Removing Portugal from the travel green list will do “untold damage to consumer confidence” and risks sending a message that the UK “remains isolated from the rest of the world”, industry leaders have warned.
Airlines and travel firms reacted with dismay to the latest Government announcement on foreign holidays, with many saying it risked the summer being ruined for the struggling sector.
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said: “Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.
“Everyone wants to protect public health, but the entire point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely. Britain is the worst performing economy in the G7, and in the week that the Prime Minister hosts G7 leaders to launch his Government’s vision of Global Britain, he’s sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.
“If the Government is serious about protecting UK jobs and supporting businesses across the country, rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from ‘green’ countries, and slash the cost and complexity of testing, as other G7 countries are doing.”
Package holiday firm TUI UK was equally scathing, claiming the Government broke promises to the industry.
Andrew Flintham, managing director for TUI UK, said: “This latest announcement is another step back for our industry.
“After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the Government decision to move Portugal straight from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.
“We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a weeks’ notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush back home. They have failed on this promise.”
He added that the UK Government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations and said the industry must see the methodology for the decisions.
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive, said: “It is bitterly disappointing news for our impacted passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the “amber” list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for “green” travel.
“While it is in all of our interests to ensure that we only take forward steps out of the pandemic, we hope that the rest of Europe follows the UK’s speed of public vaccination so that safe and easy travel to and from the UK becomes a reality quickly, particularly as travel between mainland European countries is opening up already.”
Business group the CBI said the move would hit other sectors linked to the travel industry.
John Foster, CBI director of policy, said: “The limited number of destinations on the green list means that businesses across the country are losing out on key links with trading partners just as the rest of the world is opening up.
“Of course, the UK mustn’t jeopardise the strides made through the vaccine programme, but the international travel sector is on its knees and unable to trade its way to recovery.
“Without a successful summer season, the government will need to consider further sector specific support to save jobs and skills essential for future growth.
“Travel policy needs to effectively prevent the spread of Covid from potential ‘red’ list countries, but also safely allow for more travel from lower-risk destinations. This could help boost business travel, fuelling growth by reconnecting firms with global markets.”
Low-cost airline firm Ryanair said in a statement: “As the majority of adults across the UK/EU will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, these travel restrictions will become redundant.
“UK families continue to book for travel this Summer, safe in knowledge that if their plans change so can their booking, with Ryanair’s zero change fee offer on all bookings made before the end of September for travel before 31 December 2021.”
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said moving Portugal to the amber list was a “huge blow” to those currently in the country.
He said: “When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan.
“Yet the Government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing people’s plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK. This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world.”
He added: “While our European fleet is gearing up for summer as European governments open up travel for their citizens, the UK Government is making it impossible for airlines to plan while consumers are left grounded in the UK.”
Simon Cooper, chief executive of the online travel firm On the Beach, said: “Holidaymakers want a sustainable return to normal travel as quickly as possible, and to achieve that, the travel industry must stop scrambling for short term gains.
“Reopening travel too widely and too quickly will increase the likelihood of the meaningful restart we’re all desperately hoping for being disrupted significantly.”
Rory Boland, travel editor with consumer champion organisation Which?, said the Government should take “greater responsibility” around making sure travellers are not left out of pocket.
He said: “Many people who booked holidays to Portugal believing it would be a safe bet are going to now face difficult decisions over whether to travel against Government advice and quarantine on their return, or potentially lose the cost of their holiday.
“Few tour operators and no airlines allow for refunds when a country changes from green to amber, and rebooking very often involves paying more money.
“The Government should take greater responsibility for making sure travellers are not left out of pocket when changes are made to its travel lists.
“A crucial step towards this would be to ensure destinations on the amber and red lists also come with a warning against travel from the FCDO, which should trigger package holiday providers to offer refunds to those who can no longer travel.”