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New rules for travel

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

The long awaited Global Travel Taskforce report is in… It’s not a magic wand for the travel sector or individual travellers, but it does give the promised framework.

Monday 5th April saw a wave of disappointed noises from many in travel; they’d hoped an announcement that day would pave the way for travel to cleanly reopen in May. It didn't.

Focus then shifted to Monday 12th April when the Global Travel Taskforce was due to report. Surprisingly, news has come in three days earlier than anticipated. This is a great to see and, as noted by others, allows for positive weekend headlines that will do the government no harm…

What the announcement doesn’t do is flick a switch and allow international travel from the 17th May. Personally I find it mildly mystifying that anyone thought it would. But, whilst uncertainty remains, we have moved forward.

The traffic light system introduced was much anticipated, so comes as no real surprise. It’s not a groundbreaking innovation, but it does have an appealing simplicity. However, the main caveat is that destinations could quickly shift from one category to another with little notice. Furthermore, we shouldn't expect to see the initial status for destinations until around two weeks before travel is due to restart on 17th May.

The three tier system will operate as below:

  • Green: arrivals will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day 2 of their arrival back into the UK - but will not need to quarantine on return (unless they receive a positive result) or take any additional tests, halving the cost of tests on their return from holiday

  • Amber: arrivals will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 with the option for Test to Release on day 5 to end self-isolation early

  • Red: arrivals will be subject to restrictions currently in place for ‘red list’ countries which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day 2 and 8

Key factors in the assessment of destinations within this traffic light system will be the percentage of the population vaccinated, the current and projected rate of infection, the prevalence of any concerning new COVID variants and a country’s access to reliable scientific data.

Over the coming months the key that unlocks movement is going to be testing. As detailed above, travellers will need to take both a pre-departure test and a post-arrival test even when heading to a “green” destination. “Amber” destinations will require three tests and a period of self isolation on return. In both categories there are clear barriers to ease of movement; cost (although the government talks about moves to reduce this) and a hard to quantify “hassle factor”.

What the report does seem to show is that the desire for travel, and the industry that services it, is worthy of consideration by the government. Travel has felt like a forgotten sector for much of the past 12 months. Some will remain disappointed with today’s news, but it is hard to see how much more could be done at this point.

As well as providing a framework within which to restart travel the report provides an important reminder that we remain in the midst of a global pandemic. We cannot expect a hassle free charge forwards, the risks remain too high.

As we nudge further in to 2021 and towards 2022, two issues are likely lie at the heart of simple and widespread travel:

  1. Readily available, affordable and dependable testing

  2. Standardisation of an international digital travel certification system

We appear some way from these two points being tackled.

Further to the above, cancellation policies offered by travel companies, the insurance cover available and the risk appetite of individual consumers are going to interact in a variety of ways to dictate volumes of travel. The landscape remains far from predictable.

Shifting focus to the immediate future, late bookings would appear likely to be the norm. The challenge for agents and operators will be to break the longstanding link between “late” and “discounted”. This may require an acceptance that capacity needs to remain constrained for the foreseeable future.

An area I find fascinating is trying to predict how the public will react. We have seen numerous surveys pointing to vast pent up demand and I’m sure they are right. There is, however, often a big gap between what people say they will do and what they will actually do.

Added to this, many travellers appear to have made domestic travel bookings for this summer; I suspect few will now cancel these to book to travel overseas. Others will be firmly in the “wait and see” camp for a while yet. Another chunk will remain set on 2022 as the earliest date for them to take the plunge.

A wholly unscientific survey of one regular traveller this morning (my 74 year old mother!) was interesting; she has three future trips already booked (two in Europe, one in South America - all bumped forward from 2020) but is totally at ease with walking away from any or all of them if she doesn’t feel “comfortable”. Making people “comfortable” with travel is now an industry wide challenge.

This links in to something I have been rattling on about for months; all travel firms need to commit to honest, engaging and informative communication with their customers. In this rapidly evolving landscape silence is not golden, it's suicidal.

Over time we have to hope that the globe turns green; there’s a way to go.

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