The government’s day-five ‘test to release’ announcement is “a lovely headline” but masks the fact that travellers “still can’t go to places the Foreign Office advises against unless they take a massive risk”.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast about the government’s Global Travel Taskforce report and the proposals to reduce quarantine with the testing plan from mid-December, Cosmos and Avalon chief executive Giles Hawke said the news was “the start of something positive”.
But he said it had limited benefit for the outbound leisure industry, since it “hides the fact that right now, you can’t actually travel to many destinations because the Foreign Offices advises against all but essential travel to so many places”.
Hawke said the scheme “doesn’t really change anything” as customers travelling to destinations without corridors risked invalidating their travel insurance and not being repatriated in the event of a disaster.
He added: “The FCDO advice is what every tour operator has to work by. I cannot, as a tour operator, send people to somewhere where the FCDO says you shouldn’t go to. I’m not allowed to and actually I’d be wrong to do so.”
He said the report reiterated the government’s lack of understanding of the travel industry.
“The issue here is that [transport minister] Grant Shapps and the Global Travel Taskforce do not understand travel,” he said.
“Most of this [report] is centred around inbound travel. They’re talking about inbound routes, inbound short business trips. They’re not talking about leisure travel. And they’re not actually really talking about outbound business travel, either.
“They’re talking about inbound travel, because to them, the travel industry is UK travel, ie, things that you can do in the UK, and the aviation sector. And that’s it.”
He added: “At one level, from a consumer perspective, there’s a positive feel around this. But the reality is it’s complete rubbish. And it doesn’t help anything. Not if you’re going to follow the letter of the law.
“And if any of us ignored that, we would be pilloried by the press and by consumers who would be saying ‘You sent me somewhere where I wasn’t allowed to go’.”
Emma Coulthurst, travel commentator for price comparison website TravelSupermarket, agreed.
“You’d think, listening to our friend Grant Shapps, ‘Oh, goodness, I can travel again – this is really exciting!’,” she said.
“But it was one of those announcements again that was so full of PR and spin because obviously the reality is that this [test to release system] is applying to red list countries – countries such as Mexico, Cyprus, Egypt. Countries we would love to be going back on holiday to but currently we’re being told we can’t.”
Despite the reservations, Gemma Antrobus, owner and managing director of Haslemere Travel, believed the announcement was “the most positive thing we’ve heard in months”.
“When you’re actually selling travel, what you need to have is positive stories. And this for us is probably the most positive thing we’ve had in months…being able to talk to clients and say this is going to be possible,” she said.
“They all realise that there are more restrictions with taking their holidays now than they’ve ever had before, and that they’re not going to go away quickly.
“But we’ve been in a position for nine months now when many people haven’t had a holiday and with Christmas coming up and many people having maybe friends and family in Europe that they want to see, this all of a sudden makes it achievable.”
She said the shorter quarantine from December 15 could mean customers could go away and still get their children back into school for the start of term.
“They can make it back in time, rather than having to quarantine them at home for another 14 days if they if they spend Christmas with granny and grandad in the south of France or something,” she said.
“Whilst it’s not going to solve everything, it is the first step in the right direction. And it’s a very positive story that as a client-facing business, we have to absolutely champion.”
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