Travel sector reacts furiously to Portugal's removal from green list

3 June 2021, 22:00 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 05:45

Industry chiefs have reacted furiously after Portugal was removed from the green travel list
Industry chiefs have reacted furiously after Portugal was removed from the green travel list . Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Removing Portugal from the UK's travel green list will do "untold damage" to the sector, industry chiefs have warned.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday that the Iberian nation would be moved on to the country's amber list, meaning that people who travel there must self-isolate upon return.

The changes, which will come into effect from 4am on Tuesday, came as a blow to travel companies and tourists who have booked the popular summer hotspot.

Portugal's coronavirus case rate has nearly doubled since the government last reviewed travel arrangements and 68 cases of the Indian - or Delta - variant have been found there, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

Meanwhile, seven countries, including Sri Lanka and Egypt, have been added to the red list.

Read more: Portugal moved to amber list forcing tourists to quarantine on return

Read more: Portugal decision due to 'Nepal variant' but WHO 'unaware' of strain

The news provoked a furious reaction from airlines and travel firms, with many saying it risked ruining another summer for the ailing industry.

Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said: "Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.

"Everyone wants to protect public health, but the entire point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely. Britain is the worst-performing economy in the G7, and in the week that the prime minister hosts G7 leaders to launch his government's vision of Global Britain, he's sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.

"If the government is serious about protecting UK jobs and supporting businesses across the country, rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from 'green' countries, and slash the cost and complexity of testing, as other G7 countries are doing."

Explained: Why Portugal was taken off green list and what to do if you booked a holiday

UK travel rules: Where can Brits travel to after Portugal lost its green list status?

Package holiday firm TUI UK was equally scathing, claiming the government has broken promises made to the industry.

Andrew Flintham, managing director for the firm, said: "This latest announcement is another step back for our industry.

"After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip-flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal straight from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.

"We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a weeks' notice would be given so travellers wouldn't have to rush back home. They have failed on this promise."

He added that the UK Government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations and said the industry must see the methodology for the decisions.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive, said: "It is bitterly disappointing news for our impacted passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the "amber" list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for "green" travel.

"While it is in all of our interests to ensure that we only take forward steps out of the pandemic, we hope that the rest of Europe follows the UK's speed of public vaccination so that safe and easy travel to and from the UK becomes a reality quickly, particularly as travel between mainland European countries is opening up already."

Business group the CBI said the move would hit other sectors linked to the travel industry.

John Foster, CBI director of policy, said: "The limited number of destinations on the green list means that businesses across the country are losing out on key links with trading partners just as the rest of the world is opening up.

"Of course, the UK mustn't jeopardise the strides made through the vaccine programme, but the international travel sector is on its knees and unable to trade its way to recovery.

"Without a successful summer season, the government will need to consider further sector specific support to save jobs and skills essential for future growth."

Low-cost airline firm Ryanair said in a statement: "As the majority of adults across the UK/EU will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, these travel restrictions will become redundant."

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said moving Portugal to the amber list was a "huge blow" to those currently in the country.

He said: "When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan.

"Yet the government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing people's plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK. This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world."

Simon Cooper, chief executive of the online travel firm On the Beach, said: "Holidaymakers want a sustainable return to normal travel as quickly as possible, and to achieve that, the travel industry must stop scrambling for short term gains.

"Reopening travel too widely and too quickly will increase the likelihood of the meaningful restart we're all desperately hoping for being disrupted significantly."