The government has finally released info on its quarantine-free holiday destinations – those you can visit from 17 May without having to isolate on your return, provided you can produce a negative PCR test before and after your visit.
On the "green list" are a modest 12 countries – including Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel – but for those working in travel, it’s a big relief things are going in the right direction.
I wholeheartedly welcome the government’s decision to re-open non-essential travel, as this isn’t just about a two-week jolly to the Algarve, it’s about British livelihoods, careers, financial stability, loved-ones reconnecting, and an enormous industry worth billions, which was brought to its knees due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is not just about airline bosses’ profits, it's about tour guides, baggage handlers and cruise performers. It’s about hotel cleaners, taxi drivers, outdoor centres and museum staff. It’s about mechanics, dispatchers and security personnel, cabin crew, hoteliers – the people who supply the food and furniture to hotels, the maintenance workers and countless others in the industry – many of whom are based in the UK.
As a travel journalist, my work inevitably fell off a cliff at the beginning of the pandemic. I saw people in my industry furloughed, contracts cancelled, and companies go out of business. Like many in the arts and other industries, I had a sinking feeling – how am I going to pay my mortgage and support my child? It’s crushing to wonder whether your vibrant and diverse sector will ever recover.
Many consider travelling a luxury, debating whether it’s permissible to indulge in such decadence during a time of national crisis. But it's no frivolity – inbound tourists alone spent £28.4bn in the UK in 2019, according to Visit Britain. Before the pandemic it was the fastest growing industry in the UK and is predicted to be worth 10 per cent of UK’s GDP by 2025, supporting almost 3.8 million jobs here, and millions more around the world.
Snarky comments about Instagrammers jetting off to Dubai during the pandemic were understandable, but pitted people and industries against each other while distracting from the real issue – is there a way to save livelihoods? Thankfully, now there is.
Things at this stage of the pandemic are quite different from how they were a year, even six months ago. We have testing capabilities and several vaccines – we have the tools to reopen travel.
I don’t back the government’s decision to allow travel lightly; it was vital we locked down when we did, and if we'd done so more quickly, our road to recovery may have been swifter. But the world has changed since then, and we have to adapt fast to keep coronavirus at bay and our lives on track.
The list will be disappointing to some, given its limited scope – certainly a number of figures in the travel industry have had their say, but at least the door has been opened. Now we must stick to protocol, carefully follow the science and use the common sense procedure of vaccine passports (and the new NHS app features, which will allow officials access to vaccination records). These procedures are set to create more freedom not less.
There are systems at airports, borders and ports around the world that perform basic security checks – for visas, yellow fever vaccination certificates, for lengths of stay – and Covid passports will become the norm, as will packing our Covid tests next to our sunscreen and adaptors, before we go abroad.
While it’s not foolproof, and there will still be risks when it comes to contracting and spreading coronavirus when travelling, I’d much rather sit on a plane full of just-tested and likely vaccinated people than queue up in an unventilated shop with dozens of unchecked shoppers.
Grant Shapps’ limited green list is a start. It offers hope to those who have built their careers around the travel industry, and as more people get vaccinated and more countries are added to the quarantine-free destination list, more businesses have a fighting chance of survival.