The travel industry has welcomed the change in quarantine rules that will allow passengers returning to the UK from high-risk countries to reduce the time they self-isolate to five days, if they can provide a negative Covid test result.
Travel companies have been campaigning against the mandatory 14-day quarantine for all returning travellers since it was introduced on 8 June. Paul Charles of the PC Agency, who led the Quash Quarantine campaign, with the backing of 500 travel and hospitality companies, said shorter quarantine will “boost travel confidence and bookings and enable quicker recovery in such a hard-hit sector”.
The changes come into effect on 15 December, and will require passengers to book and pay for a Covid-19 test from a private provider on the gov.uk list.
Derek Moore, deputy chairman of Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, said the move was a good start but was unlikely to lead to a sudden rise in bookings. “People are looking for an indication that the pandemic won’t go on for ever. It’s sending the right message,” he said, but added that the cost of testing will be a barrier for many. “Charging £120 for testing is outrageous when other countries charge far less, or not at all.”
Derek Jones, CEO of travel firm Kuoni, agreed that the cost of testing would prevent some people from booking. “It could cost £400-£500 for a family. There will be some who will not flinch at that but it will be a barrier for some sectors of the market.”
Jones said that the appetite for travel had strengthened since the recent news of effective vaccines, with enquires up in the past week, but pointed out that any rise in enquiries and bookings is from a low base. There will still be major hurdles to international travel, even after lockdown ends in England on 2 December, including a return to a tier system that will prevent those in the highest risk areas of England travelling at all, and the constantly changing travel corridor list.
The majority of countries on the UK travel corridor list have their own restrictions preventing visitors from entering the country. Sri Lanka, for example, was among the latest tranche of countries added to the corridor list on 19 November but it has a ban on all non-nationals and tour operators believe it is unlikely to reopen until at least March.
Rupert Longsdon, founder of the Oxford Ski Company, was more hopeful that a lower quarantine period will have an immediate impact. “It makes a huge difference for skiers,” he said. “For many of our clients, 14 days was too long to navigate, particularly with families, but they can make five days work.”
But Charles of the PC Agency said the “gamechanger” will be early 2021 when quarantine is dropped altogether and daily tests introduced to allow international travel to begin a full recovery. Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Telegraph “We know that [daily testing] is coming, but we’re not going to get that going until the new year, and then finally there will be the vaccine to take us out of this.”
Some in the industry believe that even after the requirement to quarantine is dropped, consumers will remain cautious about travel. “A counterbalance to this is that for some travellers, now that an effective vaccination is on the horizon, there may be a delay in committing to travelling this winter,” said John Telfer, managing director of adventure company Explore. “They may decide to wait until it has been rolled out.”