UK travel industry's 'last chance' to save summer

Confederation of British Industry calls on government to extend quarantine-free travel

Business leaders have warned the travel industry is in a 'last chance saloon' to save the summer season. Reuters
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Business leaders have warned that the UK travel industry has one final chance to save the summer season with changes to the traffic light list due on Thursday.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called on the government to reopen travel as the UK learns to “live with Covid”, demanding that more travellers be exempt from quarantine on arrival.

The request comes amid speculation that up to 10 countries could be placed on the green list on Thursday, when ministers announce the latest travel review.

It has been suggested that Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Poland would be upgraded.

Ministers are also expected to confirm that Spain will not be placed on the red list following a significant fall in cases and concerns over the availability of quarantine hotel rooms.

Placing Spain on the red list would have been devastating for the country's travel sector, with new figures showing a new low for tourism.

Between January and June, there were 5.4 million international visitors to the country, according to National Statistics Institute figures.

This is about half as many as during the same period in 2020. This figure is also a far cry from the 38.1 million international tourists who visited Spain in the first half of 2019.

The figures show there were 1.2 million visitors from France and 1.2 million from Germany in the first half of 2021, but there were only 273,333 visitors from the UK due to travel restrictions that lasted until May.

The UK normally accounts for the largest share of visitor numbers in Spain, according to the country's tourism office.

Only British and Irish nationals are allowed to return from red list countries, with passengers required to isolate for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense. There is no exemption for vaccinated passengers.

Paul Charles, the chief executive of The PC Agency travel consultancy, called for red-listed travel hubs to be excluded from the traffic light system.

He said if hubs such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai were excluded, “allowing transit passengers to keep their origin country colour status, then many more countries will be accessible to the fully-jabbed, without quarantine on UK arrival,” he wrote on Twitter.

“But no indication yet that the hubs themselves will move off the red list. Still an opportunity for Boris Johnson to make it simple and just have reds and greens.”

The UK government has ruled out expanding the traffic light system with a new category called the “amber watchlist”.

The designation would have warned travellers of the countries at risk of turning red. Only British and Irish nationals are allowed to enter the UK returning from red list countries

Prime Minister Boris Johnson quashed the idea after a backlash from the travel industry, which argued it would deter sun-seekers from visiting popular destinations such as Spain and cause havoc for those already there.

John Foster, CBI policy director, welcomed the “sensible” decision to abandon the watchlist.

“The international travel sector is in the last chance saloon for the summer season,” he said.

“Restrictions must be relaxed if beleaguered businesses are to salvage any opportunity to trade their way towards recovery this year.”

He said the government should work to restore confidence in the travel sector by allowing more passengers to avoid self-isolation on arrival.

“The UK urgently needs to widen the list of those able to avoid self-isolation on their return to include individuals who have received UK-approved vaccines, rather than just those who have received NHS vaccines,” he said.

“Rebuilding passenger confidence will be key. Establishing simple, consistent rules and communicating them clearly is essential.”

A report released by the CBI proposed “using mass-testing to stop mass self-isolation”, sometimes called test and release, to allow passengers to take a test when they arrive in the UK to avoid quarantine.

At the weekend, Chancellor Rishi Sunak called on Mr Johnson to relax travel rules, arguing that the UK was falling behind its international rivals.

Updated: August 04, 2021, 12:46 PM