Let’s be clear – the Global Travel Taskforce report was never going to be everything the travel industry wanted.
In an ideal world, it would have comprised a fixed date for the resumption of international travel, a confirmed list of which countries would be under which traffic light colour and a confirmation of a significant drop in the price of testing, as well as details on when international cruising will resume.
In this new uncertain world we all inhabit, that was never going to happen.
What we do finally have, though, are details that will enable the resumption of international travel – and the government has confirmed this may yet still be in May. This should definitely be taken as the considerable positive that it is.
Yes, there are still enormous hurdles that need to be considered. The fact fully-vaccinated Brits returning from Green-listed destinations will still need to take pre-departure tests before they return home as well as a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival back into the UK seems excessive and an unnecessary cost.
The price of tests in general is a cause for concern. And until these costs come down, they may well yet be the biggest barrier for many families hoping to take a holiday abroad this summer.
But what is key here is the government’s acknowledgement that it wants to work “with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening to see how we can further reduce the cost of travel for the British public”.
True, Boris Johnson’s government has become synonymous with empty statements and many in travel will understandably be sceptical.
But the desire to work with the travel industry was reiterated time and again by transport secretary Grant Shapps during his media news rounds this morning.
And just two days ago, Boris Johnson himself was reported to have asked officials to consider using cheaper Covid testing in a bid to re-open foreign travel. Perhaps MPs themselves are now considering their own summer getaways – or could the government finally, after 13 months of lobbying, now be listening to the industry?
There are numerous other positives in the Global Travel Taskforce release too. Namely, the establishment of this new “green watchlist”, which will be introduced to help identify countries at greatest risk of moving from green to amber status.
The government says the watchlist will “provide greater assurance for those who wish to travel abroad” – a point which will be absolutely crucial for the travel industry after many feared a similar scenario to last year’s “stop/start” travel corridor chaos. The green watchlist seems a considerably more sensible alternative and this measured approach should be helpful in reassuring clients looking to book.
This consumer confidence angle is another area in which the government seems to have listened to the industry. The CAA’s new enforcement powers, which will enable them to act on airlines that have breached consumer rights, is designed to reassure consumers worried by last year’s refunds debacle. The government has committed to a dedicated consultation on how to use new tools to enforce consumer rights set to take place later this year.
Meanwhile, a Covid-19 charter will apparently be introduced from 17 May, setting out what is required of passengers and what their rights are while measures remain in place, which will also hopefully help reassure wary consumers.
True, this consumer confidence-boosting piece is not quite in the same league as the Eat out to Help Out scheme which the government used to support the hospitality sector last year. But this is still notable progress from a government that has largely ignored the travel industry over the last year. It’s also a key acknowledgment of the government’s need to help boost consumer confidence when it comes to booking travel abroad.
There are still numerous hurdles to climb, not least as to when international travel will be allowed to resume – and to where. But it is surely better now to wait to have this confirmed, given the ongoing uncertainty around variants and the worsening situation in Europe.
The last thing this industry – and consumers – need is a green light to travel, only for it to be revoked a few weeks down the line. We’ve been patient for a year – we can hold off for a couple weeks more.
This is a framework geared more towards appeasing and protecting consumers, rather than the industry. That was always going to be the case. But finally, we have the transport secretary acknowledging that “international travel is vital – it boosts businesses and underpins the UK economy – but more than that, it brings people together, connects families who have been kept apart, and allows us to explore new horizons.”
We could have done with Shapps publicly recognising this a whole lot earlier. And TTG will continue challenging government where necessary, including on the price of testing which must be reduced if we want to get people travelling again.
For now, though, the travel industry should breathe the smallest sigh of relief that the government finally seems to be taking the resumption of international travel seriously. We may yet now see planes taking off in May – and that should give the industry every reason to take off again too.
Sophie Griffiths is editor of TTG.