The UK travel sector has given a muted welcome to the launch of a travel taskforce from the UK government, urging quick action to reopen borders to international visitors.
Announced earlier, the new body will examine possible changes to current quarantine requirements, as well as the practicalities of introducing testing on arrival to reduce isolation periods.
Following the news, ABTA chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “The creation of the global travel taskforce shows a recognition from government of the need to get people travelling again to support the travel industry, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.
“The taskforce needs to focus on decisive and urgent action, not only on rapidly introducing a testing regime, but also on moving to a regionalised quarantine approach and lifting the global advisory against travel - returning to providing travel advice for individual countries based on the risk to a traveller in destination.
“Other countries have already moved to introduce testing, and further delays will only serve to exacerbate the industry’s struggles - especially as the winter season is fast approaching.
“With furlough ending this month, and the new job support scheme doing little to support travel businesses, without tailored support we’ll see more job losses and businesses folding.”
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK struck a similar tone, welcoming the commitment towards delivering a testing regime, but warning airlines remain frustrated with the timescale for delivery.
Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK, said: “This far into the crisis airlines expected more detail than an announcement of a new taskforce.
“The industry has been continuously engaged with the government, including in the expert steering group formed back in May.
“A huge amount of international experience and proposals have been input so far, including the benefits of pre-departure testing, and we believe that a scheme could be implemented very quickly in a matter of weeks.”
He added: “We are concerned that the secretary of state for transport is still quoting only seven per cent effectiveness of testing on arrival at airports, a figure that is wholly dismissed as flawed assumptions by the industry from overseas trials.
“If the government wants more data it should urgently take up the industry’s proposals for a trial-based data-led approach to inform the taskforce and achieve the best outcomes.”
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said the announcement represents “much needed progress,” but warned every day counts when the economy and half a million jobs that rely on aviation are at stake.
A statement added: “We support the government’s decision to opt for a single-test, private sector-led, passenger-funded approach that does not compete for, nor divert, vital NHS testing resources, to reduce travel restrictions while protecting public health.
“But a firm commitment that a comprehensive testing regime will be implemented in November is required to boost consumer confidence, enable global travel and protect jobs.
“A test on five days, which the government’s own evidence suggests would be ‘highly effective’, must be the starting point.
“Trials between Heathrow and New York should take place in parallel to generate real world data for a pre-departure and on arrival testing approach, as well as regional mainland travel corridors, so that policy can quickly evolve.
“Removing quarantine is the only way to truly open up the skies and enable the UK’s economic recovery to take-off.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, reminded the government of what was a stake, saying the £28 billion contribution overseas travel made to the UK economy last year was at stake.
He continued: “Introducing testing on arrival would be a significant step in the right direction and show that the UK is open for businesses.
“We are waiting to see the detail, but this move would help to boost consumer confidence to travel again to the UK.
“Demand and visitor numbers won’t bounce back overnight, and many UK tourism businesses are still facing a very bleak winter or worse - which is why the government needs to provide targeted support for viable inbound tourism businesses, to ensure they can survive until demand returns later in 2021, as they will significantly support the recovery of international travel.”
Finally, a statement from Chris Galanty, global chief executive of the business travel divisions at Flight Centre urged for quick action.
“We understand that the UK government has a hard balance to strike between the health of the nation and the success of the economy, so we’re happy to hear that a dedicated global travel taskforce has been created to alleviate the issues facing the business and leisure travel sectors.
“We implore the taskforce to work quickly and efficiently with partners from the aviation, travel, healthcare and testing sectors to resolve the current 14-day quarantine period which is affecting business travel companies up and down the country.
“We believe safe travel is the most important way forward and would like to see movement on airport testing, quarantine exemptions for business travellers and transparent guidelines to get the travel industry and economy going.”