Agents, operators and airlines are demanding a revised government approach to foreign travel advice ahead of the ‘test and release’ scheme for reduced quarantine from December 15.
They fear the number of people travelling overseas is unlikely to significantly increase while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advises against all but essential travel to the vast majority of countries.
Abta and Airlines UK want the approach to foreign travel advice to be reviewed, following concerns that this is being used to control the pandemic in the UK rather than its actual purpose to assess the risk to travellers in destination.
Travel to countries where infection rates are comparable to or lower than the UK and have developed public health responses to the pandemic should be “urgently reviewed”.
Advice against non-essential travel invalidates travel insurance, meaning that many people who would be willing to travel because of the new testing regime, will not do so because against FCDO advice.
It also means that tour operators are required to refund customers who have bookings and no longer wish to travel.
With just five countries in Europe linked through travel corridors, this is another blow to an industry already reeling from its worst ever crisis, and lessens the impact of the new testing regime, the trade associations argue.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “While the introduction of test to release does open the door for some international travel, the reality is that the Foreign Office still advises against travel to most countries.
“As long as that remains the case, there is no recovery in sight for the travel industry.
“Managing public health and putting measures in place to control the spread of the virus must be the government’s priority, but we have been concerned that Foreign Office travel advice has drifted away from its purpose of protecting the health and safety of travellers in destination.
“The Foreign Office travel advice should be reviewed urgently so that advice against non-essential travel in relation to Covid-19 is restricted to destinations where it is clear that the risk to travellers is unacceptably high, based on clear and transparent criteria.
“The travel industry was among the first to be affected by the pandemic and it will be the last to recover. Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost and viable companies have gone out of business.
“It is important the government supports the industry and takes the necessary steps to open up international travel. The UK’s economic recovery will be dependent on having good global connectivity, a strong travel industry is critical to that.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “The government has taken welcome steps over the past couple of weeks to open up international aviation, but airlines will only be able to fully take advantage of the test to release scheme – and realise the demand for travel that we know exists – if the travel advice is looked at in parallel.
“At the moment, this incoherent approach risks adding to the tens of thousands of job losses we have already seen, which have devastated the aviation sector this year.
“This is not about sending people to dangerous places – nobody wants that and the Foreign Office is absolutely right to rule this out. But there are countries on the banned list that we think could be opened up on either a national or regional basis.
“Reviewing travel advice will give our beleaguered industry its own much needed ‘shot in the arm’ this winter.”
Tui UK and Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham added: “We know there’s a huge appetite to travel overseas on holiday, demonstrated by the surge in demand whenever travel corridors are opened up. The test to release scheme was a positive first step for some, but we really need the government to move forward with unlocking travel on a much broader scale as the impact of the scheme is limited when Foreign Office advice is still against all but essential travel for most countries.
“As a package holiday provider we always look to the Foreign Office advice to confirm if we can operate our flights and holidays overseas. This has been well-established and respected guidance to protect the health and safety of our customers whilst abroad. However, we are concerned that it is currently being used to ban entry into countries, without detailing what the risk is to travellers.
“Without changing the approach to travel advice many popular destinations will remain off limits, resulting in more cancelled holidays and disappointed customers.
“We look to continue working closely with the government to deliver positive solutions for the travel industry and hope many more holidaymakers will get to enjoy some winter sun.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Travellers expect FCDO advice to reflect the risk of visiting a country, so it’s right that the government use this to warn against non-essential travel to areas with high rates of coronavirus infection.
“Holiday companies are required to cancel packages under the package travel regulations when the FCDO warns against non-essential travel, so it’s understandable that Abta is lobbying for this advice to change, reducing the number of countries with warnings.
“However, this will do very little to rebuild consumer trust in the sector. People booking holidays for 2021 want to do so with the assurance that if the situation at their destination changes, and infection rates rise, they will be protected by FCDO advice and the package travel regulations.
“Meanwhile, airlines can not continue to routinely ignore FCDO and other government advice. This has left thousands of passengers who have followed government health rules out of pocket.
“The industry now needs to focus on measures to rebuild trust rather than those that will further erode consumer confidence.”
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