The travel sector headed into November eagerly anticipating an imminent update from the government’s new Global Travel Taskforce on efforts to reduce the UK’s current quarantine requirements through a new “test and release” scheme, although this was thrown into doubt at the weekend by the announcement of a new national lockdown.
After ministers decided not to invite any travel industry representatives to join the taskforce, the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed to TTG it had consulted with more than 100 stakeholders since the group was announced on 7 October.
It also revealed it had consulted Abta and engaged with stakeholders from across the aviation, maritime, international rail, supply chain, and tourism sectors, as well as with healthcare, testing experts and the UK’s devolved administrations.
TTG understands several trade bodies representing the aviation sector were also proactively tapped for their views, while at least one meeting was held last month with representatives from a broader cross-section of the travel industry – including mainstream and specialist tour operators, hotel groups, OTAs and several other trade bodies and associations.
The DfT added the taskforce was also still on course to update prime minister Boris Johnson on its findings, which are likely to inform a new country entry regime “no later than early November", although Johnson on Saturday (31 October) subsequently announced a new month-long national lockdown – effectively banning all overseas leisure travel.
The department also confirmed the taskforce’s remit extended to how to restart UK cruise operations.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps, though, told the recent Airlines 2050 summit it would likely be another month, 1 December at the earliest, before the test and release regime would be ready, owing to the testing capacity required.
An Abta spokesperson told TTG the association had engaged with the taskforce on its test and release plans, and stressed again the importance of implementing a regional quarantine regime to help get people travelling again safely. “We feel government policy is currently standing in the way of that,” they said.
Abta also highlighted some of the shortcomings of government’s support for small businesses such as travel agents, with many having been unable to trade meaningfully for eight months owing to travel restrictions and quarantine.
While we all hope the taskforce’s report will lead to a more travel-friendly Covid border regime, it’s no panacea. As one aviation source put it to me, travel can’t afford to become “blinded” by testing while there’s so much more at stake. Abta agrees, remarking on the shortcomings of government’s broader support for business and a lack of tailored support for travel. Testing is just one aspect of a much bigger effort required to #SaveTravel.