Travel leaders have blasted the government’s hastily announced plans to introduce a pre-travel negative Covid test requirement for arrivals into much of the UK, pointing out the industry has been calling for a pre-departure testing regime for the best part of a year now.
The scheme was announced by Grant Shapps on Friday (8 January), with the transport secretary claiming it would come into force as early as next week, although the Department for Transport is yet to clarify the exact start date.
Anyone seeking to travel to England by air, sea or rail will have to present evidence of their negative Covid test result to their travel provider upon arrival at their port of departure, as well as their completed passenger locator form.
UK Border Force officials will conduct spot checks on arrival with passengers subject to immediate £500 fines for non-compliance. Arrivals from non-travel corridor destinations will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival, even if their pre-departure Covid status is negative.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, branded the policy "piecemeal", and implored the government to pursue a more collaborative approach.
"We, as experts, are at the government’s disposal, and we would expect to be engaged moving forward," she said. "It’s beyond comprehension why ministers from all departments continue to ignore the experts on their doorstep.
"We urge government to commit to a collaborative approach, and set out a timeframe so travel agents – as well as consumers – understand the ramifications when booking a future trip."
Lo Bue-Said said travel businesses understood the need for inbound testing, and had been lobbying for pre-departure testing "for some time across the board".
"We are seeing, yet again, what appears to be a knee-jerk reaction from government," she said. "This can only be described as piecemeal policy which is unhelpful and causes further stress and strain on agents.
"Public health measures to suppress the virus are paramount. However, we need a new approach which must include consultation with industry experts who are in the best position to advise on not only logistics, but the short-term impact and long-term opportunity to allow business owners to plan when it is the right time to allow people to travel safely again this year.
"We would urge government to also consider business travel and how this new testing measure can ensure industries where travel is a key requirement are able to do so safely and in a seamless manner."
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, echoed Lo Bue-Said’s stance.
"We have been campaigning for this since May 2020," he said.
"The testing scheme, travel corridor list and quarantine requirements will need to be kept under close review so business travellers can contribute fully to the UK economy as international borders open up.
"We look forward to working with the government to develop wider understanding of the breadth of work being undertaken by UK business travellers across the international trade market."
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, also stressed the fact the industry had been calling for these measures "since the summer" and said the mechanics announced by Shapps on Friday "alone" would fall "woefully short".
"No one will want to come to the UK if they have to isolate for a minimum of five days," said Croft, in a nod to the government’s test to release scheme.
"Under this new policy, arrivals from non-travel corridor countries still have to quarantine or isolate, an issue that could be eradicated by implementing a second test on arrival.
"For travel to recover, we also need a common international standard of testing, and we ask ministers to work towards this.
"Inbound tourism will be vital to the UK’s economic recovery, but today, businesses in this industry are struggling to survive as they continue to be excluded from key support measures.
"The government needs to stop turning a blind eye, act now and actually listen to the inbound tourism industry."