Is it damaging UK outbound travel to USA? Yes.
As we prepped for publication of this issue of INBOUND, the non-stop number one travel and tourism story for both the UK travel trade and travel consumers was what is going to happen either today or tomorrow when the government is supposed to announce the results of its review of the Traffic Light System for international travel. The last review was less than a month ago, with the results announced on August 26th.
The system uses the traffic light colors of red, amber and green to indicate the degree of safety each color is supposed to ensure. Green makes it the easiest for Brits to go and come. Amber is the color which currently assigned to the USA and most other countries. The third color is meant to tell the potential traveler to stay home because the country that you want to visit is too much of a COVID-19 virus risk. (Meanwhile, for Brits, the U.S. regulations do not permit British nationals travel into the USA if they have been in the UK in the previous 14 days. This rule also applies to countries in most of the EU, including Ireland, as well as Brazil, Iran, China, India and South Africa.)*
The public speculation in the British press varies. One view is that amber and green will be merged into a single color, and that red will remain as is. Another view suggests that the whole system could be scrapped by Oct. 1.
● Right Decision Could Buoy the UK Market and its Suppliers: Were such an announcement of such today or tomorrow, it would have a tremendous impact on the conduct of business next week at IPW in Las Vegas. One has to assume that the United States will ease its own CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) requirements—an action not to be taken for granted at all.
September 30th will also mark the end of the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the program implemented by the British government during the darkest days of the pandemic that broke out a year-and-a-half ago in which the government paid 60 percent of wages up to a maximum cap figure for the hours an employee recipient was on furlough. Travel trade leaders were harshly critical of a government press release that seemed to praised the success of the program. The release pointed out that in July the number of furloughed workers stood at 1.6 million—down 340,000 from almost 2 million at the end of June and a peak of nearly 9 million at the height of the pandemic in May last year. Trade leaders supported an extension of the program.
The two developments have led to some very loud and angry rhetoric on the part of travel and tourism industry leaders. Here are a couple of samples of what one reads, sees or hears:
—Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) said at an event marking the centenary of the organization, that she expects international travel rules to be eased when ministers review the much-criticized traffic light system this month: “I do think there will be changes to the restrictions that are in place for green countries. I am confident that more things will happen.”
Dooey added, “It has been a barrier, and people are just not confident in booking to go anywhere that’s amber in case it goes red … “We need to see a return to international flying,” Dooey said. “The fear factor driven by people in power now needs to stop … Hopefully, we’ll scrap the traffic light system, because it’s not worked at all.”
Steven Freudmann, chairman of the Institute of Travel and Tourism, which convened its annual conference on Sept. 11, lambasted images on television of long queues and delays at airports during the previous weekend, calling them a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment.”
“It’s simply unacceptable. We are supposed to be now, post-Brexit, a world leading country for trade,” he told the British trade publication, Travel Gossip, adding, “Images from over the weekend show the ‘welcome’ that we give to people coming into this country. It’s an embarrassment and, along with the traffic-light system and testing, the queues at the airport are a real disgrace. It’s an irony.”
“I’m not blaming the airports. I’m blaming Border Force and the Government’s provision to cope with the current crisis. Border Force is sadly under-supported and all the form filling and bureaucracy just adds to the wait times,” Freudmann said. He added: “We communicate with the Government and we always get polite replies, but sadly it seems that our recommendations on how to improve travel – and support the industry – just fall on deaf ears.”