‘Failing’ test to release is Government ‘letting down the the travel sector’ warns expert

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The travel industry has been devastated by the impact 2020 has had on travel. Yet, when the Government’s “test to release” scheme was announced in November, it offered hope for the sector which was brought to a halt by Novembers second lockdown.

Just hours into the scheme, though, demand was so high for tests which would allow holidaymakers to shorten their mandatory quarantine from 10 days to five, many providers were forced to halt services.

According to Craig Ashford, director of marketing at travel agency TravelUp, it is just another example of Boris Johnson’s Government “letting down the travel sector”.

He spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk, to share his take on the ongoing pandemic’s impact on the travel sector, and ways he believes the Government could provide further support.

“The tourism and outbound travel industries are no strangers to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told Express.co.uk.

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“Across the globe, international and domestic travel has been brought to its knees by the far-reaching impacts of coronavirus, and the ramifications are no clearer than in the United Kingdom.

“In the last few months alone, we have seen the collapse of established household names such as STA, the loss of over 40 percent of all jobs at Gatwick airport, and multi-national airlines teetering on the brink of administration.

“To make things worse, travel agencies and airlines were neither consulted nor pre-warned about the last month’s lockdown or new tier rulings, leaving them facing another stream of cancellations and fighting for survival.”

He continued: “During the November lockdown, travel agencies and airlines were once again neither consulted nor pre-warned about the lockdown rulings, leaving businesses facing another stream of cancellations.”

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Launched on December 15, ‘test to release’ was due to be the thing to help travellers resume safe journeys without the need for long periods of isolation.

Sadly, the course did not run smooth.

“Even the government’s new ‘test to release’ scheme, which aims to reduce quarantine periods and restore consumer confidence, does not talk sufficiently to industry views,” said Mr Ashford.

“Launched on December 15, the scheme has also fallen apart within days, with a number of the 11 testing firms already announcing that they cannot meet demand.”

Big-names in the travel industry, including Heathrow Airport and British Airways, have pushed for passenger testing ahead of flights.

Pre-departure testing is “key to opening up travel corridors and reducing quarantine times” according to Mr Ashford.

He continued: “We have been speaking to numerous firms about supplying tests. But you are not sure who to trust.

“Loads of firms have popped up offering testing to cash in on the demand. But it is hard to identify who are the good ones.

“The government approved list was supposed to have helped to solve that problem. But there are only 11 providers named.”

What’s more, though the scheme aims to help travellers reduce quarantine, Mr Ashford says results simply aren’t delivered fast enough.

“Even if the scheme does get up and running, the UK’s satellite test centres are notoriously slow, so testing on day five would still force travellers into isolation for a week or more,” he said.

“It would make far more sense to test travellers prior to departure.”

There are things, however, Mr Ashford thinks the Government could do to help the travel industry regain some of its strength, even amid the ongoing virus outbreak.

“For some, it may be too late to reverse the damage, but changes are essential to ensure we limit how far-reaching the damage becomes,” he explained.

“Along with business rate relief, lower rents for high street agents and a ‘trust account model’ for airlines, we also need the urgent implementation of a cheap and efficient pre-departure testing policy if we are to pull many businesses back from the edge.”

Despite this, he feels the Government “has failed to deliver on almost every level”.

He said: “As the travel industry cries out for reassurance, certainty and support, it has faced ever-changing regulations and setbacks this year.

“From last-minute lockdowns to blank travel bans and unworkable quarantine policies, it is no exaggeration to say the government’s egregious mishandling of coronavirus has come close to decimating the travel industry this year.

“Certainly, the challenge of balancing public health and economic recovery is tremendous, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, but as we attempt to move towards a period of coalescence, the travel industry needs to be given some breathing space and clarity on regulations in order to recover.”

Instead, the expert believes transparency and clarity are necessary if we are to see consumer confidence and strong travel links once more.

“I can say with complete sincerity that the complexities this Government has faced this year would not be wished upon anyone,” he concluded.

“Yet, if we are to recover consumer confidence in travelling for 2021, it’s time consumers and industry leaders felt like the government was on their side.

“Along with clearer warnings and guidance on quarantine rules and consumer rights, I would urge the Government to consider reforming the airline refund process through a Trust Account Model and ensure that, in the event of a second wave, the refund problem does not persist and grow to the point of no return.”

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