The pushing back of “Freedom Day” by 4 weeks to 19th July, was yet another major blow to outbound tourism, as appears unlikely that the UK Government is going to allow outbound travel, whilst the UK domestic restrictions are in force.
It’s frustrating that having given the outbound travel industry hope at the beginning of the year, with the introduction of a “Traffic Light” system, that this immediately went out the window, with the only mass-market holiday destination i.e Portugal removed after a few short weeks on the green list, creating a stifling “amber blanket” of excessing Covid-19 testing.
Having been seduced into booking a trip to Portugal whilst it was in Green, I decided to go ahead and travel, using the shorter 5-day quarantine, but incurring a whopping £500 extra in testing cost in order to use the “test to release scheme”.
My journey to and from Portugal could not have been smoother, with hardly any hold up at customs and super quick bag delivery, but that’s unsurprising given how few people are travelling at the moment. I share industry fears that the combination of extra Brexit checks, locator forms and fit to fly certification, could slow border control clearance to a snail’s pace.
Portugal itself was a delight! Friendly people, wall to wall sunshine and great food, is a holiday recipe that cannot be beaten. Even with the extra testing costs, the total holiday cost was still better value than a UK break and unlike UK beach’s, there were no crowds.
The UK Governments attitude to outbound travel is clear in the priorities they have set “Track and Trace” staff. When a month ago our daughter caught Covid-19 and we had to quarantine as a family, we received zero phone calls or visits. However, since returning from Portugal we have been hounded with daily phone calls and 2 home visits, to make sure we are quarantining correctly. Given I am double jabbed and have been tested 4 times in the last 10 days, this level of attention just shouts, “pointless politics”.
The Government is clearly split over allowing overseas travel this summer, with the “hawks” constantly quoting the threat of new covid-19 variants. The hawks conveniently ignore 3 key factors;
1. Amber zone Stats. 151 countries have Zero returning customers infected with Covid-19 on return. Why can some of these not be added to the green list?
2. Double Jabbed protection. Less than 1% of people who are double jabbed are being hospitalised if they catch Covid-19 and infection rates are drastically down.
3. Variants of Concern. Current Covid-19 infections in the UK are dominated by the Delta Variant, which is the most infectious variant found to date, so what Variants of concern are we really worried about? It’s also now proven that strict border controls just delay the entry of new variants like the Delta strain and can not prevent it. Just look at Australia and New Zealand. The only route to safety is vaccination and the UK seems to have won this race, so it’s now time to balance protection of life with economic and mental health concerns.
The UK population is fed up with being “locked down” and wants a return to normal, which includes overseas holidays. Some factions in the Government clearly support this and want to allow people who have been double jabbed to travel to green or amber listed countries without having to quarantine on return, if they pass their 72-hour fit to fly and a 2-day PCR tests. This seems a logical and balanced way of reducing risk whilst allowing travel to restart, however, children under 18 have not been double jabbed, so families will not benefit.
It’s unlikely that families will want their children quarantining indoors for 10 days on return from amber countries, even if they are off school and although testing costs will be reduced, they remain expensive for families putting most off travelling. I think the travel industry needs to accept any compromise offered, even if it does in effect create an Adult only market for Summer 21 holidays.
If the Government did show some common sense, it could either make available the currently massively underutilised NHS PCR testing capacity, to families and cover its costs by charging £25 per test or accept Antigen testing for children in the same way it does in schools.
However, so far logic has been in short supply, so start updating your marketing to focus on an Adult only Summer 21 holiday season starting from July 19th.
Freedom Day for families is likely to exclude overseas holidays, unfortunately.