Abta’s Save Future Travel coalition has called on prime minister Boris Johnson to set out the government’s key principles for the resumption of travel in his Covid roadmap announcement next week.
Priorities for the coalition include updates on work with other countries on reciprocal vaccine certification, guidance on testing requirements and how the government proposed to bring down the cost of testing, and changes to the Foreign Office’s travel advice regime.
"No industry more urgently needs positive news from the prime minister on 22 February than the travel industry," said the coalition in a joint blog post on Wednesday lunchtime (17 February).
"[It is] the sector hit hardest by the pandemic, with many businesses and thousands of jobs already lost to the crisis. We need government to work with us on a roadmap to recovery and we hope Boris Johnson speaks to this in his address to the nation on Monday."
The coalition warned the industry, nor the economy, could not afford to lose another summer to the pandemic, and nor could it wait for the UK’s vaccination programme to be completed in its entirety before travel is allowed to resume.
"The government must work to get people travelling in time for the summer, recognising the return to normal life will never be entirely risk-free," read the post.
"We don’t expect the government to a provide specific date for a return to travel. It is clearly too early for that, as there are still a number of unknowns, including the effectiveness of the vaccine against new Covid variants and its ability to stop transmission of the virus.
"Full customer confidence will only return when these questions have been answered."
Save Future Travel which, besides Abta, includes Aito and Seasonal Businesses in Travel, as well as several other travel industry bodies and consortia, said it wanted to hear from government its "principles" for restarting travel.
These, it says, should include working with other countries to develop "an internationally recognised vaccine certificate".
"This evidence, alongside testing, is certain to accelerate the reopening of travel," said the coalition.
"There also needs to be recognition that not everyone can or will want to be vaccinated, so a practical and cost-effective testing regime will be critical."
Another key issue for travel businesses is the Foreign Office’s travel advice regime, which Abta and the coalition says must transition back to taking a regional approach rather than being drafted on a whole-country Covid-led basis, and ensure the advice "focuses on the risk to a person in-destination".
Additionally, the coalition has called for the current ban on school trips and cruises to be reviewed in the light of an improving medical landscape, as well as greater coordination between the UK’s four nations.
Additional priorities for the coalition include tailored financial support, efforts to address the crisis in consumer confidence and a plea for ministers to take greater care when making sweeping statements concerning the travel industry – such as conflating the illegality of leisure travel at this moment in time and the perfectly legal act of booking future travel.
"As we learnt from last year, travel’s recovery will be gradual, even once it starts, so it is important the government provides tailored financial support by expanding the grant schemes available to support all travel businesses, and extending other financial support mechanisms, such as furlough, VAT deferrals and business rates relief into the next financial year. That’s how we can once again have a thriving travel sector which contributes strongly to the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
"As well as a route forward for reopening travel, and tailored financial support for the sector, we need people to feel confident to book. Recent comments and predictions from senior ministers about not booking holidays this summer means bookings are drying up, creating further damage to a struggling industry. The prime minister’s address needs to ensure it not only delivers a roadmap but also instil confidence in future travel.
"Consumers should feel that they can make holiday bookings in the knowledge that, if the situation changes, they are protected by the package travel regulations and the additional flexibility that many travel companies are offering. Abta has published advice for consumers on how to book with confidence this year.
"Since the very start of the pandemic, the travel industry has been lobbying government on what the sector needs to get through and recover from the crisis. We have been working together as the Save Future Travel coalition, in coordination with the Future of Aviation Group, to put forward a constructive and realistic route forward for travel and will continue to press the government on its future plans for travel."