The industry has reacted with some frustration to prime minister Boris Johnson’s “roadmap” update today on how we leave lockdown.
International travel was not mentioned until the end of his statement, explaining a successor to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce will report on international travel by 12 April so that people can “plan for summer”.
It was added in the published statement this will resume no earlier than 17 May.
An ITT spokesperson said: “Whilst we understand the prime minister’s caution, given the mistakes of the past we are extremely disappointed that specific reference to international travel and foreign holidays was conspicuous by its absence from his statement.
“The vague promise that the successor to the invisible and ineffectual Global Travel Taskforce will report by 12 April was totally inadequate. We need sector specific economic support now.
“Will the current furlough scheme be extended beyond April? Can the British public book their overseas summer holidays today with confidence? Will holidaymakers require Covid-status certification?
“The travel industry needs answers now, prime minister, not the promise of yet another report sometime in April.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, was more positive: “The prime minister’s announcement today sets an ambition to get people travelling before the summer – which will not only be crucial for travel businesses whose revenues have been wiped out, but also for the millions of people who are desperate to travel again, whether to see friends and relatives based overseas or for a much-needed holiday.
“We’re pleased to see the government has responded to our calls to engage with industry on a specific roadmap for travel, and we welcome that the Global Travel Taskforce will reconvene to work with Abta and the wider travel industry on a plan for reopening travel.
“Even with the prospect of travel resuming, we renew our call to the chancellor to use his Budget next week to provide tailored financial support to travel agents and tour operators, recognising the pressing need that travel companies have for financial assistance if they are to come through the weeks ahead.”
UKinbound chief Joss Croft says it is critical that dialogue continues and that government consults with industry when preparing its review on reopening international travel.
“As part of its review, we would ask the UK government to work with the devolved nations, as a fragmented approach will hinder recovery.
“To save the summer business, government needs to move quickly as it will take time for consumers to regain confidence to book a holiday to the UK and for the industry to prepare.
“However, it’s very clear that we are still months away from restarting international travel, and many more months before we see a significant recovery, and the industry therefore needs continued support.
“In order for our sector to survive long enough to support the UK’s economic recovery, we’re asking the chancellor to retain furlough as long as restrictions are in place, issue sector-specific grants and extend Business Rate Relief, when he announces the Budget on 3 March.”
Airlines UK chief Tim Alderslade said Johnson had “provided the clarity the whole sector was looking for that international travel can reopen this summer as soon as it is safe to do so”.
“We now look forward working with ministers and as part of the proposed taskforce on the practical detail of how current restrictions – which are amongst the toughest anywhere in the world – can be removed, and how the sector can be provided with as much advance notice as possible before any restart.
“As we have always said, this must be risk-based and proportionate but based on the overriding assumption that as the vaccine rollout accelerates a phased easing of restrictions is achievable.”
Dale Keller, chief executive of Bar UK, said: “The aviation sector will play a crucial role in the UK’s economic recovery and we will provide our full support and expertise to the revived travel taskforce to deliver the most considered and effective plan for our sector – vital in providing necessary advance notice and confidence to the industry and public alike.
“Our pragmatic request of government is to provide targeted support for a sector that supports around 960,000 jobs and generated £57 billion in GDP (direct, indirect or induced impacts) until we are given the go-ahead to reopen.
“There is much work ahead and the airline industry stands ready to offer is best talent to the government in order to forge an exciting new flight path for aviation and international travel.”
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee added: “The prime minister’s recognition of aviation’s important economic role, in particular for businesses that rely on access to international markets or visitors to the UK, was welcome.
“Airports look forward to working with the successor to the Global Travel Taskforce to ensure we have a robust system in place to safely restart international aviation.
“We will be able to build on the significant work already undertaken by the aviation industry on possible scenarios for reopening.
“It is of vital importance that the UK government includes the devolved governments in this work.
“A divergent approach in the four UK nations will undermine airports’ abilities to attract airlines to reopen routes, undermine public confidence in the new system and thus harm the overall recovery of our sector.
“The UK government has stated that international travel restrictions will not ease before 17 May.
“As the worst-hit economic sector in 2020, this will ensure we will also be the worst-hit sector of 2021. The UK and devolved governments must set out sector-specific support to help ensure there are viable airports to be able to restart.”