The government must provide financial support for travellers and travel firms affected by new rules requiring people to test negative for Covid before travelling, or returning, to the UK.
That is the message from If Only general manager Gordon McCreadie, who said the Glasgow-based operator was fully behind efforts by Abta and the SPAA to seek greater government support and clarity on the regime, which will come into force from 4am on Friday (15 January).
McCreadie said the new rules would put travel out of reach of many travellers, particularly families with children aged 12 and above who, under the UK’s current testing and quarantine rules, could face hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds in additional costs just to travel abroad.
"I’m sure we’re all in agreement when we say this will cripple the industry even further," said McCreadie.
"I think we had all hoped 2021 would bring a surge in travel, with people looking to make up for lost time, but we can ultimately kiss goodbye to the concept of last-minute city getaways or Easter breaks with the family as well as summer getaways if these astronomical costs continue."
McCreadie said If Only would be 100% behind any further efforts to challenge the new rules, and would support any form of peaceful protest once they are safe to stage.
McCreadie’s full statement read:
"I wanted to take the opportunity to share my public support for our friends at Abta, the SPAA, and other leading industry bodies, who have been working since the announcement last week to demand clarification, and greater financial support for the industry.
"I totally appreciate the UK has to manage the virus and prevent international spread. However, a mandatory negative test for overseas visitors should have been in place since the start of the pandemic – and this new introduction for UK residents returning from abroad must be financially supported.
"The reality is, lockdown aside, some customers will now have to pay for up to three Covid tests to allow them to travel.
"Announcing this change at present, when there is already a ban on international travel, is extremely confusing for the general public, and will accelerate a drop in consumer confidence towards future travel.
"Of course, while we remain in lockdown, we will not be encouraging customers to travel against government advice. However, we had hoped that once lockdown lifted and the vaccine rolled out, we could look to some sort of brighter future for our industry.”
"The travel corridor had originally given people a glimmer of hope, with free safe travel enabled for certain destinations with lockdown periods, and removing even this small concession is likely to hammer consumer confidence.
"As an industry, it’s never been more important for us to pull together and demand change. Too many times, knee-jerk reactions to growing Covid numbers have had a direct impact on our industry before any other, and we’ve got to make a stand and say enough is enough.
"The UK government either has to supplement the costs of PCR tests, to make them more accessible to a wider market, or offer them free on return to UK airports.
"Without these measures, I struggle to understand how those in power can expect travel to return to normal any time soon. It’s going to be especially difficult for agents and operators who will be expected to advise on access to tests overseas – as we all know, this can be challenging enough throughout the UK, and adding another obstacle to travel is the last thing we all need.
"We have all given up so much to keep ourselves and one another safe to fight this virus, and it’s not fair to rob people of the possibility of travel with excessive testing costs."
"Most destinations worldwide now require a negative PCR test to enter, with some islands such as Barbados requiring a second test during your stay.
"With a further test now required coming back into the UK, even in corridor destinations where infection rate is much lower than the UK, holidaymakers will be expected to pay in the ballpark of £300pp to £600pp, depending on the destination, in order to travel.
"This is simply going to put the idea of a holiday out of reach for many mainstream consumers, particularly families with older children who could be looking at upwards of £2,400 in testing costs on top of their typical holiday spend.
"I’m sure we’re all in agreement when we say that this will cripple the industry even further. I think we had all hoped 2021 would bring a surge in travel, with people looking to make up for lost time, but we can ultimately kiss goodbye to the concept of last-minute city getaways or Easter breaks with the family as well as summer getaways if these astronomical costs continue.
"At If Only, we are 100% behind any efforts taken by leading bodies like Abta and SPAA to combat these issues.
"From supporting petitions and appeals to government, to attending any forms of peaceful protest, like that in November, once it is safe to do so, rest assured that If Only are ready to stand and be counted, as we as an industry demand change.”