Members of the UK’s travel industry have reacted to the news that the Government will make an announcement about airport testing "in the coming days".
More details are expected to be released this afternoon in a government address, but so far testing trials are expected to start at Heathrow in the next few weeks, with a coronavirus testing facility on stand-by at the London airport.
The upcoming testing announcement was mentioned by Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the Conservative party conference on October 3. As well as the promise of further details, Barclay told Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye airport that testing was a "key priority".
Mr Barclay also suggested that there might be a two-pronged approach, noting business travellers will have different needs to tourists. "There are a number of issues within the wider question of testing," he said.
For many within the travel industry, the arrival of testing at airports is a welcome relief. The aviation industry, alongside Telegraph Travel, has long been pushing for airport testing to be introduced as a way of reducing the amount of time people will have to spend in quarantine after arriving in the UK from one of the many countries on the "red list" of travel restrictions.
Concerns over the financial impact on the struggling travel industry have only risen as more countries have been removed from the list of approved travel corridors – Poland, Turkey and Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba were the latest to be cut this week.
“Having to quarantine for two weeks on return to the UK is damaging people’s confidence in travel,” said a spokesperson from ABTA, “and we believe testing would go some way to alleviating people’s worries.”
“Testing offers governments the confidence to allow aviation to restart and to protect both public health and the thousands of jobs at risk in the industry,” agreed Chris Goater, IATA’s assistant director of corporate communications, while Tim Williamson, customer director at holiday company Responsible Travel, said that “airport tests represent a far more common-sense approach than blunt quarantine measures.”
All have been clear that the ball is now firmly in the Government’s court. “It is now for the UK government to take action,” said Goater. The feelings of the industry have been made plain, and it waits for affirmative action on the Government’s side.
Scepticism remains, however, with the many delays and U-turns from the Government during Covid times providing little security around what to expect. "We hope this is welcome news and not another anti-climax given the lack of robust response to date,” said Nick Burnett, the director of Cerulean Health, a provider of Covid-19 tests.
Calling the overall positive direction around testing “welcome news”, Sonia Davies, CEO at Scott Dunn travel agency, also spoke of the Government’s “knee-jerk” approach to country travel restrictions, which “has left our industry on its knees and at risk of collapse.”
Others fear any solid change to current restrictions around air travel will simply come too late. “With quarantine rules changing all the time, many people are simply now put off by air travel and the restrictions imposed,” said travel expert Saj Ahmad, of StrategicAero Research.
These concerns will hopefully be unfounded. Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy, The PC Agency, expects positive news: “I know that the Government has been working for some weeks on a testing solution for travellers into and out of the UK.”
“The policy that’s due to be announced will avoid further pressure on the NHS and put more of the onus for the cost of a test on the passenger. This will enable hotels, tour operators and airlines to offer pricing with tests included, making it easier for travellers to buy an all-inclusive travel package.”
With many speculating on the exact details of the testing strategy to be announced, Charles shared that he “doesn’t believe there will be too much focus on departure testing, apart from a possible trial between Heathrow and New York.
“The Government is not as worried about people departing the UK with coronavirus; it is more focused on preventing any infections entering the UK.”
Testing will be critical to the industry’s recovery, but many already have their eye to the future. ABTA emphasised the “importance of the global advisory against non-essential travel being lifted”, pushing for a return to “travel advice for individual countries based on the risk to travellers in each destination.”
For now, the industry waits for an update, ready for action.
“We are ready when the Government is,” said Alison FitzGerald, COO of City Airport. “Passengers are too – 88 per cent of business leaders surveyed said testing would increase their confidence to travel.
“We await the Government's decision and stand ready to work with them on its delivery."