“The government needs to wake up to the damage its policies are doing to the UK travel industry and the impact they will have on the wider economic recovery,” Travel Association CEO Mark Tanzer said in a statement. “A diminished holiday industry is a diminished aviation industry with fewer routes and fewer flights. That’s not how you achieve a global Britain,” he added.
Despite one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, the UK government has kept in place a range of travel requirements for visitors and Brits wishing to leave the country.
Travelers are required to take costly coronavirus tests before departure and upon return to England, even if they are fully vaccinated and traveling from countries deemed as low risk for coronavirus by the government. Anyone arriving from a high risk country is required to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense.
By comparison, EU citizens who are double vaccinated have been able to travel within Europe without the need to test for months, according to the Travel Association. “The government’s overly cautious travel requirements have led to the UK trailing behind its European competitors,” it added.
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Heathrow was Europe’s busiest airport, welcoming a record 80.9 million passengers in 2019.
It now ranks behind major rivals including Amsterdam’s Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Frankfurt International, as well as smaller airports in Turkey and Russia.
Passenger numbers were down 71% in August versus the same month in 2019, and cargo volumes were 14% weaker. Some EU competitors reached pre-pandemic cargo volumes at the end of 2020, according to Heathrow Airport.
Data from Airports Council International Europe shows that Heathrow welcomed fewer than 3.9 million passengers in the first half of this year, a 90% reduction on 2019.
These numbers do not bode well for Britain’s ability to recover its status as the tenth most popular destination worldwide for international tourist arrivals in 2019. It was also the world’s fourth largest spender on tourism that year, trailing only Germany, the United States and China, and indicating a high number of outbound travelers, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Heathrow and the Travel Association have called on the UK government to scrap coronavirus testing for fully vaccinated travelers when it reviews international travel requirements on October 1.
They also want the current “traffic light” system reviewed and simplified. The system classes countries as either red, amber or green for coronavirus with differing rules in place for each category.
“The current traffic light system is an outlier and is delaying the government’s global Britain ambitions, handing rivals a competitive advantage while the UK loses market share,” Heathrow Airport said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said the government’s “top priority” is to protect public health and that it regularly reviews the traffic light system.
“We recognize the challenging times facing the travel sector, which is why we have committed around £7 billion ($9.7 billion) of support by September 2021 and continue to work with industry to help them navigate this difficult period,” the spokesperson added.
The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated in July that the the lack of inbound international visitors to the United Kingdom was costing the economy £639 million ($889 million) a day.
“2021 is in danger of being no better than the last [year] for the travel and tourism sector [in the United Kingdom], despite the incredibly successful vaccine rollout,” WTTC president Julia Simpson said in a statement earlier this month.