The UK’s new five-day "test to release" quarantine regime, which will come into effect from 15 December, "might just be enough to save the late winter sun season", according to one industry leader.
Announced at midnight on Monday into Tuesday (24 November), it will allow arrivals into the UK from countries not on the government’s quarantine-free travel corridor list to take a test after five days of self-isolation, which – if negative – will allow them to exit quarantine.
Tests will have to be sourced through private providers and will be at individual travellers’ expense. If arrivals opt not to take a test, they will have to serve a full two-week period of quarantine.
The industry has been broadly receptive to any system that reduces or nullifies the UK’s existing 14-day self-isolate on arrival regime, although there remains concerns over the, currently, prohibitive cost of private Covid testing, and the ongoing lack of targeted, industry-specific support for travel.
John Bevan, dnata Travel Group chief executive, said the 14-day quarantine requirement had been a "massive barrier" to achieving a sustainable flow of bookings.
"News the government has seen sense and reduced it to five days is welcome," said Bevan. "We’re beginning to see signs of momentum in both demand and bookings for late December travel, and into 2021, and anything that helps us build on that will be a good thing.
"It might just be enough for us to save the late winter sun season for a start, which will be especially good news for travel agents."
Bevan added the industry’s readiness to support the rollout of a Covid vaccine, combined with new safety protocols at airports, left him feeling "increasingly confident" about a return to something "like normality" – in terms of travel – during the first half of 2021.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said the move was a "step in the right direction", and one that was testament to the industry’s "tireless lobby efforts".
However, she stressed more needed to be done to address the plight of agents. "For the travel industry and travel agents to step firmly on the road to recovery, it is now imperative government begins closer collaboration and communicates developments with us in advance.
"We must have more clarity from government going forward in order to help travel agents prepare and plan if they are in any way going to benefit from what is traditionally the most lucrative selling period for travel, as well as to help businesses plan for their business travel which will contribute significantly to the economic recovery.”
UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft said while the reduction in quarantine from 14 days to five days was welcome, the prospect of visitors to the UK having to self-isolate for any period of time would continue to "significantly impede demand" and therefore continue to risk jobs in the country’s inbound tourism industry.
"Tourism is a competitive business, and when we can travel again, we need a best-in-class testing regime, negating the need for a lengthy self-isolation, otherwise competitors who do have these systems will reap the benefit," said Croft.
"Tourism will be able to significantly aid the UK’s economic recovery but right now, businesses are struggling to survive and until a more rigorous system is in place, international visitors will not return in numbers.
"The government needs to provide a targeted resilience fund for inbound tourism businesses, and access to grants from which they have previously been excluded, to ensure they can survive the winter."
Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten, though, was less impressed by the government’s workings.
"Today’s announcement is only a small step towards opening Britain for business. These tardy and incomplete recommendations undermine our ability to compete in the global marketplace," he said.
"The government urgently needs to introduce a requirement for all travellers into and out of the UK to have a pre-departure test.
"It must also give business travel an exemption from the blunt and misguided quarantine measures.”
Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Travel managing director EMEA, said the move, along with positive news of a Covid vaccine, would boost consumer confidence to book for 2021.
"We saw a spike in bookings over the weekend, particularly to bucket-list destinations such as Peru and Nepal," said Bencheikh.
"Over the next couple of months, I expect to see more and more Brits securing their 2021 holiday – but flexibility and value will be key. We are moving in the right direction. However, for travel to really open up, we still need the FCDO to lift its advice against non-essential travel.
"There are many countries with low infection rates where the locals are heavily reliant on tourism and they need us to return."