U.K. Reopens Travel to 12 Locations as Tourist Hotspots Miss Out - BLOOMBERG
- Portugal is only major European leisure market on ‘green list’
- Minister says most nations don’t measure up to safety criteria
Britain will permit relatively open leisure travel to just 12 nations and territories including Portugal as it seeks to restart tourism while keeping control over the coronavirus pandemic.
A legal ban on international leisure trips will be eased from May 17, the Department for Transport confirmed on Friday. Return journeys from approved countries will require Covid-19 tests but no period of quarantine.
Also on the “green list” with Portugal and its island provinces of Madeira and the Azores are Israel, Iceland, the Faroes, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Australia, together with the British territories of Gibraltar and the Falklands. There’s no place for the European holiday hotspots of Spain, Greece and France, and trans-Atlantic trips vital to some airlines remain on hold.
With the relaxation of border controls, the U.K. has put itself at the leading edge of attempts to return tourism to normal. The resumption of travel will also give an economc boost after the country rolled out vaccinations faster than the European Union following its split from the bloc. Still, the limited reopening drew a mixed response from travel firms and was dismissed as “very disappointing and frankly not worth commenting on” by International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh.
“The only route out of this pandemic is a careful, prudent and responsible one,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a Downing Street briefing. “The reason there aren’t more places on the list is there aren’t more places that are in the fortunate position that the U.K. has got itself in.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to protect hard-won gains after Britain suffered some of the highest global death rates earlier in the crisis. The list will be revised every three weeks as infection rates change and inoculations gather pace elsewhere.
The reopening of the vacation destinations of Portugal and Madeira will provide some cheer for short-haul airlines and travel firms, though only the latter is fully open right now. Several other approved destinations also have tight limits on incoming passengers.
British Airways Chief Executive Officer Sean Doyle welcomed the U.K. plan and said extra flights to Portugal’s Algarve holiday coast had been added by the carrier, while calling for more markets to be reopened before the end of June.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. called the development an important step but said the government had been “overly cautious” and that there’s no reason the U.S. shouldn’t be immediately added to the green list. Its concern was echoed by EasyJet Plc and the British Airline Pilots Association.
Under the new “traffic-light” system, destinations seen as having a moderate risk are allocated to an “amber” list, requiring passengers entering Britain to self-isolate for 10 days, while those from high-risk “red” countries must quarantine in a hotel for the same period.
Shapps said people shouldn’t visit red-list countries except in the most pressing circumstances, and also discouraged them from flying to amber nations. Britain will “turn the key slowly” in adding new locations and others will be placed on watch if there are concerns about infections, he said.
The U.K. red list has meanwhile been expanded to more than 40 territories, including Turkey, which is due to host this year’s Champions League soccer final featuring two English teams. Shapps said fans shouldn’t travel and that the match could alternatively be hosted in Britain.
London Heathrow airport chief John Holland-Kaye said the government had made “a positive start to reunite families, boost international trade and allow overseas holidays,” while cautioning that delays at the immigration booths that have stretched to more than six hours must be addressed with “every desk staffed at peak times.”
Holland-Kaye said last month that Spain and Greece, both among the most popular holiday destinations for Britons, could be green-lighted for June and July respectively, and that he was hopeful U.S. routes would reopen soon, at least for Americans visiting the U.K.
The Falklands reopening includes the other British south Atlantic territories of South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, while entry to Israel includes the whole of Jerusalem.
— With assistance by Emily Ashton
(Adds response from travel companies starting in fourth paragraph)