Travel management companies are reporting an immediate jump in bookings after the Government announced that fully-vaccinated travellers arriving from overseas into England will no longer have to take Covid tests.
The new rules, coming into effect from 4am on February 11, will also be relaxed for unvaccinated travellers. Although they will no longer have to take a day eight test, they will still need to take a pre-departure test and another within two days of their arrival.
All travellers will still need to fill in a passenger locator form, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said these would be made “simpler and easier” to complete, admitting the forms were “incredibly complicated”.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet announced if they will follow suit.
Announcing the plans, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “What we’re doing on travel is to show that this country is open for business, open for travellers.”
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, said the move was a “huge boost for business travel”.
“It is the vital shot in the arm corporates and their employees need to have confidence to deliver ambitious international programmes that will enable a truly global Britain,” he said.
“To maintain this momentum, it is imperative that the UK Government works on a response for future variants that does not involve the closure of borders or the introduction of draconian isolation measures. International protocols are the only way to future-proof our industry, trade and the global economy.”
Catherine Logan, Regional Vice President – EMEA, GBTA, said the lifting of restrictions is a “big step in the right direction for the return to office and to business travel, giving a much needed boost to the economy”.
According to the GBTA’s latest research, two thirds of UK travel managers cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (such as entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines) as being the single greatest barrier to business travel.
“This announcement automatically alleviates these concerns,” said Logan.
“We know from our members that very few companies introduced new travel restrictions due to the omicron variant, instead choosing to follow government guidelines before encouraging and fully reopening travel programs, the uplift in business travel bookings will be immediate as pent-up demand is high.”
Scott Pawley, MD Global Travel Management, said: “The lifting of the requirement to test on arrival in England signals that the country is open again for business. SMEs – the powerhouses of the economy – can now get on with the task of building back an economy wrecked by the pandemic.
“The knock-on effect for the travel supply chain – hotels, private hire vehicles, car hire companies – is immeasurable. At last we can see some unambiguously good news for companies and for business travel. Britain can now get back to work.”
Steve Norris, MD EMEA for Flight Centre, said it had seen an uptick in international bookings from both SMEs and larger corporations.
“This indicates a strong desire to return to in-person meetings for successful business development,” he said.
Fred Stratford, CEO Reed & Mackay, reported: “Following a significant surge in business travel bookings in the Autumn of 2021, we have already seen strong forward booking trends in January this year.
“This very welcome news, combined with the commitment of the sector at large to enable people to travel safely and with confidence will no doubt provide a further boost, for our sector, and for the economy.”
GTC UK is reporting volumes trending towards 2019 levels.
“It shows a tremendous resiliency in the travel and tourism industry globally, as we continue to recover from the pandemic,” said Managing Director Jason Oshiokpekhai, but he warned there were questions left unanswered.
“Are these changes permanent? There remains a high level of uncertainty about how long the relaxing of restrictions will last, particularly as the Government keeps the travel red list in place to combat future variants and ensure the safety and security of travellers,” he said.
“There also remains a lack of clarity around the term ‘fully vaccinated’ — for now it means two jabs. However, when will the government change its definition and how much advance notice will travellers and travel service providers get before that change?”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnerships, said the decision would stimulate the travel industry, including inbound and business travel.
“Consumer confidence is rising incrementally with every relaxation of the rules. Tests have been the bane of the industry adding confusion, added stress and of course additional cost for travellers.
“However destination protocols and entry restrictions make travelling incredibly complicated, in particular for non-vaccinated travellers.”
British Airways Chairman and CEO, Sean Doyle, said the relaxation “sends a clear message to the rest of the world that global Britain is back in business”.
Charlie Cornish, Group CEO of MAG, said: “This important announcement is excellent news for our sector’s recovery.
“The latest research shows travel restrictions do very little to stop the spread of variants like Omicron. Removing them will ensure the many cultural, social and economic benefits of international travel can be realised without any major impact on public health.”
Mariusz Zabrocki, UK General Manager at FREE NOW, said the return to offices will also have a positive impact on demand for mobility services.
“With all restrictions now lifted and more commuters back in the office as work from home guidance ends, we predict that demand will rise significantly – by up to 40%. We then expect that pattern to continue, with demand for ride-hailing services like ours again exceeding pre-pandemic levels as we have seen in the summer and autumn of 2021.”