International tourism and aviation bodies are placing their hopes on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to restore travel when he decides this weekend on a “Roadmap to Recovery” as vaccination levels increase in Britain.
Johnson will evaluate data in order to formulate an official plan which will include easing lockdown measures in stages, reopening schools – most likely in early March, shops and pubs, as well as restarting travel.
The data comes after a large percentage of Britons have been vaccinated and Johnson is expected to evaluate the effectiveness of the Oxford vaccine.
The British PM is set to discuss the roadmap with his cabinet over the weekend before finalizing and presenting it in his address to the nation on Monday, February 22.
“We’ll be setting out what we can on Monday about the way ahead, and it’ll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way as to be irreversible,” Johnson told reported this week.
World tourism stakeholders urge action
International travel and tourism stakeholders are hoping that Johnson can help restart the industry. Earlier this week, the CEOs of British Airways, easyJet, Jet2.com, Loganair, Ryanair, TUI, and Virgin Atlantic wrote a letter to Johnson warning that without a clear indication of intent from the government that aviation will restart in the coming months, Britain could face a year of limited connectivity to the rest of the world and economic recovery will be hampered.
At the same time, the UK aviation industry is also calling for economic support to bridge the recovery and stimulate passenger demand when travel is reinstated.
“The aviation industry stands with the government in putting public health at the top of its agenda, but the future of the British economy and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people are at risk without a sensible and structured plan to safely restart international travel over the coming months,” said British Airways CEO Sean Doyle.
Along the same lines, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging the the UK government to include a “vision” for lifting border restrictions.
According to IATA, Covid-19 resulted in the largest one-year decline in UK GDP since 1709. Air passenger numbers fell by 76 percent in 2020, some 860,000 aviation, travel and tourism jobs were lost or sustained only due to furlough schemes, and London lost its position as the world’s most connected city.
If border restrictions remain in place, “there is no prospect of a recovery in air transport and these negative impacts will continue, damaging the UK economy for a generation or more”, said IATA.
“Prime Minister Johnson must set out a vision for how international travel can and will be restarted as the pandemic ends. That vision would include explaining how a phased reduction of restrictions would work, and the levels to which infections or hospitalizations would need to fall to trigger those reductions. With this science-based approach locked in, the industry and the public will have the certainty to plan for take-off,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA regional vice president for Europe.
On its part, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) also sent an open letter to Johnson requesting that he take urgent action to support the sector with a recovery plan that will include a “clear exit strategy”. In this direction, the WTTC proposes four key principles to safely restore international mobility including an international coordinated approach, led by Britain with public and private collaboration to establish a globally-accepted framework that will enable the safe movement of people without blanket restrictions and quarantines.
The WTTC warns that if urgent action to support the sector is not taken, “travel and tourism in the UK could face complete collapse”.
At the same time, the WTTC is calling on the UK to focus risk assessments on individual travelers through a comprehensive testing regime backed by technology and digital health passes; to reinforce health and hygiene protocols including mandatory mask wearing in addition to vaccination; and to financially support the sector. It is however against the idea of air corridors between countries.
“Our members and overseas governments believe that air corridors should not be reinstated, as they could put in jeopardy relationships with overseas governments looking to agree trade and other deals in the post-Brexit period,” said Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and CEO.
“What is very clear from all we have experienced in the past 12 months, is that we will not see a complete return to pre-pandemic days. We will have to adapt to coexist with the virus and the future of travel and tourism will see the widespread use of digital and biometric technology, alongside mask wearing and hygiene protocols, to create a touchless and seamless travel experience,” said Guevara.