Travel’s hopes of a 17 May restart have been placed at jeopardy by the Global Travel Taskforce’s overly "cautious" framework for the resumption of international travel.
That was the conclusion of a damning analysis of the taskforce’s "vague and costly" recommendations by the government’s own transport committee on Thursday (22 April).
The committee ruled the taskforce’s report, published on 9 April, laid out a framework lacking sufficient detail to restart international travel, that was prohibitively expensive for travellers, and gave neither industry nor consumers confidence to plan.
Its analysis acknowledged how the UK aviation and travel industries were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and warned: "Another summer without international travel heralds significant economic adversity."
Among its four urgent recommendations to government, the committee has called for government to front up and set out in a statement to parliament, no later than 1 May, how countries will be categorised under the taskforce’s traffic light system, accompanied by an explanation of the criteria and mechanism by which countries will move between risk categories.
Huw Merriman MP, chair of the transport committee, said: "The aviation and travel sectors were crying out for a functional report, setting out clear rules and offering certainty. This is not it. Where the industry craved certainty, the government has failed to provide it."
The committee said the "cautious" report had "clipped travel’s wings", and that its "vague and costly" recommendations would not be sufficient to reboot the UK’s aviation and tourism sectors, both of which it said could face another summer without international travel.
"This distinct lack of clarity does not offer confidence to industry or consumers to plan, invest or recover from the coronavirus pandemic," said the committee. "It leaves the planned safe restart of international travel on May 17 in jeopardy."
On testing, the committee said the costs may be disproportionate to the risk and could add £500 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four to destinations with a comparable vaccination programme.
Under the taskforce’s traffic light system, even those returning from "green list" destinations will be required to take both a pre-departure test, and a PCR test for Covid-19 on the second day of their return.
The committee’s four key recommendations called on the government to:
Merriman added: "This is a missed opportunity for the government to capitalise on the UK’s world-leading ’vaccine dividend’.
"How can it be right that hauliers, arriving from parts of the globe where the vaccine rollout is slow, are able to use cheaper lateral flow testing, while a trip back from Israel requires a PCR test which is four times as expensive?
"This was an opportunity to provide a global lead with standardised rules on international health certification and promoting app-based technology, making the processes at borders more secure and less time consuming.
"The urgent situation facing the aviation and travel sectors warrants a clear action plan to green light our travel – and the government must urgently set it out."