The global travel industry needs to ‘link arms’ and continue to ‘lean on governments’ to speed up the recovery of travel.
Governments also need to remove blanket-ban travel advisories and recognise the freedoms that should come with being fully vaccinated.
These were just some of the demands from senior heads of travel associations from the UK, US, Canada and Europe who took part in a live transatlantic panel debate on Facebook yesterday, organised by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and watched by more than 300 people worldwide.
ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby said there were now 175 million citizens in the US who have been vaccinated but ‘they are being treated as if they are unvaccinated’.
“This needs to change. The threat level from our government needs to come up with where the science is. We need more opacity from our governments, clear messages from each of us and to link arms to speed up the recovery of travel,” he said.
Last week the EU announced it was dropping the US from its safe list, advising its 27 member states to reconsider allowing entry to non-essential US travellers. Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have become the first to impose new rules.
Mr Zane called on the US government to stop the ‘broad-brush, too blunt approach’ and introduce a two-tier system that has a clear set of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) President Wendy Paradis said Covid-19 has had a ‘catastrophic’ impact on the Canadian travel industry. She said up until August, Canadian travel agents were 90% down on revenue compared to 2019 and 69% of full time travel agents have been furloughed. She said 68% of Canadians are now fully vaccinated.
“In early August the Canadian government started welcoming fully vaccinated Americans. But we still have a blanket travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country. This needs to change. Our industry cannot recover, our workers cannot return to work.”
She said Canada was effectively ‘shuttered’ until borders are opened and non-essential travel advisories are lifted.
Ms Paradis said because many Canadians have received a combination of two vaccine doses this means they are ‘not necessarily welcomed’ around the world.
“We need to get our act together and understand the science,” she continued. “Maybe it needs to come from the World Health Organisation, but we need some standard protocol based on science – this will be a step forward.”
She added that the issue of mixed vaccines had become a ‘significant issue’ for Canadians.
“At the highest level of government, we really are asking for a speedy response to this in that we have a lot of Canadians who have booked travel for 2022 and at this point in time they will not be able to enter those countries.”
European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association (ECTAA) Secretary General Eric Dresin said a patchwork of ‘uncoordinated and ever-changing travel restrictions and regulations had made business impossible’.
He said domestic travel across Europe hadn’t been too bad as people took to their cars to travel, but ‘we need to start international travel and using the vaccine as one of the key elements is crucial’.
“We have the health pass (pass sanitaire) in Europe. Twenty-seven countries have decided to do this in three months. We can be more ambitious in our plans to re-start travel. The vaccine is the easiest and most reliable tool we have,” he added.
ABTA Director of Communications Graeme Buck said the UK Government’s travel policy ‘hasn’t really helped the industry’.
“Our vaccination programme in the UK is ahead of many others in Europe, but we are still behind Europe in terms of opening up travel.
“Now we need a kick start to move on from this quite cautious approach. Let’s get things moving again.”
Asked whether it was going to take years to get people travelling again, ASTA’s Mr Zane said: “I hope not. I hope we can apply political and media pressure to help our governments see that restarting travel is in their interests.”