“Many English travellers seek winter sun at this time of year, so we expect destinations in southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East to experience an uplift.
“It will also contribute to accelerating interest for forward travel into 2021, which was already on the rise following recent vaccine announcements.
“We know many people had travel plans disrupted in 2020 and reducing the quarantine period for arrivals to England will boost consumer confidence, encouraging travellers to plan ahead and book trips abroad.
“People have waited patiently this year to be able to enjoy travel and now they should be able to finish 2020 on a positive note.”
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association gave the decision to reduce quarantine time by more than half a “belated welcome” but stressed the cost restraints for poorer households of tests costing up to £120.
TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes said: “This announcement will be given a belated welcome by our union and our wider travel trade but moves to help the sector could have taken place months ago. ”
He added: “However, this measure places a further financial burden on people wishing to travel abroad which means poorer households are unlikely to benefit from it. The government needs to find a solution which is free and effective, if confidence within our travel industry is to be fully restored.”
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