Industry bodies spoke out with incredulity bordering on fury on Thursday (10 December) as the sector decried the lack of clarity over the UK’s post-Brexit Covid travel arrangements with the EU.
It followed an admission by foreign secretary Dominic Raab that UK travellers could face disruption after 1 January owing to EU-wide Covid restrictions and those enforced by individual member states.
The EU has taken a common approach to its travel restrictions, where possible, with strict entry rules for those arriving into the union from non-member states with high rates of Covid infection.
Derek Moore, deputy chair of Aito, said the government must "grit its teeth and agree a deal with the EU". "Those who voted for Brexit definitely did not vote for an end to their beloved holidays in Europe," he said.
"Having had no income now for more than 12 months, the prospect of the booking famine continuing and customer confidence being hit yet again is, quite honestly, devastating."
Moore added it was crucial the Foreign Office moved to "regionalise" its travel advice in a "sensible way", and stressed an inability to operate into Europe would harm both the outbound and inbound sectors.
"The UK economy will suffer twice over," said Moore. "There is simply no joined-up thinking by government, and no consultation with the travel industry. Our government unfortunately currently resembles Bedlam, a mad house."
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), said akin to most Brexit issues that have gone before, there remains "confusion and a lack of clarity" around what travel will look like after 1 January, especially with no exit deal agreed.
"It is reported British travellers will be unable to travel post 1 January under current EU Covid-19 safety regulations, and there are no plans to extend EU members’ agreement that travellers from a small number of non-EU countries may be permitted to travel to the UK.
"However, at the same time, there are reports that individual EU countries will be in a position to permit UK travellers to enter. There’s no clarity."
Dooey said the SPAA had long been calling for an approved and robust testing regime to enable travel when safe. "We support outbound testing at Scottish airports to allow international travel without quarantine," she said.
"International travel is vital for the Scottish economy – it’s not just about holidays. Scottish businesses will need to protect their business relationships even more after Brexit to ensure a strong recovery for their own businesses and for the whole economy."
The TSSA union, which represents high street travel agents, said a European travel ban "could sound the death knell for the travel trade", with only a small number of "third country" nations with low rates of Covid infection currently exempt from the EU’s non-essential travel restrictions.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said: “Covid has already decimated business, and government has been woeful in its lack of support for the industry.
“Unfortunately, it’s no surprise this shambles of a government hasn’t addressed post-Brexit travel arrangements despite there being only days left for negotiations.
"The much vaunted ’oven-ready deal’ has proved to be anything but.”
Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), said there were "compelling reasons" for the UK to be added to the EU’s "safe travel" list, such as its rate of infection relative to some other EU nations, and reflected on the scant security offered by a six-month agreement with the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
"British travellers are a major contributor to European economies, and vice versa," said Guevara. "UK visitor numbers make up the biggest proportion of inbound travellers to many major EU countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.
“While WTTC welcomes maintaining basic air connectivity in the event of a no-deal, six months is not enough for airlines, travel agents and travel companies up and down the country to plan for the all-important summer holiday season, upon which so many jobs depend.
“Suffocating international travel is counterproductive and benefits no one. We should be building stronger ties to support mutual economic growth and more opportunities for the already struggling travel and tourism sector, which has been hammered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”