What we now need from Government on the restart
We now have a plan from the Government on how international travel will restart. It is not a perfect plan, we are missing a certain degree of detail, but it is a starting point. It was encouraging to see the Government maintain its ambition to get international travel going from 17 May and hear the Secretary of State saying people can plan a summer holiday, a shift from the earlier damaging ‘don’t book’ message.
There is, however, a lot the Government needs to do to make this plan workable for the travel industry in time for 17 May and we are making our Members’ case to Government on the most pressing issues.
Affordable and appropriate testing
As you may have seen from my appearance at the Transport Select Committee yesterday, we strongly question the use of PCR testing for travel to green destinations. It should be the ambition that travel to these countries is as unrestricted as possible. If testing must be used, it would make more sense for people to take a lateral flow test first and, if positive, then take a PCR test.
The Government also needs to look at how it can drive down the cost of testing. The use of lateral flow tests would certainly help, particularly if people are able to use the free tests from the NHS, but the overall cost of PCR tests also needs to be addressed. With costs for PCR tests in the UK twice that on the continent, averaging £128 each, it will prove a significant barrier to travel.
Traffic light criteria and role of FCDO travel advice
We certainly didn’t expect to get a list of countries for each traffic light category, it is too soon for that, but it would have been helpful to have more detail on the criteria that determine what category a country would fall into.
It was also frustrating not to see any reference to the role of FCDO travel advice in the report, when it is such a critical indicator for the organised travel sector for providing a refund. We are raising this through all of our channels with Government and arguing that advice against travel must only be applied in relation to COVID-19 where the associated risk to travellers in destination is unacceptably high.
Financial support throughout the recovery
It has always been expected that the return to international travel would be gradual, and that is now clear from the Government’s plans. It means more months of depressed revenue and difficulties for travel companies. We continue our calls on the Government on the need for financial support for the travel industry and are pressing for an extension to furlough at current rates, an extension to business rates relief at current levels and a sector-specific grants scheme.
We are putting forward our recommendations to Government on these matters including through a letter we sent to Ministers last Friday following the announcement, and subsequent meetings with Ministers and officials, as well as raising these issues in the national media.
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive