Overseas Travel: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back as Chaos Abounds: Opinion: Ian McConnell
There had been high hopes among airlines, vacation companies, travel agents and airports as well as consumers that last week’s review of destinations on the “green list” for overseas travel. UK would announce a notable change.
In the end, it did but, unfortunately for the struggling international travel industry and those desperate to go abroad on vacation, the change was for the worse, not the better.
There had been talk of some Greek and Spanish islands and Malta making their way to the green list, and generally hopes for a significant positive movement, with the peak summer season now almost upon us.
However, the news from the UK government last week on its Green, Orange and Red lists caught many people off guard, including some experts.
It has been announced that Portugal, one of the top summer vacation destinations on the green list, will switch to the color orange.
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Of course, many people had already booked Portugal for the summer or were seriously thinking about it, as they dreamed of going back abroad.
Portugal thus seemed to offer a glimpse of better times ahead for those operating in the UK international travel industry, whether as tour operators, agents, airlines or airports.
It had also seemed, even amid the enormous bureaucracy and testing fees put in place by the UK government for Green List destinations, to offer hope of opening up travel to at least some other major destinations. vacation in Europe from early summer.
In all deliberations on international travel, we cannot lose sight of the crucial point that saving lives must remain the priority. We must also keep in mind the importance of not undoing what has been achieved through the woefully miserable lockdown measures needed to save thousands of lives.
However, the rapid roll-out of the vaccine in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and other countries around the world has naturally fueled hopes in recent months that a stay abroad from Britain might be possible this summer. .
And more and more, as we hopefully go through the worst of this pandemic, attention will naturally and rightly turn to how to enable people to safely do the things they want again. like.
For some people, it could be a pint on the road, which is possible again.
For others, it will go on vacation abroad. Everyone should keep in mind that we have all given up a lot for the greater good, and people should be aware that others will have different priorities for them as everyone hopefully tries in an environment much less dangerous given the vaccinations, to return to leisure activities they enjoy.
The “new normal” is a dismal concept. And that should certainly not involve passing a negative judgment on those who wish to go on holiday abroad, where for sure, however passionate some in the UK government may be about a great British summer vacation. .
Today, of course, people’s ability to travel abroad remains, of course, inextricably linked to health considerations. However, it is important as things move forward that the international travel industry is not devalued in any way, for reasons other than scientific ones. It is not only the crucial question of the rights of individuals, but also the large number of people employed in the international travel sector, the contribution it makes to the economy and the importance of preserving capabilities for the future.
In terms of employment and the economic contribution and capacity of this key sector, it is to be hoped that Rishi Sunak does not consider his government’s big calls on the green list, and his insistence that people should not spend their money. vacations in orange destinations, as unrelated to the big decisions he faces. Last week’s announcement seemed to be another sign that additional support on leave will be needed beyond the Chancellor’s planned end date in September for his coronavirus retention program.
Going abroad this summer has never seemed like an easy decision, even for those not in love with the prospect of an expensive stay and perhaps looking to take a break from the politics of dividing the Kingdom. -United. However, the decision seems even more difficult at the moment, after the surprises of the last week.
The announcement on Portugal recalled epidemics of chaos that erupted during parts of last summer as countries were removed from the UK’s short-term exemption list, fueling a race to return to time to avoid quarantine. At this point, Scotland was adjusting its own policies, which were on the whole a bit more cautious than those of the British government.
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Given that the UK government’s green list this year is only revised every three weeks, many will have been disappointed that none of the Greek or Spanish island holiday destinations did so last week.
It should also be noted that some places on the UK’s green list, such as Australia and Singapore, members of the Commonwealth of Nations, are not open to British people wishing to go there on vacation.
The Green List continues to weigh on Commonwealth territories, while EU countries whose addition would make a significant difference in terms of travel prospects are conspicuous by their absence, especially with the relocation of Portugal.
The strong reaction from the travel industry to last week’s UK government greenlist announcement was understandable.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren called the news a “blow”. Andrew Flintham, managing director of UK package holiday giant TUI, called the government’s review “another step backwards.”
Jacqueline Dobson, President of Barrhead Travel, said last week that the UK government’s announcement “further compounds the damage that has already been inflicted on the travel industry”.
She added: “This is disappointing for the industry and it will be a hammer blow to the thousands of travelers who have not seen family or loved ones for months and vacationers who are already abroad.
“In the blink of an eye, the government has determined that these changes are necessary without serious consultation with industry and without due consideration of the consequences. We have long been at the stage where a real tangible roadmap to get out of this crisis is needed. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like it’s happening and instead we rush from one disastrous announcement to another. ”
Ms Dobson, while stressing the realization that “public health must come first”, hit the nail on the head with her observation that “the travel industry must see a clear roadmap for recovery or risk other permanent damage ”.
She also pointed out, rightly, that it was “just unbearable to continue to waver from one contradictory announcement to another without serious consultation with the industry first.”
Ms Dobson said: ‘Worldwide international travel is starting to safely restart and, with no looming timeline in place for the UK, we are in danger of falling significantly behind our global counterparts.
“There are thousands of travelers either in the UK, or worse, overseas, who have had their plans turned upside down. Industry and travelers alike were expecting the promised level of Green Watchlist at the very least, which would have allowed for a smoother transition and helped keep travel confidence afloat. ”
The importance of trust in this context, and in so many others right now, cannot be overstated.
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Attempts to reopen international pleasure travel are clearly occurring in a difficult and rapidly developing environment, but what seems clear is that it could be managed much better by the UK government. The international travel industry is being told that the leave program will end in September, but here we are in June and it seems like a step forward, two steps back when reopening. More government information, and a detailed roadmap, is needed now. There are reports of disagreements over international travel within Boris Johnson’s cabinet which would present another challenge for a smooth reopening and communication. However, if the government believes it is likely that the current pattern of setbacks will continue through the summer, based on its assessment of public health requirements, it must formulate plans for appropriate additional support. for the sector, including, but not limited to, the extension of leave. scheme.
One of the big issues appears to be very poor communication from the UK government, which is leading what is currently a four-country approach to overseas travel. He set May 17 as the date for resuming non-essential travel. Many doubted that this would be possible as that date approached, but the government has worked hard.
We had had late clarity amid a bit of confusion that the government’s view for an Amber List country was that people shouldn’t go on vacation – many thought it would be good as long as they would self-quarantine on their return.
Mainstream travel destinations were notable for their absence from the initial green list, although Portugal and Iceland were among them. And now Portugal has been removed, with no additions or even reported. It’s hard to imagine how the UK government’s announcement last week could have done anything other than further undermine the already fragile confidence of consumers considering going abroad and the international travel industry.
The UK government must now focus on strengthening, not deteriorating, business and consumer confidence. He really needs to improve his game in a very big and fast way on the international travel front.