EU could propose COVID-free travel pass this summer
- EU plans to introduce COVID-free travel passes for vaccinated passengers to facilitate international travel
- Spain considering implementing a “green corridor” with the UK
- EasyJet, TUi, British Airways and other airlines make “book with confidence” commitments
- UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak urged to support struggling travel businesses
British tourists can look forward to holidays in Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Portugal this summer after Eurocrats confirmed that they would be introducing vaccine passports to facilitate international travel.
Several member states in the Eurozone, particularly those that rely on tourism to boost growth, such as Spain and Greece, had already urged EU leaders to permit travel between the UK and the bloc this summer.
Today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed that the bloc is developing vaccine passports or vaccine passes to allow inoculated passengers to travel across the EU more freely.
The EU plans to have a legal proposal for the “digital green passes” ready in several weeks, which would also allow border authorities to verify whether a traveller has recovered from COVID and produced negative testing results as well as being vaccinated against the virus.
However, it is understood that UK coronavirus cases will need to decline further before British tourists can benefit from the scheme.
It comes as six cases of the more lethal Brazilian COVID variant emerge in England and Scotland. It has also been reported that the Brazil COVID variant has appeared in at least 15 countries that are not on the UK government’s “red list”, which was produced to prevent new strains of the virus from crossing British borders.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock responded to the news, stating that the number of cases identified in these other countries is “exceptionally low” and suggested no immediate reason for concern.
However, Mr Hancock’s statement received some backlash from experts, who said the UK government’s bungled response to virus developments is why it has one of the world’s highest death tolls.
The EU’s laggard vaccine rollout has also been cited as a cause for concern for British tourists with their sights set on Europe. However, this seems to have had little impact on avid travellers after a survey conducted by think tank Thrive revealed that 79% of respondents were happy to have their vaccine details shared on digital health apps.
The survey also revealed that 61% of Brits supported the idea that flights only accept vaccinated passengers. In comparison, 74% of respondents said they would find it reasonable to wear face coverings during their flight, even after receiving their vaccine shot.
However, not all EU member states appear to share the same opinion on the idea of introducing COVID-free travel passes as it risks discriminating against those unable to receive vaccine jabs.
Belgian’s deputy prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, said Belgium would not participate in the scheme, and France is rumoured to be sceptical about proceeding with the vaccine pass.
However, other EU countries, such as Greece and Spain, have said that if an EU-wide vaccine pass isn’t agreed upon, they will introduce their own vaccine corridors with the UK.
Spain considering introducing “green corridors” for British travellers
Spanish officials said they would introduce a “green corridor” for vaccinated British tourist if the EU fails to make a collective decision on the so-called COVID-free travel pass.
Spanish Tourism Minister Fernando Valdés said that Spain is already in discussion with the UK, which is the country’s primary tourism market.
While Spain would like an EU-wide solution to be passed through the European Commission, Mr Valdés said that “if the EU cannot reach an agreement, they would explore other options to allow travel with third countries to help restart tourism flows.”
During Monday night’s Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock also implied that the UK was working with other nations on vaccine passports ahead of the summer holidays.
It comes as the British government confirms more than 20 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, buoying hopes over travel possibilities in the second half of 2021.
The aviation industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, having lost approximately USD 111.8BN due to the pandemic, as global passenger demand slumped by six billion by 2020-end.
While there is hope that a release of pent-up demand this summer could fuel the industry’s recovery, experts from the Airports Council International (ACI) warn that the global travel and tourism sector’s outlook remains uncertain.
Ongoing uncertainty over travel restrictions and future financial failure as insurers pull out of the sector have caused travel businesses and prospective holidaymakers to get cold feet.
Many airlines have called for governments to produce a comprehensive aviation roadmap to give the industry a fighting chance to recover when coronavirus restrictions and international travel bans are lifted.
Several airlines have also introduced specific policies to encourage holidaymakers to go ahead with travel bookings.
TUi, EasyJet and British Airways introduce new policies to help consumers book with confidence
UK airlines, including TUi, EasyJet and British Airways, have made “book with confidence” commitments with customers and launched special policies to support customers with travel bookings this year.
TUi, which claims to be continually reviewing travel advice to ensure they can accommodate their consumers as best as possible, has introduced the following policies:
- Fee-free amendments on bookings made during the Black Friday promotion period and departing before October 31st 2021, up until 21 days before departure if bookings
- Fee-free amendments on bookings made between December 22nd 2020 and February 9th 2021 that leave before October 31st 2021, up until 21 days before departure if bookings
- Covid Cover on all holidays departing on or before April 30th 2021, or before October 31st 2021, providing the booking was made between December 26th 2020 and February 28th 2021
- Fee-free amendments to your holiday booking if you contract COVID-19 before your departure date and are legally required to isolate or your area enters lockdown on your departure date
EasyJet new travel policy commitments
EasyJet has introduced a Protection Promise policy to help customers “book with confidence” this summer, which includes:
- Fee-free flight transfers up to 14 days before the travelling party’s departure date
- The choice to amend, receive a refund or voucher on any flights that are cancelled due to international travel bans
- Amend departure date and destination fee-free up to 28 days before departure
British Airways special policy commitments
International Airways Group-owned airline, said holidaymakers travelling with British Airways would be able to:
- Amend bookings fee-free for bookings made on or before March 3rd and departing before April-end
- Cancel bookings and receive a voucher of the same value for a future booking
However, British Airways urges customers to check the FCDO’s latest guidance on travel before booking holidays.
While airlines are hoping these new policies will prevent a sweep of booking cancellations, industry officials and trade representatives are urging UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce additional support for the travel and aviation industry in his Budget statement.
Chancellor urged to provide more financial support
The Travel Association (ABTA) has made calls for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to include targeted support for the travel industry in his March Budget.
ABTA highlighted the travel industry’s importance for UK output after they revealed that the pandemic, which essentially shut down international travel for 12 months, cost the UK economy GBP 13.7BN.
While ABTA welcomed the proposed “Restart Grants”, they said that many travel businesses do not meet the eligibility criteria and will therefore be excluded from the much-needed support.
Representatives from the trade association stressed that many businesses wouldn’t have a future post-pandemic without tailored support.
However, Jet2holidays is far more optimistic about its prospects and the industry’s future post-pandemic. Jet2holidays expects 2022 capacity to surpass 2019 levels, anticipating a release of pent-up demand.
The same can be said for the future of business travel – a key area of growth for the aviation industry pre-pandemic. Although the pandemic has decimated demand for business travel, several airline chief executives expect this to pick up throughout the year, albeit at a slower pace than leisure travel.