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13 April 2021

We’re all going on a, Summer holiday?

With the UK set to enter phase two of its roadmap for lockdown easing, many sectors that have struggled without a consistent customer base are looking to the future.

Industries such as non-essential retail, hospitality and events have all suffered since March 2020, with many physical premises closed and online shopping and virtual events taking over.

However, one industry that continues to suffer may not return to normal for some time yet. The international travel industry has been decimated by the pandemic. As of January 2021, Forbes calculated that COVID-19 had cost the global tourism sector US$935bn, an industry which contributed US$8.9bn to the global economy in 2019.

With every country at a different stage of their respective vaccination programmes, it’s currently impossible to say with any degree of certainty when consistent international travel for business or leisure will resume.

Only a handful of countries the world over are at a stage where they are comfortable even considering opening their borders. Australia and New Zealand have arguably handled the pandemic better than any other nations, with case numbers being close to zero for months. Everyday Coronavirus restrictions have ceased and life is almost back to normal, with even mass gatherings permitted. Now, the two island nations have opened their borders to each other, announcing that as of 19th April, residents will be able to travel freely between the two countries without having to quarantine.

New Zealanders have been free to enter Australia without the need to quarantine since October 2020, although this had not been reciprocated. In the UK and Europe, however, this freedom of movement still seems some way off.

As part of the UK’s roadmap for lockdown easing, international travel will be allowed from 17th May at the earliest, in large part due to the country’s advanced vaccination programme. However, huge question marks remain about the feasibility of achieving this goal, particularly considering that anyone who travels abroad without good reason at present faces a £5,000 fine. The First Ministers of both Scotland and Wales have indicated that 17th May will be too early for foreign holidays, while Downing Street is currently undecided.Despite the uncertainty, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested last week that British holidaymakers can start thinking about booking foreign holidays this summer. "This is the first time I'm able to come on and say I'm not advising against booking foreign holidays,” Shapps told the BBC on Friday. Nearly 40 countries are currently on the Government’s list of countries from which travel is banned for all except British and Irish nationals and residents.

When foreign travel is permitted, England will adopt a traffic light system, with countries placed into one of three categories. While all international travel will require PCR tests on both legs of any journey, green countries would require no isolation on return to the UK, amber nations will need visitors to isolate for 10 days, and red list countries would require a 10-night stay at a designated ‘quarantine hotel.’ Vaccination progress, infection rates, prevalence of variants and genomic sequencing capacity would all determine if a country is given green status.

The Government is understandably erring on the side of caution, but the UK’s travel industry bodies want more certainty. Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK commented on 5th April following an update from the Prime Minister: "Whilst we support the establishment of a framework for restarting international travel and welcome the removal of self-isolation for arrivals from 'green countries', today's announcement does not provide the clarity we were seeking on the roadmap back towards normality.

"We await further details, but the measures indicated, including the potential for multiple tests for travellers even from 'green countries', will prevent meaningful travel even to low-risk destinations," he continued.

Due to the many uncertainties surrounding international travel, UK airline Jet2 suspended all of its flights and holidays until 24th June at the earliest, citing the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce framework.

To help facilitate international travel, mass testing for travellers must be cheap and easy, while vaccine passports would become a “fact of life”, said UK PM Boris Johnson. PCR tests for travellers would be require pre-departure and post-arrival, possibly costing around £200 per passenger if PCR tests are used, potentially pricing out many travellers.

It is clear that while more information is needed for airlines and travellers alike, international travel is one of the roadmap’s next big goals. With more information expected in the coming weeks, the industry, and holidaymakers alike, hold their collective breath.
We’re all going on a, Summer holiday?

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