//Clarity needed around ‘air bridges’

Clarity needed around ‘air bridges’

ABTA welcomes idea of reciprocal travel arrangements, but asks for further clarity on wider tourism strategy from government.

Travellers from countries with low Covid-19 infection rates could be able to travel to the UK via “air bridges”, allowing Britons to go the other way, a minister has said.

Grant Shapps, secretary of state for transport, said reciprocal travel arrangements could exist between the UK and countries with an R-number below one – a measure of transmission.

His comments come as details about quarantine proposals at the UK border emerged. The measures, which are expected to cover air, sea and land arrivals, will require travellers to quarantine for 14 days.

However, an anonymous government adviser told the Guardian that the measures, which are likely to be announced in full this week, make little sense at this stage of the pandemic.

“There was really no scientific advice to inform the latest announcement. It also doesn’t really make sense for countries which have lower per capita current Covid case numbers than us; for example, most of the EU,” they said. “That sort of policy only reduces risk in the situation where we have very low case numbers and origin countries have much higher numbers.”

An ABTA spokesperson said: “We welcome the idea of agreeing air bridges with other nations to allow Britons to travel abroad, where appropriate, especially as the summer approaches and countries begin to welcome international travellers.

“ABTA has been clear that measures that limit travel will have a damaging impact on the UK inbound and outbound tourism industry. Quarantine measures or other proposals for exiting the current lockdown must be part of a wider strategy, which is regularly reviewed, including consideration of the FCO’s travel advice, and based on scientific advice to protect public health.  We look forward to seeing full details of the quarantine proposal which the government has indicated will be published shortly.

“There will be pent up demand for holidays which for many of us are an important part of our lives, and it would be helpful if the government could indicate its criteria for the transition from the current FCO advice against non-essential global travel to the re-opening of travel to destinations.”

It has been widely reported that one potential air bridge may be between the UK and Greece. Tourism minister, Harry Theoharis, said that “Greece is exploring and taking into consideration a variety of suggestions and measures in order to achieve  a gradual normalisation of international travel.”

“One of the main objectives is to restore freedom of movement and safe travel even the though the Covid-19 pandemic continues to differ from country to country,” he said. “We feel that this is a time for us to start lifting restrictions and to try to remove as many barriers as possible and we urge other countries, UK included, that as soon as we do that we would welcome reciprocity. So if we don’t impose quarantine for people coming to Greece from the UK from some day onwards, then we would welcome if the UK extended the same thing”​.​

Advantage Travel Partnership’s chief executive officer, Julia Lo Bue-Said, said that more clarity was needed from the government.

“We are supportive of the concept of air bridges as they could provide the first positive step forward the travel industry. If the government is considering the application of air bridges to restart the travel economy in a controlled and supported manner, we ask that the government provides consistent clear messaging and guidelines that both businesses and consumers can understand and follow.

“The strategy needs to be holistic so it works for the many businesses that make up our sector. Clarity and a unified approach will help restore confidence in consumers and those who travel for business,” she added.