The protest can claim a victory (of sorts) with further holiday hotpots added to the Green List. However, should its messaging be on industry-saving support and not overseas 2021 summer sun?
The UK travel industry’s Day of Action received a lot of media coverage and support as it protested on Westminster and around the country against the Covid-19 travel restrictions.
It can claim a morale victory with the expansion of the green quarantine-free travel list and the potential of double-jabbed tourists being able to travel quarantine-free “later in the summer”.
From June 30, Malta, Madeira the Balearic Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Caribbean Islands including Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados and Grenada have all joined the Green List.
However all these additions – apart from Malta – will be on the “green watchlist”, which means that they are at risk of being moved to the amber list, which requires 10 days quarantine on returning to the UK.
Because of this, I have to agree with Michael O’Leary that it is a “step in the right direction” but is “sewing more confusion”. And this does not take in to account Chancellor Angela Merkle attempting to secure the sunbeds of Europe for German tourists by proposing an EU-wide mandatory quarantine for travelling Britons.
It has long been felt that the UK Government has undervalued – or at least misunderstood – the significant economic impact of the UK outbound travel sector. Pre-pandemic the outbound travel’s economic contribution to the UK totalled £37.1 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA), which amounted to around 1.8% of UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to ABTA. This included a direct contribution of £15.9 billion (GVA), which is equivalent to around 1% of GDP. Furthermore, total expenditure within the UK by residents engaged in outbound travel reached £45.7 billion.
I may upset many in the travel industry, but despite the obvious value the sector brings to UK PLC, I can understand the UK Government’s caution to open the industry back up at a quicker pace.
“Domestic Freedoms” as the UK Government describes them, are understandably its priority. Although there are many domestic industries – hospitality and events to name but two – that feel equally ignored and let down. With even further complexity – even hypocrisy – added due to 2,500 UEFA VIPs allowed in to the UK quarantine-free to attend Euro 2020 matches.
This understandable focus on domestic freedoms will lead to a staycation boom, but will not make up for loss revenue from overseas tourists to the UK. However, more importantly, it means the UK Government’s support of the outbound travel industry needs to be greater – for both businesses and employees.
Even if the summer season opens up at a quicker pace that it currently looks like, it will not be enough to keep many companies afloat or staff in work. Summer for the travel industry is the equivalent to Christmas for retail. It is the period when two-thirds of revenue is generated. A second consecutive summer washout (comparatively to 2019) could set the industry back decades.
At the Day of Action, Abta CEO Mark Tanzer called for an extension to furlough arrangements for the travel sector (potentially until next April), business rates relief and targeted financial support, such as a revenue replacement system.
With such confusion and uncertainty surrounding travel this summer, I fear the industry’s best bet may be to focus its messaging and campaigning on the financial support Tanzer has called for. And not an overhaul of the ever-changing and complex traffic light travel system, that even many in the industry must be struggling to keep up with.
Comprehensive and wide-ranging support for the industry this year could save the 195,000 jobs it fears are at risk and keep businesses afloat. It is a doubtful that an increased summer flight schedule (which would still be significantly down on pre-pandemic levels) would have as much of an impact.
Such support would go some way to create conditions to get the UK travel industry back somewhere near its pre-pandemic level of 93 million outbound trips a year in 2022.