The travel industry has given a mixed response to proposals from the British government for the reopening of the travel sector.
As expected, a ‘traffic light’ system will be introduced, grading destinations on exposure to Covid-19.
However, while roll-out is expected in mid-May, no firm dates were given by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
In response to the news, ABTA chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “The travel industry now has a much-needed framework for the restart of international travel, and it is good to see government maintain its ambition for overseas travel to start from May 17th if the circumstances allow.
“While the framework isn’t perfect – the requirement for a PCR test when you arrive back from a green list country could prove a cost-barrier for many people – we welcome the fact that the government commits to engaging with industry on this issue.
“Small changes, like requiring a PCR test only if the individual gets a positive result from a lateral flow test, would make international travel more accessible and affordable while still providing an effective mitigation against re-importation of the virus.
“The government should also consider whether those who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing requirements, should scientific evidence suggest reduced transmissibility.”
There have been concerns, particularly among low-cost carriers, that the cost of around £100 per person for a test will dissuade travellers from booking, with many paying more for it than for their flights.
Tanzer added: “Given that the summer season is a short window, which is critical for the survival of many travel companies, it is important the government regularly reviews the green list, ensuring that those countries which meet the criteria are added as soon as possible.
“Closing off destinations unnecessarily will significantly affect the industry’s opportunity to recover this summer.”
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) said it welcomed the report from the Global Travel Taskforce on restarting international travel.
Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK, said: “The government’s framework to re-open international travel provides the initial go-ahead needed by airlines to prepare for a return of international flying.
“Clearly we would like the government to sharpen their pencils on the plan in advance of implementation, but the framework creates the building blocks to open up further through the built-in review periods.
“The real work starts now on ensuring the plans can be implemented effectively and on-time, thereby ensuring the travelling public have full confidence in the future travel experience, know when and where they can travel to, and understand what they are required to do.
“We support the ‘traffic light’ classification of countries based on risk assessments and we will continue to propose further initiatives and enhancements, such as acceptance of rapid lateral flow tests, to further reduce cost and complexity for travellers from lower risk countries.
“We also support the creation of a joint industry and government border working group to focus on enabling passenger volumes to return without excessive queues while maintaining a safe and secure UK border.
“The airline industry continues to offer its expertise and support to the government throughout the vitally important task to reconnect the UK to its international markets.”
Rory Boland, editor of consumer rights organisation Which? Travel, said the plans were a step in the right direction.
He explained: “The report correctly identifies some of the key barriers facing travellers, but it falls short in providing solutions.
“Holidaymakers will still face the eye-watering costs of Covid-19 tests, which are currently much more expensive in the UK than in many other European countries, and risk pricing people out of taking a holiday.
“There is also little detail on reassurances that destinations won’t suddenly be moved from green to amber or red, putting travellers at risk of last-minute changes and unaffordable quarantine costs.
“It is encouraging to hear plans to give the CAA greater powers to tackle the consistent lawbreaking we saw on refunds from some airlines in the last year.
“These must be sufficiently tough, and give the ability to fine airlines directly for past behaviour to ensure they won’t step out of line again.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive at Advantage Travel Partnership, said travel would remain a complex issue for months to come.
She explained: “While we welcome the implementation of a traffic light system to open international travel as outlined in the Global Travel Taskforce announcement, we must learn from mistakes made last year in order to avoid unnecessary cost, disruption and anxiety for travellers.
“It’s encouraging to see that the introduction of a ‘Green Watchlist’ will come from one single government source and pleased that the overall objective of the watchlist is to give passengers greater certainty when travelling and assurance for those who wish to travel abroad.
“Our underlining concern at this point, in the absence of the full report, is clarity around the notice period of when countries will be added/removed, meaning travel agents will be left to deal with the operational challenges of cancelling and rebooking trips, and consumers will be scrambling to get home.
“We do however understand the need for the government to act swiftly in the event of emerging evidence, particularly to variants of concern.”