‘We should never be in a position again where an entire ecosystem is shut down, leaving travellers unable to meet with friends and family’ – Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO, Advantage
Paul Goldstein’s first international journey of 2021 began with a trip from his home in Wimbledon, southwest London, to Heathrow.
The tour leader, wildlife photographer and co-owner of a Kenya safari camp was travelling no further than the airport. He spent the morning of Saturday 15 Maio – not to mention £99 – on a Covid-19 PCR test that would allow him to fly to the Algarve in Portugal.
No momento, Portugal was the only major accessible tourism destination rated green on the UK’s much-derided “traffic light” system, meaning British travellers could visit it without undergoing 10 days’ quarantine on their return. (The traffic light system was later described by MPs on the transport select committee as “opaque, ambiguous and inconsistent”.)
Two days later, sobre 17 Maio 2021, the unprecedented 19-week ban on international leisure travel ended and Mr Goldstein was allowed aboard the first flight – a Ryanair service from Stansted – to Faro, the main airport for the Algarve.
Also flying into Faro with a PCR test certificate at the ready was Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership.
During the Covid-19 pandemic she had become the most powerful voice of the industry in challenging the “overly strict international travel restrictions” (as those MPs would later describe them) imposed against British holidaymakers and those wanting to see loved ones abroad.
The prohibition on overseas holidays and family trips had been in place since early January 2021. Even being present in an international airport, sea port or railway station without a reasonable excuse triggered a fine far higher than those given for Downing Street drinks parties.
“A year to the day, I made it out of the UK on one of the first international flights to what was the only ‘lista verde’ destination, Portugal,” says Ms Bue-Said now.
“Looking back at the last year, it’s incredible to believe how a global travel industry was shut down, with travel curbs and restrictions imposed by government that we now know were completely ineffective public health measures.”
In order to be allowed back in to the UK, she and Mr Goldstein were both required to provide Covid tests and fill out a long and incoherent passenger locator form – adding yet more cost and complexity.
“A year ago, belatedly, people were allowed – with many stringent and Byzantine caveats – to go on holiday again,” Mr Goldstein recalls.
Contudo, sobre 17 Maio 2021 the vast majority of the world was still effectively off limits – either on the lista âmbar, necessitating strict self-isolation, or the lista Vermelha, requiring a payment of upwards of £2,000 for 11 nights of mandatory hotel quarantine.
The transport committee concluded in April: “There is no evidence that the requirement for travellers from certain countries to quarantine at a hotel, rather than at a location of their choice, has improved the UK’s coronavirus situation compared with other European countries.”
Mr Goldstein is still furious about the harm done. “The Draconian banning orders were backed by neither science nor geography. What they did was plunge millions into penury and blight an industry that is a long way from recovering.
“It has never been a well-paid job, but travel always survived because people loved working in it. But not if hamstrung by traffic lights, PCRs and quarantine.”
Another senior travel industry figure, Paul Charles, was organising a media trip to Malta last May. The nation was at the time inexplicably omitted from the original “green list”, with short odds of being added at the first opportunity. He was confident that the first reappraisal, early in June, would seen the Mediterranean island and many other nations going green.
Na verdade, the opposite happened. Malta stayed amber and Portugal was moved to the amber list, triggering an airlift to bring Brits home before the deadline – and setting the stage for an endless summer of frequent and mystifying changes about where we could travel.
Today Paul Charles, who was later named PR Professional of the Year at the TravMedia Awards, is philosophical.
“I’ll be having a glass of delicious Portuguese rosé this evening to mark the fact it was the first country to reopen after our successful ‘Save Our Summer’ travel industry campaign, which called on the prime minister for a mid-May reopening," ele diz.
His press trip ended with all the participants obliged to self-isolate and take multiple tests for early release.
“Air routes and travel generally could have been kept wide open but with more Covid measures in place, such as mask-wearing on board flights,” says Mr Charles.
“The ban destroyed travel for a long period and led to many people sadly leaving the sector for jobs in other industries.”
Paul Goldstein picks up the theme: “These decisions cost thousands of jobs, livelihoods and would never be tolerated again. Many have gone on to employment elsewhere and will not return.
“The restrictions that were imposed had a colossal impact on consumer confidence and dealt a hammer blow to our industry.
“Furlough will cost us and our children. But it did protect workers here, though not abroad, particularly in developing countries.”
Ms Bue-Said says lessons must be learnt. “We should never be in a position again where an entire ecosystem is shut down – leaving travellers unable to meet with friends and family, and what were once thriving businesses, left to pick up the pieces without any sector support.”
“It is imperative that governments the world over learn from the past to ensure the same mistakes are not ever made again.
“Even today some nations continue with ineffective ‘public health’ measures.”
Paul Charles believes a similar blanket ban on outbound international leisure travel from the UK is unthinkable: “We’re past the point of returning to the old days of complete closure.
“Governments realise they can’t afford to close their economies and can simply fall back on mask-wearing and testing measures if they have to instead.”
Paul Goldstein concurs: “These decisions cost thousands of jobs, livelihoods and would never be tolerated again.”
But he remains furious about the damage done to what was once the world’s greatest travel industry.
“The government should never be forgiven.”