Efforts to introduce airport testing for Covid-19 have been “a shambles” and the UK government needs to work with other countries to find a solution allowing international travel to resume successfully.
The UK government’s reluctance towards implementing airport testing was met with scorn during a panel session at TTG’s Putting Travel Back on the Map virtual seminar, part of WTM’s London Travel Week.
Industry analyst John Grant, director of JG Aviation Consultants, told the seminar: “Nobody has cracked it – it’s been a shambles. The whole problem is everybody has taken a unilateral approach. There’s been no uniformity and consistency of approach. It’s really fragmented.
“The UK government has to realise it’s a global issue – they have got to talk to others. We’ve not grasped the magnitude of the value that aviation provides to an island economy.”
Grant also criticised trade associations and the aviation industry for failing to speak with a “coherent voice” on airport testing and other Covid issues.
“It’s nothing less than mismanagement by stakeholders – particularly governments and trade associations,” he added. “As an industry we have been appalling in our co-ordination and leadership.”
Nick Dyne, founder and chief executive of Caircraft, which converts aircraft into intensive care wards, was also “not particularly impressed by the co-ordination within the aviation industry”.
“Air corridors are not working – an individual air corridor does not change the population’s attitude towards the risk of travel,” said Dyne.
“A single corridor is not enough. You’ve got to have a web of sustainable travel corridors in order for passengers to understand what the rules are and that they’re not going to be cut off from being able to get back or have an extensive period of quarantining.”
One country that has already introduced airport testing for Covid-19 is Singapore but this is just one of a series of measures to tackle the coronavirus.
Carrie Kwik, executive director Europe for Singapore Tourism Board, said: “Our economy depends on being open to the world so we looked at how we can open in a very safe and gradual manner. Our first priority is to ensure the health and safety of residents.
“Airport testing is important but only one part of it. Airport testing happens for arrivals in Singapore but it’s not the only thing.”
The country is also concentrating on increasing its testing capabilities and healthcare capacity, as well as investing in testing for a vaccine.
Another development in Singapore is the creation of a “travel bubble” with Hong Kong, which could be launched later this month.
“It’s early days – even for Singapore,” said Kwik. “It does revive cross-border travel. But we’re clear-eyed about this and we don’t expect big numbers.”
Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at research firm Forward Keys, told the seminar that the announcement of the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble had caused a surge in searches and bookings, which showed the “pent-up” demand for travel.
“The industry has been bruised and battered but there’s still life,” added Ponti. “October was a bleak month for international arrivals but despite the gloomy results there was still an improvement on September.”
Ponti said the recovery in international travel had been damaged by rising infection levels and restrictions that were often implemented at short notice and were not co-ordinated.
International arrivals in Europe during October were down 92% compared with the same month in 2019 as countries across the continent introduced new travel restrictions.