Travel bosses warn that cutting quarantine will not be enough to save the industry

The reduction of the quarantine period from 14 days to five will offer a timely boost for holidaymakers – but tour operators have warned they will not be able to offer trips to “high-risk” destinations unless the Foreign Office (FCDO) changes its travel advice. 

Currently, countries not on the travel corridor list – such as South Africa, Brazil and Mexico – are subject to an FCDO warning against “non-essential” travel, and tour operators, which have a duty of care to protect their customers, will not offer trips against FCDO advice.

Edward Paine, managing director of adventure specialists Last Frontiers, said: “I welcome any reduction in the length of quarantine, and using testing to do this safely makes perfect sense. It will definitely help Christmas and New Year bookings where time off can be a limiting factor. However, we still need the FCDO to remove its Covid-related advice against non-essential travel. The UK population is protected by quarantine and tour operators are well placed to explain the risks in their destination countries, most of which have infection rates much lower than the UK and very much need tourists to return.”

Candice Buchan from Rainbow Tours, which offers tailor-made holidays to Africa and Latin America, added: “The reduction of quarantine is great news and it means that we are moving in the right direction, but the FCDO is still advising against travel to most African and Latin American destinations. What we need urgently is for the FCDO to start evaluating each destination separately instead of having a blanket ban on most destinations.”

A spokesperson for Tui, Europe’s largest tour operator, confirmed it would continue to use FCDO advice to determine where it operates, and expressed frustration at the uncertainty created by major policy changes being leaked to the media. Tui’s losses for the first nine months of the year totalled £2.05bn, and already this year 27 Atol license holders, including STA Travel and Shearings, have ceased trading. 

Nick Van Gruisen, managing director of The Ultimate Travel Company, said: “I do not think it is going to sadly make that much difference for the travel industry. It is still a quarantine and depending on your job may still be deducted from your holiday allowance. Lifting FCDO advice and therefore making insurance easier and less expensive would be more helpful. No quarantine would be even better.”

The situation for airlines is different. They will continue to fly, where demand warrants it, to “high-risk” destinations. BA, for example, is still serving the likes of Cape Town, Delhi and Moscow – even during lockdown, Virgin is flying to Johannesburg and Jamaica, among others, and Ryanair is visiting dozens of European non-corridor countries. 

According to aviation analyst OAG, there were 1,326 UK flight routes operating in December 2019; the figure for December 2020 stands at 883. A shorter quarantine period could encourage airlines to relaunch some of those lost routes, but with demand likely to remain suppressed, they may choose to play it safe. 

“There is no reason to expect all of those routes that are currently missing will be added back in December,” said John Grant, senior analyst at OAG. “Airlines are more likely to add back additional capacity on those routes that are already operating – such as New York and perhaps the powerful Middle East hubs such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – than to add new destinations where, with such short booking lead times, demand for December may be difficult to generate. If some new destinations are added then winter sun destinations in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and perhaps South Africa would be high on the list of candidates.

“Clearly this is a step forward from a government that has no understanding of the aviation and travel industry. These types of policies have been in place in other countries for some time and why it has taken the UK so long to act is mystifying to say the least.”

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