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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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Yorkshire Post column: The Travel Industry needs greater clarity

June 24, 2021

As we recover from the pandemic, the key word to remember is confidence. After months of being told to stay at home, the public needs to have the confidence to go out. After months of treading water, businesses need the confidence to invest.

Yet, despite being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, we appear to be intent on squandering this advantage and acting as if we were still at the peak of the pandemic. Whenever the scientific evidence suggests that restrictions can be safely eased, the goalposts are moved.

Lockdowns have had a hard impact on most sectors of the economy, but the travel sector has been left especially devastated. What makes things even worse though is the continued uncertainty.

Few would dispute the need for travel restrictions on countries where concerning new variants of the virus are spreading out of control, but the Government’s traffic light system goes far beyond this, imposing burdensome restrictions on many popular European destinations with lower Covid case rates than our own.

The Government assure us that the allocation of destinations is made according to a strict formula based on factors such as case and vaccination rates as well as the prevalence of variants of concern. In Parliament, I have called for full transparency, so that the industry and holidaymakers can see for themselves the likelihood of any changes in allocation.

We were also promised a ‘green watch list’ to provide fair warning before a destination is moved to the amber column. In the absence of this, we are left wondering how exactly the Government arrives at their decisions and the implications of this uncertainty were borne out earlier this month with holidaymakers scrambling to return from Portugal after its abrupt change in status.

As Theresa May put it in the House of Commons just the other day, we are getting to the stage where the Government needs to decide if it wants a functioning travel industry in this country. If it does want the industry to recover, it needs to help businesses plan ahead, as given the nature of foreign travel the rules applicable next year are at least as important as those applicable next week. To that end, there have been encouraging reports in the national press that an announcement is imminent on scrapping quarantine rules for double vaccinated people returning from amber list countries, effective from August.

This is of course to be welcomed, but one wonders what has taken us so long given that this is now established policy in countries with less successful vaccination campaigns such at the US and France. The Government needs to be bold and allow people to make the most of the change.

Children going on family holidays should be covered by the status of their fully vaccinated parents for instance. In order to increase confidence to book, it should be introduced without delay and in any event no later than the start of the school holidays in July. Delaying further into August risks making this another wasted summer for the travel industry and will exclude most young people from foreign holidays this year.

The Government is in danger of getting on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue. Confidence in the traffic light system has waned as people have seen that rather than offering a gradual increase in the choice of destinations, it has only served to further restrict them. People can see that we are objectively in a better place in terms of the pandemic than last summer, yet their ability to travel is now more constrained. They look at crowds being able to gather in football stadiums and politicians from around the world mingling at the G7 summit and wonder where is the consistency in the Government’s position.

The travel sector in this country is significant and diverse, from local travel agents in my York Outer constituency to employees of regional airports just down the road at Leeds-Bradford. For them the recovery has to start now, they simply cannot afford to wait until all conceivable threats from Covid have passed. The Government needs to recognise this and do everything it can to instil confidence. From providing a meaningful and stable choice of green list destinations, to bringing in vaccine passports for those on the amber list, the Government needs to get its act together and lead the way.