UK airlines, travel agents and operators have joined forces to call on the government to urgently revise its approach to foreign travel advice, "which risks preventing the industry getting back on its feet and holidaymakers back in the air".
Despite the new test to release scheme coming into effect on 15 December, which allows for reduced quarantine periods for international arrivals, trade associations Airlines UK and Abta have said the numbers of people travelling overseas is unlikely to significantly increase as the Foreign Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to the vast majority of countries.
Together they have called for the approach to foreign travel advice to be reviewed, following concerns that this is being used to control the pandemic in the UK as opposed to its actual purpose, which is to assess the risk to travellers in-destination.
In particular, they have asked the government to urgently review their travel advice to allow for travel to countries where infection rates are comparable to, or lower than, the UK and have developed public health responses to the pandemic.
Advice against non-essential travel often invalidates travel insurance, meaning that many potential business or leisure customers who would be willing to travel because of the new testing regime, will not do so because they will be reluctant to travel against FCDO advice, and without insurance.
It also means that tour operators are required to refund customers who have bookings and no longer wish to travel.
Andrew Flintham, managing director for Tui UK & Ireland, said: “We know there’s a huge appetite to travel overseas on holiday, demonstrated by the surge in demand whenever travel corridors are opened up.
"The test to release scheme was a positive first step for some, but we really need the government to move forward with unlocking travel on a much broader scale.
“As a package holiday provider we always look to the Foreign Office advice to confirm if we can operate our flights and holidays overseas. This has been well-established and respected guidance to protect the health and safety of our customers whilst abroad. However, we are concerned that it is currently being used to ban entry into countries, without detailing what the risk is to travellers.
“Without changing the approach to travel advice many popular destinations will remain off limits, resulting in more cancelled holidays and disappointed customers.
“We look to continue working closely with the government to deliver positive solutions for the travel industry and hope many more holidaymakers will get to enjoy some winter sun.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “As long as [this situation] remains the case, there is no recovery in sight for the travel industry.
“Managing public health and putting measures in place to control the spread of the virus must be the government’s priority, but we have been concerned that Foreign Office travel advice has drifted away from its purpose of protecting the health and safety of travellers in-destination.
“The Foreign Office travel advice should be reviewed urgently so that advice against non-essential travel in relation to Covid-19 is restricted to destinations where it is clear that the risk to travellers is unacceptably high, based on clear and transparent criteria.
“The UK’s economic recovery will be dependent on having good global connectivity, a strong travel industry is critical to that.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK added: “At the moment, this incoherent approach risks adding to the tens of thousands of job losses we have already seen, which have devastated the aviation sector this year.
“This is not about sending people to dangerous places – nobody wants that and the Foreign Office is absolutely right to rule this out. But there are countries on the banned list that we think could be opened up on either a national or regional basis.
“Reviewing travel advice will give our beleaguered industry its own much needed ‘shot in the arm’ this winter.”