Industry leaders shocked at Portugal green list blow

Industry leaders have expressed shock and anger at the government’s decision to remove Portugal from the green list of destinations open to travel without quarantine.

The government has yet to issue a formal announcement of the decision but senior industry figures were briefed by the Department for Transport earlier today.

There had been hopes the green list would be expanded. Instead, it’s understood there have been no additions and Portugal, the only significant holiday destination on the list, has been removed.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “This shock decision to add Portugal to the amber list is a huge blow to those currently in Portugal and those who have booked to be reunited with loved ones or take a break this summer.”

He insisted: “It simply isn’t justified by the science.

“To add no more countries to the green list when most of Europe’s infection rates are on a downward trend and many places [have] infection rates below that of the UK, such as the Balearics and Malta,  makes no sense.”

Lundgren argued: “When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan.

“The government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing peoples’ plans into chaos with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel.

“This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world. While our European fleet is gearing up for summer as European governments open up travel, the UK government is making it impossible for airlines to plan.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.

“Everyone wants to protect public health, but the point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely.”

Holland-Kaye argued “Britain is the worst performing economy in the G7 and in the week the Prime Minister hosts G7 leaders, he is sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.

“Rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from green countries and slash the cost and complexity of testing.”

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate agreed, saying: “It is bitterly disappointing news for our passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the amber list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for green travel.”

However, Wingate noted: “It is in all of our interests to ensure we only take forward steps out of the pandemic. We hope the rest of Europe follows the UK’s speed of public vaccination so that safe and easy travel to and from the UK becomes a reality quickly, particularly as travel between mainland European countries is opening up already.”

He added: “We remain optimistic that summer holidays abroad will be a reality.”

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade described the decision as “a body blow” and said: “Despite vaccinating millions more people in the UK and Portugal we have gone backwards since the original country list was published.

“The vaccine dividend we had built up has now been eroded and the UK will fall further behind the rest of the EU.”

He insisted: “This is no way to treat passengers. The government promised a green watch list to avoid this very scenario of people being stranded overseas – where is it?

“This decision adds to the belief that ministers don’t actually want international travel this summer. If that is the case they should be open and tell us, and put in place longer-term support measures for an industry now on its knees.”

Tui UK managing director Andrew Flintham said: “This is another step back for our industry.

“After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.

“We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a week’s notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush home. They have failed on this promise.”

Flintham added: “Unlike other European countries and despite multiple requests, the government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations.

“We must see the methodology so we can help our customers and plan our operations accordingly.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Today’s announcement has effectively closed UK borders. It’s a devastating day for the travel industry. Removing Portugal from the green list will destroy any confidence in international travel.

“It is imperative now that the government extends the furlough scheme for our sector. We are being prevented from operating on any scale whatever and need targeted support if we’re to survive.”

World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) senior vice-president Virginia Messina expressed “huge disappointment” and suggested the government had “once again cold-shouldered travel and tourism”.

Messina said: “There are so many countries with similar vaccination levels and low infection rates as the UK, such as the US and Malta, to which travel should be restored immediately.”

She said moving Portugal to the amber list “will crush the confidence to travel, depress forward bookings and deter holidaymakers” and insisted: “The WTTC believes the time is right for the UK to open the doors to safe travel and allow all those who are fully vaccinated or can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to travel freely.”

Henry Smith MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, described the decision as a “hammer blow”.

Smith said: “This will come as a devastating blow to our embattled aviation, travel and tourism industries and reinforces [the fact] that the current framework for international travel was a restart in name only.

“Our world class aviation industry is on its knees and our overly cautious approach risks being the final straw for the many businesses.”

He warned: “The government must avoid a total summer shutdown and ensure key markets reopen on June 28 or risk further job losses and pushing businesses to the brink.

“If they remain unwilling to open up international travel even to low risk nations, they must urgently work with aviation, travel and tourism businesses to agree a full and comprehensive package of financial support.”

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