Senior travel leaders have warned government travel policy risks bringing down "an industry on the precipice" and called for solutions to the "structural issues" they believe are preventing people from travelling and delaying the sector’s recovery.
Thursday’s update to the government’s traffic light regime (26 August) drew a muted response from the industry with few significant changes to how destinations are categorised; Canada, Switzerland and Denmark were among seven countries to go green, with Thailand and Montenegro going red.
While seven countries moved from amber to green, and two from amber to red, no destinations moved from green to amber or from red to amber, dashing hopes Turkey would be restored to the amber list. The Maldives also remain on the red list.
The update, though, did draw renewed calls for the entire traffic lights regime to be scrapped come the third and final checkpoint review on 1 October – or potentially even earlier. Airlines UK, the WTTC and Manchester Airports Group were among those to step up their criticism.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: "There has never been a positive cumulative effect from the traffic light system which makes it almost impossible for travel agents to trade their way into recovery. The system is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul which benefits no one.
"It is vital government minsters make informed decisions in collaboration with industry experts or we will see business failures by the end of the year as any support dries up. The government must recognise its damaging travel policies are deconstructing an industry on the precipice."
Lo Bue-Said also branded the UK’s "onerous and expensive" testing rules "entirely redundant" now it had been established there was no system in place to verify test codes on passenger locator forms, describing the regime as "pointless at best, industry sabotage at worst".
"It’s time to overhaul the whole policy and start making changes which will help not hinder the travel industry," said Lo Bue-Said. "As an industry, we expect to be invited to provide evidence for the policy review in October because on their own, the government just keeps getting it wrong time after time."
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said the latest update provided a degree of stability for the industry and reassurance to travellers heading off on summer holidays over the coming weeks.
"The government now needs to focus its attention on sorting out some of the structural issues that are stopping people travelling and delaying the industry’s recovery," said Tanzer. "The UK may be leading the way on the vaccine roll-out, but it is lagging behind other countries when it comes to opening up international travel and making it easy for people to travel.
"The government can, and should, do more to capitalise on the successful vaccine roll-out in the UK - our neighbours across the channel have been able to travel without restriction for quite some time if they have been double vaccinated. The expensive testing regime is putting people off taking a holiday overseas and is unnecessarily onerous when people are returning from low-risk countries."
Tanzer added the government was still not adequately recognising the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry. "Travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies haven’t had access to the same level support as other industries, yet their opportunity to trade their way out of the crisis remains severely restricted by the government," he said.
"The end of furlough is a real worry for many companies and the government needs to provide financial support for the sector.”
Aito executive director Martyn Sumners described the update as "underwhelming", and said the main positives was the lack of any major European destinations sliding onto the red list. "Adding Canada as a long-haul destination has to be a modest positive, but removing Thailand means south Asia is now out of bounds. It’s [also] very disappointing Africa and South America remain off limits."
Sumners added it was crucial more was done to allow the industry to trade out of the pandemic. "If the government is going to continue to restrict our ability to trade, then it must support us financially," he said. "Without support past the end of September, businesses will continue to fail; neither tour operators nor travel agents can survive on fresh air.
"How can companies be expected to borrow money or pay back loans when they don’t know where the next pound is coming from? The loser in the end will be the customer; less competition means higher prices. And the British economy will also suffer to the tune of billions if travel is left to wither."
The Business Travel Association, meanwhile, said the additional of Switzerland to the green list was a positive, but questioned the lack of any updates on the progress of the Transatlantic Taskforce, set up earlier this year to mastermind a resumption of transatlantic travel between the UK and the US.
“In a very difficult time, it is heartening to see the government sticking by its commitment to updating the traffic light list," said BTA chief executive Clive Wratten. "Switzerland is an essential business travel route, its addition to the green list can add £3.5 million to UK GDP per week.
"Going forward, it is essential we remove testing for vaccinated travellers from green and amber list countries as we move away from this system. Disappointingly, once again there has been no update from the Transatlantic Taskforce. It is essential to the business world that this corridor is opened up safely without delay.”