Foreign Office travel warnings have become “totally irrelevant,” according to leading adventure tour specialists.
Jonny Bealby, founder of Wild Frontiers, told The Independent: “The Foreign Office was renowned for its nuanced approach to its travel advice.
“Although we have had disagreements regarding their advice to certain regions of countries we regularly visit, we did at least have faith that their advice had been thought about.
“But now with this totally unnecessary near-blanket ban, across entire continents, it has become totally irrelevant.”
The FCDO – as it is now known – warns that the vast majority of overseas countries present an “unacceptably high risk” to British travellers because of the prevailing levels of Covid-19.
The Foreign Office urges against travel to countries such as the Netherlands and Austria that are, by all other measures, very low risk for UK visitors.
The government and the Joint Biosecurity Centre focus on a narrow measure of coronavirus infections to decide if a country is high or low risk: a nation’s new cases per 100,000 citizens in a seven-day spell.
When the number reaches 20, the nation is deemed to be dangerous – though not so risky that holidaymakers must come home immediately.
The UK is currently at 15 on that measure, with Austria on 22 and the Netherlands and Portugal on 23.
When the Department for Transport adds a country to the list of more than 160 nations from which arrivals to the UK must quarantine, the Foreign Office warns against all but essential travel at the same time.
Danny Callaghan, chief executive of the Latin American Travel Association, said: “People are looking at Foreign Office advice and seeing it as redundant.
“The travel trade are rapidly losing faith in that advice.”
The FCDO regards every nation in Africa as too dangerous for British travellers, even though countries such as Tunisia and Rwanda have been given quarantine exemption by the European Union because of their low case numbers.
Tunisia’s rate of new cases is barely half that of the UK.
Paul Goldstein, a travel industry veteran and co-owner of Kicheche Safari Camps in Kenya, said: “With their obsession over Covid-19 rates, they have written off the whole continent of Africa.
“It shows an utter lack of understanding of the issues and indeed of geography.”
Before the coronavirus crisis, Foreign Office advice was always acted upon by the mainstream travel industry. If the department warned against travel to a particular country – often in response to a terrorist attack – holiday firms would immediately stop operating trips and set about bringing customers home.
But with the UK government warning against travel to popular and generally low-risk countries such as France and Spain, big firms have been openly selling trips that go against Foreign Office advice.
British Airways is selling same-day departures to southern France, with a week’s holiday in a hotel in Cannes, for as little as £347 per person, and a long weekend in Palma, Mallorca, for £312. Prices include flights from Heathrow.
The obligation to quarantine is not directly mentioned, although there is a link to the relevant government advice on the home page of BA’s website.
It is customary for airlines to place responsibility for knowing and observing current legal requirements on passengers themselves.
The Association of British Insurers warns: “Travelling to countries against Foreign Office advice is likely to invalidate your travel insurance.”
But increasingly, travellers to Europe are relying on the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) scheme – which remains in effect until the end of 2020.
Insurance policies for travel to countries against Foreign Office advice are also becoming more easily available.
The Foreign Office tells travellers: “The purpose of our travel advice is to provide objective information and advice to help you make better-informed decisions about foreign travel.
“Any decision to travel to, stay in or leave a country is for you to take on your own responsibility on the basis of the best available information from our travel advice and other sources. The government can’t make these decisions for you.
“We know our travel advice can have a knock-on effect on trade and political considerations, but we don’t let this determine the advice we give. The safety of British nationals is our main concern.”