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Published on Friday, December 4, 2020

Disappointment as only 'high value' business travellers exempt from quarantine rules

Members of the corporate travel community have expressed dismay after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said only 'high value' business travellers returning to England will be exempt from the quarantine rules from Saturday.

He said they will no longer have to self isolate from 4 am on 5 December, even after returning from a country that is not on the government's travel corridor.

Announcing the move, Shapps said it will 'allow more travel to support the economy and jobs'.

The government later clarified its advice to say it applied to 'business travellers who meet a set of required criteria'.

"From 4am on Saturday 5 December, individuals undertaking specific business activity which would deliver a significant benefit to the UK economy - including activity that creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs - will no longer need to self-isolate when travelling or returning from non-exempt countries," it said.

"Individuals will only be exempt when undertaking the specific business activity and will only be able to meet with others as required by that specific activity. Further information will be available on when these exemptions come into force.

"Exemptions will also come into force at the same time for domestic and international performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists, and recently signed elite sportspersons, ensuring that industries which require specific, high talent individuals who rely on international connections can continue to complete their work."

Clive Wratten, CEO of the BTA, said: "The announcement that Government-selected categories of business travellers returning to the UK are exempt from quarantine is a step in the right direction.

"However, business travel takes many forms and all should be exempt.

"Engineers, humanitarian workers, retail buyers and many other professionals travelling for work are all crucial to the UK economy."

Abby Penston, CEO of Focus Travel Partnership, a business travel consortium for the independent and SME sector, said: "It was good to see the Transport Secretary's tweet that business travellers will be exempt from quarantine. It is exactly what the business travel sector needs at this time and is welcome.

"But there is a catch - it only applies to 'high value' business travellers. We represent 60 business travel management companies in the SME sector who typically turn over £1 billion a year and look after the travel arrangements of thousands of business travellers from all industry sectors including oil rig workers, construction engineers, charity workers and manufacturers as well as people within the arts, media and journalism.

"Unfortunately the new rule does not include those in middle management or even those representing small businesses, which fuel this economy and will be key to unlocking recovery."

Chris Galanty, Global CEO of Flight Centre business travel divisions FCM Travel Solutions and Corporate Traveller, also welcomed the news, but said many business travellers not considered 'high value' by the government's criteria, have been excluded.

"The Transport Secretary's announcement that 'high value' business travellers will be exempt from quarantine is welcome news and a major step in the right direction for getting business travel and the economy moving.

"We have been urging the government for several months to recognise the value that business travel brings to the UK economy by exempting business travellers from quarantine, so it is gratifying to see that our industry is being heard.

"This decision will certainly unlock travel for business travellers at management and C-suite level who are responsible for over 50 employees particularly at FCM's multinational clients and Corporate Travellers larger SME customers.

"Both FCM and Corporate Traveller have clients in media, entertainment and TV production so the fact that business travellers in these sectors are exempt from quarantine will encourage them to resume travel.

"But the criteria for 'high value' still means that many business travellers, who are vital for the successful operation of their company, will still need to quarantine. We need to see measures in place that facilitate safe travel by any employee who needs to travel for business purposes."

Earlier, Advantage Travel Partnership urged Shapps to clarify the definition of 'high-value business travellers in order that our TMCs can hit the ground running and advise their clients accordingly'.

"Time and again, the hospitality industry has been afforded support and flexibility with regards to Covid-19 restrictions, not least currently whereby business lunches are permitted," it said.

"It's about time that business travel, worth £220bn to the UK economy, can also benefit from appropriate flexibility and support from the government to ensure no more time is wasted with regards to the recovery."

Advantage CEO Julia Lo-Bue Said added: "Last night's announcement is a positive, small step forward for business travel, but unfortunately doesn't go far enough to support the sector giving the limitations on the exemptions.

"Individuals will only be exempt based on certain criteria - which is only going to add a level of complication for our TMCs as this will be so difficult to quantify.

"Business travel plays a key role in maintaining critical functions for companies of all sizes across many different industries from agriculture to construction.  It would be interesting to understand how the government will measure the criteria they have determined such as 'high talented individual' and what metrics they have used to produce this criteria and what consultation with industry has taken place.

"It's clear that the only way to ensure appropriate risk mitigation is to test travellers prior to departure rather than an arbitrary measure around what the government determines as a 'reduced risk of domestic transmission' based purely on the size of the contract a business traveller is negotiating."

Social media commentators immediately questioned why, if a country was deemed unsafe by the government, the risk for business travellers - and wider community when they return - was any less than those travelling for pleasure.

No countries were added or removed from the travel corridor.

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