It’s been a dreadful year for the travel industry, and maybe this is the first sign we may be able to at least begin meaningful trading again.
To that end, the news quarantine will be eased for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries is very welcome, although significant barriers remain.
This latest government review of amber list countries could help open up more holiday destinations in the region, subject to their individual border controls.
These include Cambodia, South Korea and Thailand, all of which are open with some travel restrictions. Others that could follow in future include Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
Additionally, Singapore and Brunei are on the green list, so slowly the region is becoming more accessible to British travellers.
Thailand will be one of the first destinations to benefit from the amber list changes as it has just reopened its doors to fully vaccinated travellers who can now stay quarantine free.
The island of Phuket opened on 1 July and Koh Samui opens on 15 July, with further popular destinations in the country to be announced over the coming months; the plan aims to see Thailand fully open by the end of October.
Welcome though this change is, we should not have to feel grateful. We have had no sector-specific support from the government, and have been considered acceptable collateral damage throughout. No other industry has had to refund a significant portion of their 2019 revenue, as well as go through all of 2020 to date without being able to earn a living.
Following the government’s hint at the relaxation of the restrictions earlier this week, some tour operators are already reporting an increase in enquiries – some for immediate summer travel but largely for Q4 2021 and Q1 2022, the region’s peak travel season.
While this is encouraging feedback, continued success will only be possible if these new travel rules are here to stay and allow both the industry and consumers to regain confidence to book and plan. A new beginning does not wipe away the accrued debt, job losses or businesses under immense strain, and the hardest part may be yet to come.
Government has shown no sign of awareness of what we have faced, despite intense lobbying both within parliament and beyond. We have had a vaccine advantage, but find ourselves behind our European partners who have adopted more sensible and less onerous measures, while also maintaining public health.
No one in the travel industry thinks all restrictions should be lifted, a phased return is the most sensible. However, recognition of how important travel is, both to the UK and around the world, is long overdue. Not just in terms of the economic benefits to this country, nor even just the jobs in this country, but also that tourism – in its widest setting – is a force for good.
For many communities, especially in parts of Asia Pacific, it can be the difference between being able to feed their families.
Today does not mark the end of our difficulties, merely a slight lessening of the impossible conditions under which we are working. A welcome change, certainly, but we haven’t been given any favours.
Chris Crampton is chair of Pata UK and Ireland.