The travel industry has reacted angrily to the sparse green list unveiled by the transport secretary – which contained just a handful of countries and a scattering of British Overseas Territories, most of them inaccessible to UK travellers.
Grant Shapps said that no quarantine would be required for arrivals from Ascension Island, Australia, Brunei, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Israel, New Zealand, Portugal, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of Britain's biggest budget airline, easyJet, said: “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.
“This decision means that so many people will continue to be unable to see their families and loved ones, develop their businesses or go on a much-needed holiday abroad.
“With European governments starting to allow their citizens to travel restriction-free if vaccinated, UK citizens risk being left behind and unable to get the best rates for hotels as they will be booked up by European tourists.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership said: “We had hoped for a more extensive ‘green list’. Grant Shapps clearly has a skewed vision of how consumers are going to plan their holidays this year.”
The British Airways chairman and chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: “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 re-start the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group – which includes Stansted and East Midlands – said: “The government appears to have ignored clear scientific evidence, which shows that testing and vaccinations can support safe travel to a larger group of low-risk destinations.
“The British public will understandably question why our world-leading vaccination programme has not earned them the freedom to travel abroad without expensive and inconvenient tests – a freedom that other governments, including the European Union, will be giving to people who have been vaccinated.”
“It is essential that we see meaningful progress towards restarting international travel at the first review of the green list in the next few weeks, ahead of the peak summer season.
Willie Walsh, former chief executive of British Airways and now director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), was contemptuous of the long-awaited announcement, saying only: “It is very disappointing and frankly not worth commenting on.”
The chief executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, said: “The green list represents a reopening of air travel in name only.
“We must see major additions to the green list at the next review point in three weeks, alongside a simpler and much reduced testing burden so that travel does not become the preserve of the wealthy only.”
The general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), Brian Strutton, said: “This excess of caution from the Government 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.
“In particular, we must see the vital UK-US travel market open up which remains inexplicably closed despite America’s own tremendous vaccine success.”
In the Downing Street press conference in which the announcement was made, Grant Shapps made it clear that long waits could be expected at passport control on arrival, due to the complexity of documentation required.
The transport secretary said: “While holidaymakers may notice longer than usual queues, it is vital we maintain our stringent border checks – which are among the toughest in the world – to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country and putting our vaccine roll out at risk.”
Heathrow airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said the government must “urgently address the unacceptable situation at the border” He has previously talked of six-hour waits at the airport.
“Long immigration queues are an inevitable result of under resourcing, not an inevitable results of extra checks,” he said. “Passengers will expect ministers to keep every desk staffed at peak times.”
Travel insurance firms are among those hard hit by the slump in travel. Ryan Howsam, founder of Staysure, said: “Uncertainty is the biggest issue, and it is imperative to be able to make plans for the worst case scenario for both consumers and businesses.”
Representatives of countries left off the list were also angry at the selection. Angel Vazquez, minister of tourism promotion for the Canary Island of Lanzarote, said: “British visitors represent nearly 50 per cent of Lanzarote's total inbound tourism and many hotels in the island are postponing their reopening dates until British tourists are able to visit us again.”
Maria Elena Rossi, director of marketing of the Italian National Tourist Board, said:“The news that Italy has not been included on the UK government’s green travel list is deeply disappointing for the industry and the economy of Italy.”
The decision also affects British businesses that depend on incoming tourists.
Joss Croft, chief executive of the trade association UKinbound, said “The sparsity of countries on the green list and notable absence of the US and much of Europe, along with the cost of testing and the continuation of quarantine measures, present further devastating barriers to business for the inbound tourism industry. This is not job done.”
One optimistic view came from the Brittany Ferries chief executive, Christophe Mathieu, who predicted France and Spain will be rated as low risk before the end of May.
“Thanks to a downward trend in Covid cases and improving vaccination rates, we fully expect them to be re-classified as green countries when review takes place in three weeks’ time.”
At the Downing Street briefing, the transport secretary said: “Our priority remains to protect public health, which is why the ‘green’ list is currently very small.
“If the epidemiological situation improves worldwide, it is expected that there will be more opportunities for leisure travel with a greater number of destinations added.”
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