The government’s decision to cut quarantine to just five days through a so-called "test and release" scheme is undoubtedly positive news for the travel industry.
It will give people confidence to book a trip departing in the immediate to near future in the knowledge they can avoid an onerous 14-day stint self-isolating, if they choose to.
But the government’s confirmation of its long-anticipated test and release regime on Tuesday (24 November) was scant on detail in one key respect – the cost of testing.
Travel industry leaders have long warned of both the physical and mental barriers to travel arising from the coronavirus crisis, such as the sheer inability to travel to some destinations owing to a lack of flights or an inbound or return travel restriction, or the reluctance to consider travel due to requirements such as pre-travel testing and/or quarantine on return.
Test and release gives us a pathway to something approaching a normal holiday cycle in these times, in so much as from 15 December, it will be possible to go on holiday and face only a five-day spell stuck within your own four chosen walls.
But they also warned testing would need to be quick, accessible, and crucially, affordable.
And this is where dnata Travel Group chief executive John Bevan’s assertion that test and trace "might just be enough for us to save the late winter sun season for a start" comes into question.
Take the Canaries, for example; Spain has introduced an inbound pre-travel testing requirement, and the same is true of the Canaries. So that’s one test for each of your family of four.
And then there’s test and release; mum and dad can’t quarantine for work reasons, and the kids need to go to school. So that’s another test for each of the family.
There are already many testing options and products on the market. Wizz Air on Tuesday announced a partnership with Confirm Testing to offer its passengers "discounted" pre-travel PCR testing kits… at £80 a pop, down from £110.
Gatwick, meanwhile, is setting up its own testing centre in partnership with ExpressTest to offer passengers flying from Gatwick "fit to fly" PCR tests for £60pp, or £99pp if you just want to get a test done.
And if you want it doing on the high street, Boots is offering tests from £120pp.
So even at the more affordable end of the scale, a pre-travel PCR test and then a post-travel "test and release" test is currently going to set you back at least £120pp if you want to get a quick trip in to the Canaries this winter, at a conservative estimate
Yes, testing prices will surely come down sharply and rapidly if there is demand, and it may well yet be that the government and/or destinations start accepting cheaper antigen, LAMP or saliva tests as Covid negative proof rather than more accurate PCR tests.
However, with the government under scrutiny over how certain PPE contracts were awarded without competitive tender and, according to the National Audit Office, often on the recommendation of MPs, peers and ministerial offices, the government’s promise of a list of private test suppliers – due to be published before 15 December – doesn’t necessarily instil great confidence.
It was interesting too to note the noises that came out of Whitehall sources over the weekend, with one telling the Mail on Sunday prime minister Boris Johnson had been particularly concerned about the impact of Covid restrictions on the business travel sector in particular; you can be sure firms who need their teams in the air are going to have more resources to pay to get their employees out of quarantine sooner rather than later as opposed to the average family.
For those of you thinking, "bah, humbug!". Don’t. Please. This is all fantastic news in a year where "good news" has, perhaps, amounted to little more than making a single sale in a week, or destination X, Y or Z clinging onto its spot on the travel corridor list for another week. But Christmas hasn’t, quite, come early.
Oh how we should all be looking forward to the day transport secretary Grant Shapps’s little 5pm Twitter press conferences are a thing of the past, and we can stop refreshing his feed sick to the back teeth of his latest missive on improvements to the A55 or somesuch bit of much better news for his Welwyn Hatfield constituency (apologies to any Welwyn, er, "Hatfielders" out there).
What travel desperately needs now to compound this good news, build on it and allow travel to resume – safely – is a prompt and orderly transition to an affordable testing marketplace, and crucially, one that isn’t allowed to linger any longer than is necessary, especially with the prospect of a vaccine on the horizon.
Mastering testing in your local area, though, is going to be a vital string to every agent’s bow over the coming months, as is knowledge of any testing deals, discounts or concessions being offered by airlines or suppliers able to offer them at scale, driving down prices.
Be assured too, local chemists and pharmacists are going to get stock sooner than later, so perhaps a quick chat with the boss of the pharmacy across the road, round the corner, or in the next village could yet go a long way.
These are, truly, testing times for travel.