Travel leaders have called on government to plot a roadmap out of the Covid crisis, warning the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine for some arrivals all but marks the industry hitting rock bottom.
After several weeks of speculation, prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday (27 January) confirmed arrivals from 22 high-risk countries would be met upon their arrival in England and transported straight to a government-arranged quarantine facility, likely a hotel, where they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days.
He added the government was in talks with the UK’s devolved administrations to ensure a UK-wide approach "where possible" when it came to hotel quarantine measures.
Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives, said that while he welcomed the hotel quarantine measures being extended, initially, to just the 22 high-risk countries from which travel is currently all-but banned, but stressed it didn’t significantly soften the blow to travel.
"The aviation sector is struggling with the depth and duration of this crisis and we can only hope we have now reached rock bottom," he said.
"Coming out of this crisis, the government should have the benefit of improved science and hindsight, so right now is the time to support the sector and to effectively plan a strategic pathway towards the safe reopening of international travel in conjunction with the industry.”
Johnson confirmed the government would publish the results of a review of the country’s lockdown measures on 22 February, providing it hits its target to vaccinate everyone in the four groups most vulnerable to Covid.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said the group wholeheartedly accepted the need for tighter border controls – but not "ill thought through" statements from ministers telling the British public not to consider booking their future travel plans, given the flexibility and security available to consumers – particularly from the trade.
It comes after vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi on Tuesday (26 January) cautioned people against booking summer holidays.
"Why do members of the government feel it is their place to further crush confidence?" said Lo Bue-Said. "What government continually fails to acknowledge is the number of jobs sustained by the outbound travel industry and that being an island nation, travel is not just for a holiday.
"After nearly a year of disruption, and international travel effectively shut down, our members represent hundreds of business owners across the UK under immense financial pressure – with over 50% unable to benefit from government grants due to not being in a designated ‘closed’ retail environment.
"We need government to support the industry, extend furlough until the autumn, stop making ill-informed off the cuff comments, and allow the British public to make their own judgement on future plans to travel later this year, once it’s safe to do so."
Danny Callaghan, chief executive of the Latin American Travel Association, said: "While there is a clear need for restrictions at the moment due to the huge number of people being hospitalised and the problems facing the NHS, what the travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality sectors need is a clear roadmap to restart.
"We need a pathway to opening all aspects of our economy up, not least the travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality sectors, which have been decimated by the pandemic with more and more restrictions being announced daily which hugely impacts consumer confidence in terms of future bookings.
"With new requirements for hotel quarantines and without a roadmap, we are in a hopeless position – quite literally a position without hope.
"The knock-on effects of the lack of vision and clarity are huge, as ‘Global Britain’ becomes ‘Isolated Britain’, and the promise of post-Brexit prosperity in the world economy becomes a distant memory."
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said the introduction of quarantine hotels would come as "another death knell" for the travel industry, especially the business travel sector.
"Public safety must come first, but we question the timing of this announcement and the lack of investment in a long-term strategy to get the UK travelling again such as pre-departure testing," said Wratten.
"Further, placing the burden of proof for the validity of travel onto international carriers is an untenable situation for companies and staff that are already at breaking point.
"The government must offer targeted financial support to our industry beyond April as we are handcuffed by these latest restrictions."