How covid tests and norms failed airline and travel industry


  • UK Covid test and travel restrictions are being attacked by the airline and travel bosses.
  • In contrast to the EU, the UK has seen a sharp decline in inbound tourism in 2021.
  • The Government has pledged to go for cheaper lateral flow tests (LFT) instead of PCR tests for incoming passengers soon.

The continuation of travel restrictions and Covid-19 testing requirements in the UK attracted a lot of criticism from airline and travel bosses. Research shows that when other markets were on the path of recovery, there has been a sharp decline in inbound tourism to the UK in 2021.

Coronavirus travel tests were described as profiteering and state-sponsored rip-offs by the director general of the global airline body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh. He raised questions regarding the singling out of the travel sector while the other sectors of the economy were being supported by reducing the majority of the restrictions.

No exact date has been given yet, but potentially around the half-term holiday, the Government has committed to go for the cheaper lateral flow tests (LFT) instead of PCR tests for incoming passengers. LFT kits were available at supermarkets in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands for less than €5, but the prices for LFTs started at £35 in the UK.

According to Walsh, EU was rapidly moving in the right direction after vaccinating its population, unlike the UK. He questioned why testing for already vaccinated people was mandatory while the general population wasn’t facing so many restrictions. A more pragmatic approach has been followed by the UK as compared to many other states, but its approach towards the travel industry can’t be justified on the basis of risk factors.

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At an Aviation Club event in London, Walsh said that he was compelled to pay £58 in a day for two PCR test for an eight-hour visit while the government website of approved providers stated that the final prices could be different. His comments came coupled with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) saying that the UK inbound tourism was impacted more than the majority of countries across the globe. According to WTTC, in contrast to rising inbound travel experienced in other countries in 2021, the UK has experienced a fall of around 50% in the spending by international travellers in 2021 as compared to last year.

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WTTC president Julia Simpson said that with stricter travel restrictions than the rest of Europe, the UK is bound to suffer from huge losses while the global travel and tourism industry recovers. She openly criticised the UK Government at an Abta travel conference in London for creating confusion in the minds of travellers by not decisively announcing any dates for any upcoming changes, such as LFTs. She added that double vaccinated people should be allowed to travel freely, and it’s time for the red list to be dropped now.

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Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said that the research carried out by the travel association shows that people are planning to travel this winter, and the pre-covid levels of travel may be attained in the next one year. He said that the deferment of bookings from the last two years due to the pandemic should be taken as a positive sign as it represents that people are willing to travel again. He called out the Government to reduce the red tape in the travel sector and provide the necessary support to the travel businesses in the next budget, which for some travel firms can prove to be decisive for their success or failure in the industry.

Bottom line

The airline and travel industry has been among the hardest-hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Reducing the travel restrictions and extended support by the Government can bring back the travel industry to the pre-pandemic levels. Harmonisation of travel restrictions is the way forward.