Travel agents expect testing changes to boost consumer confidence

Published on January 5th, 2022 on Travel Weekly

Travel agents expect the government’s relaxation of testing for international travel to boost consumer confidence as it removed a “major barrier” to bookings.

Prime minister Boris Johnson today confirmed that pre-departure tests for those travelling to England would be scrapped from Friday January 7, and that self-isolation and PCR tests on arrival would be ditched in favour of lateral flow tests taken within two days.

Dame Irene Hays, owner of the UK’s largest travel agency Hays Travel, said: “The sense of relief and release from difficult constraints is palpable in head office which is in celebratory mood once again. I am delighted.

“We’ve seen a strong start to January compared to December when confidence levels were damaged and trading was nothing short of horrendous.

“Enquiries in the early days of January were reassuring but today’s news is monumental. People were concerned about isolating before coming into the UK and the expense of the PCR tests when returning.

“It will be transformational for the industry. Clearly 2021 was a challenging year for the industry and the news in December was devastating. Many travel companies will have found that difficult to manage. It will still be difficult for many to make a profit over the last 12 months.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, which represents thousands of travel agencies, said the relaxation of travel restrictions is “of course a positive for the travel industry” and will “boost confidence at what is traditionally the busiest booking period of the year”.

She said: “Our members are currently trading on average at about 50% of 2019 levels and are beginning to see that pent-up demand come through following 20 months of the toughest of trading conditions.

“In order to recover from the decimating impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry and people we must start to see a consistent approach from government in terms of the future relaxation of rules given our highly-vaccinated population.”

Lo Bue-Said warned: “Travel will remain ever complex this year, but if the consumer can rely on less confusing government intervention, a continuation of a more flexible approach from travel suppliers, and the expertise of a human travel agent to help guide them through the booking process from take-off to landing, I am hopeful we will see the industry start to finally bounce back.”

Kirsten Hughes, UK managing director of Travel Counsellors, welcomed the “fantastic news”.

She said: “This measure will boost consumer confidence and removes a major barrier to travel.

“Holidaymakers and business travellers alike, have been very concerned at the thought of being unable to travel home because of a positive test and this has made people think twice about travelling, particularly those wanting to get away imminently.

“Whilst the ultimate aim of everyone in the travel industry is to keep people travelling in the safest way possible, there comes a point where additional restrictions do not play any positive role in managing the levels of cases in the UK and just add an additional layer of bureaucracy, worry and of course cost.”

Hughes said 2022 bookings are “looking extremely positive” and the testing relaxations will “install more confidence and encourage people to book that long-awaited holiday or business trip and perhaps even enjoy some winter sunshine”.

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, which represents more than 1,200 travel businesses, welcomed the “fantastic news for the travel industry”

But he said: “The government is seemingly giving with one hand and threatening to take away with the other” noting that: “On Tuesday we heard the Prime Minister suggest that a Covid booster vaccine will be required for international travel.”

Lewis said: “Consumers will be delighted with the extra savings to be made from today’s announcements, and it will certainly give a confidence boost to those pondering a holiday booking this month, but the uncertainty of a triple-jab ‘travel passport’ is going to cause more confusion.

“We are in favour of vaccinations and we’re asking the government to give us clarity on whether travel will be completely ruled out for those who can’t have a booster jab for whatever reason.”

Alistair Rowland, chief executive for long-haul tour operator Blue Bay Travel and chairman of Abta, said: “The scrapping of the pre-departure test on return to the UK is great news for the industry and will go a long way to boost consumer confidence to travel.

“The pre-departure test was a significant barrier as consumers, quite rightly, feared testing positive abroad and not being able to return to the UK on time, as well as the unknown costs associated with that unhappy situation. We’re also pleased with the move to change post-arrival Day 2 PCR tests to cheaper lateral flow tests.

“The government has finally taken a sensible and proportionate stance, which will help the industry during peaks.”

Daniel Landen, managing director of Protected Trust Services, said members are “rejoicing” at the news.

He said: “Common sense has finally prevailed. Head office phone lines, emails and internal social channels have been off the hook with travel agents and tour operator members thrilled with today’s update. British travellers are ready to travel again and with these latest restrictions being reduced there is a light, and a strong booking season, ahead for UK travel businesses.”