Why tweaking the Amber List won’t save the travel industry

The general view in government is that tighter border restrictions and limits on travel are the price to pay for greater freedoms at home.

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The protesters that were outside parliament yesterday were better-dressed than usual. Cabin crew and pilots, mostly in uniform, were joined by travel agents and others who work in the travel industry in demonstrations outside Holyrood, Stormont and Westminster. They have been calling on the government to relax the rules around international travel and to provide the industry’s workers with further financial support, ahead of a government update to its traffic light list this afternoon.  

The travel industry is calling for an exemption to quarantine requirements for double-vaccinated people travelling to or from amber list countries – an issue that Matt Hancock and others have said that they are working on. The general consensus is that this is a good idea, dependent on the advice the government receives from scientists. The protesters we saw on College Green yesterday, however, will have to wait until Monday at the earliest, when a review of the criteria for the traffic light system will be announced. 

[See also: Exclusive: Most Brits are against international tourists visiting the UK this summer]

The travel industry’s wider problems are far more difficult for the government to solve. Protesters spoke yesterday of the hit they take any time a government minister appears on TV and casts doubt on the possibility of foreign holidays this year, and told of their despair at the wider narrative that it would be better to not go on holiday overseas this year, rather than emphasising the possibility of safe travel with vaccines, tests and so on. But whether it's at the top of this government or internationally, the general view is that tighter border restrictions, and limits on travel, are the price to pay for greater freedoms at home, with tourism and aviation hit the hardest from that decision.

Industry figures have said that no one in Westminster understands their sector and haven’t been able to offer support accordingly. Travel agents have been remortgaging their houses, selling their cars, and dipping into their pensions to give customers refunds on cancelled holidays, while many report being unable to benefit from the furlough scheme, because most have had to keep working to process those cancellations, but without turning a profit.

The government may lift the quarantine requirements on double-vaccinated people in the coming days, or it may not. But in either case, the overall narrative that foreign travel is best avoided his year is unlikely to change, while countries such as Germany have announced that they will require British travellers to quarantine on arrival. With the government unable to change the ultimately bleak outlook for travel in the immediate future, the real question is how it can best support one of the industries most badly hit by the pandemic into the future.

[See also: Covid-19 is a disaster for tourism – but not everywhere]

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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