By Lina Saigol
Dozens of top holiday companies and hotel owners have called on the U.K. government to scrap plans forcing visitors to quarantine on arrival in the country.
Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel has said that from June 8, most arrivals to the U.K. will be required to self-isolate for two weeks or face a £1,000 fine.
More than 70 travel firm bosses have written a letter to Patel claiming the policy would cut the number of visitors to Britain, further damaging the “severely challenged” travel industry.
“The very last thing the travel industry needs is a mandatory quarantine imposed on all arriving passengers which will deter foreign visitors from coming here, deter U.K. visitors from traveling abroad, and most likely cause other countries to impose reciprocal quarantine requirements on British visitors,” said the letter, which has been seen by MarketWatch.
Signatories of the letter include the bosses of some of Britain’s biggest luxury hotels, including the Ritz, Dorchester and Hyatt Regency, which is owned by Hyatt Hotels /zigman2/quotes/207542923/composite H +1.75% , as well as tourism groups, such as Cookson Adventures, Abercrombie & Kent Group and Mr & Mrs Smith.
They said the U.K. Travel & Tourism sector contributed £200 billion to the U.K. economy last year, accounting for around 9% of gross domestic product and almost four million jobs, or 11% of the country’s entire workforce, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
The letter commended the government for its handling of an “extraordinary and unprecedented situation,” but said it would be far more constructive, both for the economy and for controlling the spread of Covid-19, to ensure the ramped-up testing capability is carried out on those arriving in the U.K. It added that all arrivals should be required to download the soon-to-be-launched Government App.
“The pandemic has caused widespread devastation. We cannot let it create further economic havoc or the dangers our country faces will run further than the virus itself,” Henry Cookson , founder of luxury adventure travel specialist Cookson Adventures, told MarketWatch.
“The travel industry has been suffocated and I know many are relying on business in the late summer, the busiest time of year, to survive. All activity has been paused until these tight restrictions soften. It’s not practical for our staff or clients based in the U.K. to be quarantined for 14 days after returning from an overseas trip. It would be a far smarter approach to implement solutions such as thorough testing and contact tracing,” he added.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border.
“We continue to support businesses in the tourism sector through one of the most generous economic packages provided anywhere in the world. However, it is right that we introduce these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave,” the spokesperson added in the emailed statement.
The changes are understood to be subject to a rolling review every three weeks to ensure they are in line with the latest scientific evidence and remain effective and necessary.
The Air Charter Association said it was both “surprised and disappointed” that the U.K. Government has introduced this new policy after virtually no discussions or consultations with key stakeholders in the most affected part of the aviation industry—the air charter sector.
“The resulting blanket quarantine policy reveals a limited understanding of all sectors of the aviation industry , features inconsistencies that discriminate against aviation professionals, and, in the case of the global air charter industry, prevents high-priority travel by decision makers that is vital to the UK’s recovery and future prosperity,” Kevin Ducksbury, chairman of the ACA said in a statement on Thursday.
Separately low-cost European carrier EasyJet /zigman2/quotes/202825892/delayed UK:EZJ -0.47% confirmed on Thursday that it would resume flights from June 15, focusing mainly on domestic flights in the U.K. and France, sending shares in the budget airline up 4.4%.
EasyJet, which has big operations at Gatwick and Luton airports, also announced plans to launch an employee consultation with the intention of slashing up to 30% of its workforce, or about 4,500 jobs, and reduce its fleet of planes by 15% as it restructures to cope with the slump in passenger demand for air travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
William Ryder, equity analyst at Hargreaves Landsown, said it was encouraging to see airlines start giving firm dates for getting planes back into the sky. “Unfortunately, this means easyJet is joining many of its competitors in making a large number of its staff redundant as it buckles up for several years of reduced demand,” he said.
However, Ryder said the crisis provides airlines with a chance to reset their costs structures. “Airlines can renegotiate with airports and other suppliers, as well as reducing head count and agreeing reductions in staff pay. That would make the surviving airlines leaner and more efficient than they were previously, even if social distancing measures prevent them from exploiting this in the near term.”