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Government's confusing message spells disaster for the travel industry

Government's confusing message spells disaster for the travel industry

When you are unsure where you are heading, you need clear directions. But travellers are getting no help from the government’s apparent strategy of incoherence and avoidance.

A failure to spell out a travel plan for summer 2020 is letting down everyone: people who have holidays booked but no longer wish to go; others who are desperate to get out and explore but have no idea what rules will prevail when they return; and the millions whose livelihoods depend on travel and tourism.

Any administration would struggle to find exactly the right strategy through the deepest trauma and the worst tragedy in peacetime Britain. Plenty of good politicians and civil servants are working tirelessly to guide the nation along the tightrope between the calamitous human cost of coronavirus and the many evils that would flow from economic collapse.

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Travel may be one of the less-pertinent dimensions of this crisis, and rightly lower down the pecking order than health and the economy.

But the people who work in what used to be the industry of human happiness, as well as those of us who seek to enjoy its fruits once again, at least deserve straight answers.

Instead of clarity, from the very top of government we get a drizzle of casual comments and contradictions.

For the professionals hoping to breathe life into a grievously wounded travel industry – and we tourists would like nothing more than to start spending – the blanket Foreign Office warning against travel anywhere, for an indefinite spell, was bad enough.

Then, on Sunday, the prime minister announced that “people coming into this country by air” must self-isolate at home for two weeks.

Less than 24 hours later, it emerged that quarantine will apply to rail and sea as well as air – but that France, which attracts more tourists than any other country in the world, will be exempt. Any UK-bound traveller who felt quarantine was not for them need only make a change at CDG or take a Dunkerque detour on the way home for a get-out-of-lockdown-free pass.

That concession makes a mockery of “the science,” which is presumably why both the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and the deputy chief medical officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, chose to ignore a question on the French connection at Thursday’s No 10 briefing.

By Friday morning, the French exemption appears to have been quietly dropped, but business travellers would be able to swerve the stay-at-home requirement.

Whether this weird quarantine policy will reduce the spread of Covid-19 is debatable. Its effect on inbound and outbound travel is much more certain: obliging everyone who arrives in the UK to serve 14 days in self-isolation will destroy the first part of the summer season and devastate travel bookings for the rest of the year.

“Every camp in Africa is now suffering massive losses because of this quarantine nonsense,” reports Paul Goldstein, co-owner of Kicheche Safari Camps in Kenya.

“It has raised the cancellations exponentially. Plenty of people want to travel but cannot commit to this arbitrary two weeks.

“A combination of a ridiculously rigid Foreign Office advice and this absurd ‘fortnight lockdown’ folly will cause harm to millions of people who work in tourism in Africa and around the world.”

Our leaders have lost their way, and lost us.

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