Rank all western Europe nations as low risk and provide tests for £10, demands Great Rail Journeys boss

Simon Calder
·3-min read
Departing soon? Many European rail tours begin with a Eurostar journey from London St Pancras (Simon Calder)
Departing soon? Many European rail tours begin with a Eurostar journey from London St Pancras (Simon Calder)

A leading travel industry figure has called for all of western Europe to be placed on the low-risk green list when the government’s “traffic light” system for international travel begins.

Peter Liney, chief executive of Great Rail Journeys, told The Independent that companies need certainty about where they will be able to send holidaymakers this summer.

“You can’t run the business on speculation in the media about what countries will be in green,” he said.

Mr Liney was speaking ahead of the government revealing which countries are in which of three “traffic light” categories in terms of return to the UK.

At present holidays abroad are illegal, under legislation intended to reduce number of people coming into the UK.

When international travel restarts, which is currently planned for 17 May, each nation will be assigned to red, amber or green. Only the last category will not require quarantine on return back in the UK – though they will still need to pay for tests before departure to the UK and after arrival.

Speculation in the travel industry is that only a small number of short-haul nations will be included, comprising Gibraltar, Iceland, Israel and possibly Malta – with Portugal as a outside possibility.

“Malta and Israel doesn’t save the travel industry,” the rail holiday boss said: “I want western Europe to be green and I want tests for a tenner.”

The government says it will reveal which countries are on which list early in May.

The aviation minister, Robert Courts, told the Transport Select Committee: “I anticipate that in the early part of May we will be able to give some more detail into which category each country will fall.”

Mr Liney said that the decision will be made so late that “even if they say on 3 May all of Europe is going to be green,” he would not try to run the planned programme for that month.

“Say they say on 3 May all of Europe is green, the whole of Europe is open. I’ve still lost all of May.”

“You can’t run a business on speculation in the media as to which countries will be green,” he said. Mr Liney called for “a very clear list of countries” to be revealed, with all the key western European destinations on the green list.

“Our customer tell us that amber is a meaningless status. If the government says ‘amber’ they won’t go.”

Great Rail Journeys caters mainly for older travellers, and the vast majority of customers will have had both coronavirus vaccinations by the summer.

“People are not putting down money to go to Europe this summer. They are in this strange world. They’re neither in not out.

“They’re very nervous. They don’t want to get stuck in some crazy quarantine situation.

“What they saw last year were those grandstanding weekly announcements where countries just went into quarantine overnight.”

In a bid to reduce the chance of holidaymakers being caught by a change in status, the government has promised a “green watchlist” of countries that are at risk of changing to amber or red.

Mr Liney also called for the price of tests for returning holidaymakers to be cut. “Someone somewhere is making a vast amount of money on testing,” he said.

The last time Great Rail Journeys made any money, he said, was in October 2019.

“We had almost no business at all last summer, and what we did run was UK – about five or 10 per cent of our business,” said the chief executive.

During the coronavirus pandemic, operators of international rail journeys face significant obstacles because of the number of frontiers they cross.

A “Glacier Express and Rhine Cruise” trip offered by Great Rail Journeys next month includes Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. It uses Eurostar, which is currently operating only two trains per day and heavily in debt.

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