Travel industry slates UK's updated traffic light list for holiday destinations

Sector 'left in a holding pattern' while countries with lower vaccination rates speed ahead, analysts say

People enjoy Konyaalti beach in Antalya, Turkey. The country had expected to be moved to Britain's amber list. Getty Images
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The UK travel industry slammed the government on Friday for failing to open up any new major holiday destinations on its green, amber and red travel lists.

Countries such as Turkey had expected to move from the red travel list to amber, which allows double-vaccinated travellers to visit a country without having to quarantine in a hotel, but in the latest decision no countries were moved out of the red category.

Only Canada and six other territories, including Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland, were added to the green list.

UK travel: green, amber and red list countries from August 26

Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the Confederation for British Industry, said the latest travel rule changes “bring little respite to the international travel industry”.

“Public health must rightly be the first consideration, but the industry is left in a holding pattern while other nations with lower vaccination rates speed ahead.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Wednesday, he was “cautiously easing international travel”.

In the run-up to the announcement late on Thursday, six countries – including Turkey, Oman, Egypt, Pakistan and the Maldives – appeared in line for a move off the red list but none were successful.

Meanwhile, Thailand and Montenegro were added to the category from 4am on August 30.

The government’s decision around which countries are listed in its red, amber and green categories is based on the rate of Covid-19 outbreaks in a country, as well as the vaccination rates and other key indicators.

However, industry chiefs dismissed the decision, saying more job losses were likely this autumn unless the travel light system and the expensive tests traveller have to take to be able to travel overseas were revamped.

Martin Chalk, acting general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), described the latest decision as "highly disappointing".

Aviation has lost a second summer to Covid and unless the government changes approach, it will not properly recover until at least next year.
Martin Chalk, Balpa

"Aviation has lost a second summer to Covid and unless the government changes approach, it will not properly recover until at least next year," he said.

“Despite being pivotal to the UK’s economic recovery, the fact that the furlough scheme is still set to end in just a few weeks shows that the Government is throwing aviation and all the high skilled workers in it under the bus."

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said despite the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme, the UK’s economic recovery “remains far behind our more pragmatic European neighbours”.

“It cannot be right that although 77 per cent of us have been fully vaccinated, we have a much more costly, prohibitive and restrictive testing regime than everyone else when data suggests just four out of every 1,000 travellers tests positive for coronavirus on their return to the UK – less than the overall rate at home,” Mr Doyle said.

"Meanwhile, the US is staying on the UK’s amber list, meaning fully vaccinated arrivals don’t need to isolate, even as rising infection rates in the world’s largest economy prompt the European Union to consider tighter curbs."

Mr Doyle said the UK must "urgently end the uncertainty" caused by the constant threat of changes to countries' lists.

"Our green list is much smaller than that of the US and EU, despite no new variants being transported into the UK," he said.

Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, also criticised the limited changes and expensive testing regimes for travellers.

"Too many families are having to look over their shoulders for rule changes, and pay through the nose for tests – with no sign from Government that this will change,” the organisation said.

"As has happened across Europe, it's time for a more proportionate system where tests are dropped for the fully vaccinated and from destinations where Covid risks are low, with tougher measures targeted at a small number of high-risk countries."

CEO of Gatwick Airport, Stewart Wingate, has urged the UK government to relax travel restrictions. Reuters / Peter Nicholls

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate, who earlier this month urged the government to relax travel restrictions and introduce simpler rules, said key competitors around the world are “not squandering their vaccination programmes like we are”.

"France is at about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger volumes, Germany at about 60 per cent and the US market at over 80 per cent,” Mr Wingate said.

Earlier this week, Gatwick airport said it was pressing ahead with plans to turn its emergency runway into a second working runway to help it handle an expected bounce in air travel.

"The Government needs to allow double-vaccinated passengers to return from green or amber countries without the need to quarantine, but also without the need to take a pre-departure or post-arrival test," Mr Wingate said.

Air passenger arrivals to the UK are still 87 per cent lower than normal in July, with just 1.4 million people arriving by plane into the country, compared with 11.2 million in the same month in 2019.

Balpa is calling for a sector-specific extension to the government's furlough scheme, which is due to end next month, to protect those working in the industry where job uncertainty is still rife.

"The Government continues to keep aviation locked down, whilst the rest of Europe recovers much faster than the UK," Mr Chalk said.

Travellers arrive at Heathrow Airport, as Britain introduces hotel quarantine programme for arrivals from a "red list" of 30 countries, in London, Britain, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

CBI's Mr Fell said as the UK learns to live with the virus, changes will have to come.

"The government must turn its attention to establishing a longer-term system for safe travel which is truly risk-based,” said Mr Fell.

“This means focusing on individual vaccination status rather than country status, simplifying any lingering restrictions and ending PCR test requirements for double-jabbed travellers and journeys to green list countries.”

However, Canada’s promotion to the green list was welcomed with American Express Global Business Travel saying the reclassification is especially welcome with the country expected to reopen to fully vaccinated Brits next month, something the Biden administration has yet to do.

“The addition of Canada to the green list is a strong step forward for the safe return of bilateral transatlantic travel,” Andrew Crawley, the company’s chief commercial officer, said.

Updated: August 27, 2021, 10:14 AM