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Published on Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trade gives mixed reaction to new 'Test to Release' scheme






The government has announced a new 'Test to Release' scheme that could more than halve the quarantine period for passengers arriving back into England, but reactions have been mixed.


Dnata CEO John Bevan said it might just be enough to save the late winter season, adding that he was 'increasingly confident about a return to 'something like normality'.

"We're beginning to see signs of momentum in both demand and bookings for late December travel, and into 2021, and anything that helps us build on that will be a good thing," said John.

However, UKinbound CEOJoss Croft was less upbeat, saying that any quarantine period would deter visitors to the UK. "Tourism is a competitive business, and when we can travel again, we need a best-in-class testing regime, negating the need for a lengthy self-isolation, otherwise competitors who do have these systems will reap the benefit," said Joss.

Quaratine could be more than halved


Under the new testing strategy, passengers arriving into England from countries not on the travel corridor list will be able to reduce mandatory self isolation from 15 December, by taking a test after five days of self-isolation. If the test is negative, they won't need to isolate any longer.


The government says the move will 'give passengers the confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and only isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test'.


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the new testing strategy 'will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business'.


"By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic," he added.

'Blunt and misguided'


But Clive Wtratten, CEO of the business travel association BTA said today's announcement was 'only a small step towards opening Britain for business'. He added: "These tardy and incomplete recommendations undermine our ability to compete in the global marketplace.


"The government urgently needs to introduce a requirement for all travellers into and out of the UK to have a pre-departure test. It must also give business travel an exemption from the blunt and misguided quarantine measures."


'Step in the right direction'


Flight Centre said it was 'relieved'; FCM Travel and Corporate Traveller described today's announcement as a 'step in the right direction' for the business sector, while ABTA said it 'should help make travel more attractive'.


Virgin Atlantic described it as a 'vital first step' but warned the only way to fully get the travel industry back up and running is a 'robust pre-departure testing regime'.


The announcement of the 'Test to Release' scheme coincides with a new package of financial support for English airports and ground handlers, which will open in the New Year.


The support will be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at £8 million per site, and subject to certain conditions.


Steve Norris, Managing Director of Flight Centre EMEA said: "95% of our customers told us they are willing to take a Covid-19 test if it reduces the quarantine requirement.


"As almost two thirds of our customers have indicated that they plan to travel by air to their next holiday destination, the implementation of this new model of Covid tests will come as a relief to leisure travel brands who are hoping for a strong bounce back after a challenging year.


"Anything that helps facilitate demand for international air travel, when it is safe to do so, is extremely well received by Flight Centre UK and its employees."


Chris Galanty, Global CEO of Flight Centre's business travel divisions FCM Travel Solutions and Corporate Traveller, described Test to Release as a 'welcome, but hugely necessary step for the business travel industry...providing it is implemented promptly and efficiently'.


"We are cautiously optimistic that this announcement will encourage many of FCM's large multinational customers and Corporate Traveller's SME clients to resume business travel. In particular it will give them greater confidence to plan and book trips," he added.


ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said: "The Test to Release scheme in England should help to make overseas travel more attractive and manageable for both holidaymakers and business travellers. We hope that Test to Release will help get people travelling once again."


But he warned: "There is still more work to be done to get more people travelling and to support the recovery of the sector, including having a testing scheme in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the government moving to a regional approach to quarantine and travel advice. It is important that the Test to Release scheme is kept under review, to make sure that advancements in testing are used to further reduce quarantine to as short a period as possible."


Advantage CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said hailed the quarantine reducion as 'finally a step in the right direction'. "It is testament to the tireless lobbying efforts that we as an industry have focused on and it is gratifying to finally be heard by the Government," she said.


However, Julia added: For the travel industry and  travel agents to step firmly on the road to recovery, it is now imperative that Government begins closer collaboration and communicates developments with us in advance.   


"We must have more clarity from Government going forward in order to help travel agents prepare and plan if they are in any way going to benefit from what is traditionally the most lucrative selling period for travel as well as to help businesses plan for their business travel which will contribute significantly to the economic recovery."


Isn't it confusing for holidaymakers?


Which? Travel Editor Rory Boland said: "While the government says it hopes this development will give people more confidence to book a trip to these destinations, it also continues to warn against non-essential travel to those same places through its own Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice. This risks causing confusion as to whether travel to these countries is being encouraged or not.

"People travelling to these countries will find their travel insurance is invalidated, and may risk losing significant sums of money if tour operators interpret this as a green light to resume holidays despite warnings remaining in place, so the government must ensure it coordinates its approach to opening up international travel."

He added: "Which? recently found more than £1 billion in refunds for travel cancelled due to coronavirus was still owed to passengers, so a major overhaul of travel industry rules will be needed before many people feel confident to book their next holiday.


"Holiday companies and airlines must ensure those who cannot travel are allowed to rebook without penalty, while the government must look to strengthen the enforcement of existing protections so passengers can rely on operators to safeguard their money and process refunds swiftly when they are due."


 

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