Comment: Amex GBT Chief on travel restart

Published 8/07/20

The government’s ‘disastrous’ quarantine policy is being lifted for dozens of countries on Friday (July 10), including key business routes, but American Express GBT Chief Commercial Officer Drew Crawley tells The Business Travel Magazine there is still much more the government must do to restore confidence.

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The decision to restart business travel will be made, ultimately, by two groups: travellers and their employers. Striking the right balance between servicing their customers, traveller safety and a sustainable business model will require much consideration.

It is the role of government to create policy, based on science, to support this complex decision-making process. However, Downing Street’s short-lived quarantine policy only served to create confusion. It was ill-thought through, badly timed and did nothing to reassure the business community.

Most members of the government, to be fair to them, opposed the plan. But the cost of the exercise has been hundreds of millions to the UK economy and thousands of jobs across the travel sector and beyond.

Last week, the government, predictably, began its attempt to step ‘elegantly’ down from this policy disaster, announcing that from July 10 travel without quarantine restrictions would be allowed between the UK and 74 countries. For once, decision making was led by science, and the destinations chosen were deemed to be low risk. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) then added country exemptions to its guidance, having previously advised against all but essential travel.

The minor climbdown was hailed by some as a success for the travel industry and its government lobbying efforts. But if the travel industry held any real sway, the quarantine would never have seen the light of day.

There is, without question, a need for travel and aviation to unite and do a better job at influencing politicians. That said, the opening of these routes is a modest step in the right direction. Nine of the 10 busiest business travel routes are included. The absence of lucrative long-haul corridors with the US, particularly to airports in New York and New Jersey, is disappointing. On this issue, though, the government’s hands are tied until the alarming infection rate trajectory starts to decline.

There is still a long way to go, and much for the government to do if we are to restore confidence in travel and get the economy moving again.

Only 25 of the 74 travel corridors fully permit the entry of British citizens without restrictions. Australia and New Zealand are on the list, but unlikely to reopen borders until Christmas. Japan and Vietnam won’t accept anyone who has spent any of the past 14 days in the UK. The Greek ban on UK arrivals has been extended until July 15, while many of the 74 destinations still require travellers from the UK to carry medical certificates. And there are inconsistencies across the UK: quarantine rules still apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with no indication from the devolved governments as to when that might change.

The wellbeing of business travellers is the single most important consideration for any business or travel management company (TMC) as we enter this new and unpredictable era. Let that point be in no doubt. But the government must do more. And quickly.

We are an island economy. We are on the cusp of exiting the European Union, with no deal yet in place. Global connectivity, air lift, consistent safety standards at airports and in hotels are all necessary if we are to instil confidence in business travellers and succeed as a buoyant, progressive trading nation.