The Government’s approach to the partial return of foreign holidays suffers from an “excess of caution” and will “delay” the travel industry’s recovery, sector leaders have said.
Travel bosses demanded greater “clarity” over the formation of the green list of destinations and urged ministers to find ways to reduce the costs of Covid testing for holidaymakers and lengthy queues at the border.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Friday that just 12 countries and territories are on the green list of destinations that people in England will be permitted to visit from May 17 without self-isolating on return.
Meanwhile, popular European destinations such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece are on the amber list.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade organisation Abta, said this represented “a slower and more cautious approach than previously outlined” which would “delay the industry’s recovery”.
He added: “We understand that public health is the Government’s priority, and it was always expected that the return to international travel would be gradual, but the Government must use the next review to open up travel to more destinations, using the traffic light system to manage risk.”
Mr Tanzer also said the Government should provide grants to businesses such as travel agents and tour operators to support them through “what will continue to be difficult times ahead”.
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren called on the Government to provide “clarity” about which countries could be added to its green travel list.
“The decision to put so few European countries into the green tier is simply not justified by the data or the science and is inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy,” he said.
He added: “So, we call on Government to provide transparency on decision-making and clarity on when we can expect other European countries to join the green list so that consumers and airlines alike can plan for this summer.”
Mr Lundgren also urged the Government to “drive down” the cost of testing and remove it for green countries.
“Green really should mean green,” he said.
Mr Lundgren said easyJet will be increasing its flights to green list destinations and launching new routes where possible.
British Airways (BA) chairman and chief executive Sean Doyle said: “What’s clear is that with high levels of vaccination in the UK being matched by other countries, we should see more destinations going ‘green’ before the end of June.”
But he added: “It’s disappointing to hear that despite the stringent safeguards introduced for travel from ‘amber list’ countries, the Government is now suggesting travellers avoid these.
“We cannot stress more greatly that the UK urgently needs travel between it and other low-risk countries, like the US, to restart the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
He said BA would be laying on additional flights from England to Portugal.
Airlines UK, an industry body which represents UK carriers, said the Government must make “major additions” to its green list of travel destinations at the next review point in three weeks.
Chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “This is a missed opportunity and, with so few countries making it on to the green list, represents a reopening of air travel in name only.
“By contrast, the EU has said vaccinated people will be able to travel without restrictions, which leaves the UK at risk of falling behind and not opening up international travel to key markets across Europe as well as the United States.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, accused the Government of an “excess of caution” over its handling of the planned return of foreign holidays, adding that it is “extremely disappointing for everyone who works in the travel sector and the millions of people who are desperate to jet away on holiday or business”.
“Almost all tourist hotspots in Europe including Spain, France and Greece are in the amber category, which is as good as red as far as most tourists are concerned, with potential 10-day quarantine needed on return,” he said.
Mr Strutton added: “Tourists are sat gazing at the amber light, revving their engines, desperate to travel safe in the knowledge that their jabs will protect them. The Government must flick those amber lights to green as soon as it possibly can.”
Heathrow Airport’s chief executive said the Government must “urgently address the unacceptable situation” at the UK border where travellers face long immigration queues.
John Holland-Kaye said: “The Government should help people plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer holidays so that passengers are not faced with high prices for last-minute bookings.
“The Government also needs to urgently address the unacceptable situation at the border, where passengers can wait for longer than their flight to the UK.
“Long immigration queues are an inevitable result of under-resourcing, not an inevitable result of extra checks.”