Industry leaders have welcomed confirmation of the easing of quarantine restrictions for fully-jabbed travellers arriving from the US and EU alongside the lifting of a ban on international cruises from England.
But they said more progress was needed in addition to support for the sector as it reopened.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The move is a positive step in the right direction for the travel and aviation industries. We hope this will be followed by the devolved nations too.
“While it remains to be seen if the agreement will be reciprocal and will allow fully vaccinated Brits to travel to the US and EU countries without restrictions, this is good news for the inbound travel market, for Brits living overseas and those vaccinated abroad longing to be reunited with loved ones.”
She added the announcement “provides more confidence among consumers to ensure economic and business recovery – particularly for the travel sector” but said: “This policy should have been adopted months ago.”
Lo Bue-Said added: “The UK outbound travel trade, travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies have a significant role to play in the UK’s economic growth. Whilst this latest news is another step forward it by no means removes all the barriers and obstacles in the way for travellers.
“The next four weeks are critical for the sector and with consumer confidence at an all-time low the travel trade are ready to help consumers navigate the maze that travelling internationally represents.”
Jacqueline Dobson, Barrhead Travel president, also welcomed the news, saying it was “an important piece of the travel recovery puzzle”.
“It will provide our airlines with more confidence and capacity and will ultimately help stabilise demand for both inbound and outbound travel,” she added.
“We now turn to the UK government and urge them to continue to make progress with all areas of international travel including the widening of the green list, consistencies in the traffic light system and reduction in testing costs.”
An Abta spokesperson welcomed the announcements about cruising and quarantine but cautioned: “However, the industry is not out of the woods and there is more that needs to be done to support travel businesses through to recovery.”
The association said the sector needs ongoing furlough and income support schemes, full business rates relief, and consideration of tailored grants schemes; plus progress on making testing more affordable and more destinations added to the green list.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Exemptions for all fully vaccinated travellers is undoubtedly a positive move, offering a lifeline for thousands of businesses reliant on international inbound travel. It also begins to deliver the vaccine dividend for millions more people, for friends and family to reconnect, and for businesses to travel and trade overseas again.
“Ministers should combine this progress with moving more low-risk countries from the amber to green list next week to allow more people to travel safely and with confidence.
“The evidence suggests many more EU countries should go green and this remains the best way to provide passengers with the reassurance to book, along with the removal of onerous testing requirements which are adding hundreds of pounds unnecessarily to the cost of travel.”
Dale Keller, chief executive of Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), said it was the “biggest step” towards rebuilding the international travel sector since the limited lifting of restrictions on May 17.
“This significant reopening must lead the way so that many other low risk countries with well-developed vaccination programmes can be added at the earliest opportunity without waiting until the October review,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the country review due next week should include a revision to the methodology of how countries are allocated as red, amber or green. From August passengers will still have a confusing patchwork of requirements to navigate.”
Iata director general Willie Walsh said the move was “positive, logical and long-overdue” but said it raised questions about the next steps.
“Why is the scope restricted to US and EU instead of open to all those who have been vaccinated? Why are travellers forced to test twice, the second time using expensive PCR tests? What’s the plan to enable unvaccinated people who have tested negative to travel without quarantine? And when will the US reciprocate?” he asked.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “This is a significant and welcome step forward that will be a boost to airports, our inbound visitor economy and the many families who will be able to reunite after a long and difficult period.
“However, there remain considerable challenges for our airports and aviation sector and our road to recovery remains long. We urge the government to work with industry to continue opening up travel by putting more countries on the green list, reduce the cost of testing and provide the much-needed financial support for the difficult months ahead.
“Our airports continue to be hit by the impacts of the pandemic and held back by an overly cautious approach to international travel. Without sector specific financial support our national recovery will be stalled and thousands of jobs put at risk.”
Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive, said: “Our own trials have proved it is quick and easy to check travellers are fully vaccinated and can safely enter the UK, and this step will allow us to reunite loved ones and get Global Britain back in business, giving the economy the vital boost it so badly needs.
“With the UK’s Covid cases falling while vaccinations continue to rise, now is the time for the government to help secure the re-opening of the crucial UK-US travel corridor, move more low-risk amber countries to the green list to allow customers to book with confidence and to review the current expensive testing requirements that are out of step with our neighbours.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “We stand ready to work with government to ensure new rules are smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the transatlantic corridor.
“Recent proof-of-concept trial between Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow and British Airways has demonstrated our readiness to rapidly operationalise an expanded amber policy, with 99% of customers’ vaccine credentials authenticated at the point of departure.
“We now urge UK government to go further and move the US to the UK’s ‘green list’ and for the Biden administration to repeal the 212F proclamation for UK travellers.
“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake.”
Martin Ferguson, vice-president of public affairs for American Express Global Business Travel, agreed, adding: “Today’s announcement that fully vaccinated arrivals from the US and EU will be exempt from quarantine is a welcome boost to the travel industry, trade and the UK’s economic recovery.
“This evidence-based approach is a step in the right direction, and we will continue to work with the UK and US Governments to ensure the safe reopening of vital Transatlantic routes, without overwhelming airlines and Border Force.
“Now that the UK and EU have opened their borders to US travellers, it is vital that the Biden administration reciprocate by lifting the 212(f) restrictions at the earliest possible opportunity. Failing to do so will keep millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic at risk.”
Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick, said: “This is welcome news for those wishing to travel to the UK although the changes may have come too late for many to make bookings this summer.
“The cost of PCR tests remains prohibitive for many and should be replaced by cheaper, quicker lateral flow tests for those who have been double vaccinated, as many other countries already rely on. Double-vaccinated travellers to designated green countries should also not have to take any tests at all.
“The EU and US aviation sectors opened up earlier and are recovering significantly faster, which is why European travel was already at 50% of pre-pandemic levels in June compared to just 16% in the UK, despite our more advanced double vaccination rates. We will continue to lose out on trade, tourism and other economic benefits unless the government removes the remaining unnecessary barriers to travel.
“Travellers also need a stable traffic light list that provides more certainty and plenty of notice of any changes to help restore their confidence to book.”
Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director at Global Travel Collection UK, said: “The waiver of quarantine for fully vaccinated passengers from the EU and US is one of the most significant announcements the corporate travel world has received in our path to recovery. What we need now is a reciprocal deal from the US that acknowledges the success of the UK vaccine programme, allowing fully vaccinated UK travellers entry in return.”