International travel restarted last month.
As flights take off again, you may have heard of the new traffic light system. Red, amber and green categorise countries based on risk, alongside the steps people will need to follow when returning from each category of country.
The trouble is that this system – though well intended to tackle new variant hotspots – isn’t working. We are failing to reap the benefits of our own vaccine rollout.
It feels easier to side towards the voices who want everything shut. I get emails regularly from people saying “no one should go on holiday until the pandemic’s over”. I completely understand the instinctive need for caution and not every route should re-open, we have to be data driven.
It’s more difficult to ask what real risk there is of double-jabbed Brits popping over to France without having to quarantine on return for 10 days.
People travel for many different reasons. It isn’t just about holidaymakers. Some people haven’t seen their families for over a year. Some businesses rely on seasonal workers or engineering technicians from abroad.
That’s why last week in Parliament and recently on the Transport Select Committee, I challenged the government to provide urgent clarity on international travel.
The current confusion will cost jobs we’ve fought hard to protect and I support calls to open up international travel further where it is safe to do so.
I make no apology for being on the side of jobs and families in East Devon whose livelihoods depend on both the domestic ‘staycation’ market and the international travel industry – not least many of the former Flybe staff who lost their jobs locally last year. All but one of the routes once operated by Flybe from Exeter Airport have new operators eager to take to the sky. So much work has been done locally to support the sector through our councils working together.
The government has spent millions supporting jobs in these industries through schemes including furlough. But without confidence amongst passengers, the furlough scheme may be propping up roles that simply won’t exist.
Confidence is at an all-time low in the aviation and travel industry after Portugal was put back on the amber list.
If the government continues to heavily restrict international travel during 2021, then more cash for the industry is needed through sector-specific furlough to protect these jobs and skills, and extended business rate relief for airports. We also need new grants for heavily-impacted travel and tourism businesses. East Devon’s high street travel agents and language schools are being brought to their knees.
They hope, and I hope, the government can help build consumer confidence by safely relaxing restrictions on international travel in the months ahead and put in place a fiscal support package to give the entire industry a fighting chance to get back to business.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 16th June 2021 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.