The traffic light system for travel is “hugely damaging” and “failed”, according to a tourism body, while an airline chief has called the government policy “bonkers”.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) said ministers must scrap the complex restrictions to save the UK’s tourism sector from total collapse.
The traffic light system – coding countries as either red, amber or green depending on their level of Covid reimportation risk – came into play from 17 May when international travel from the UK was allowed to restart.
Arrivals from amber list countries – including Spain, France and the US – must self-isolate for 10 days on return to the UK, while travellers from red list locations such as Turkey, India and South Africa must pay for 11 nights of hotel quarantine.
Last week’s downgrade of Portugal from green list to amber, skipping the promised “green watchlist”, has been heavily criticised by the travel industry. It gave holidaymakers just 108 hours notice to scramble home before the deadline on 8 June.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the presence of the Delta variant in Portugal, as well as a higher positivity rate, was behind the move.
No recognition is provided for fully vaccinated travellers under the UK scheme. Virginia Messina, acting chief executive of the WTTC, said: “What’s needed now is a watertight government policy enabling those who’ve been fully jabbed to travel freely, and not have to self-isolate on their return.
“Those who are not fully vaccinated should be able to travel with proof of a negative test.”
The call comes as France today reopens its borders to vaccinated tourists who present a negative antigen test on arrival.
The WTTC warned that a further 218,000 jobs in the industry will be at “serious risk” if international travel continues to be off limits for most of the summer, on top of the 307,000 jobs that it says were lost in the UK sector last year.
“It’s time the government abandoned the hugely damaging traffic lights system,” said Ms Messina.
“Consumers, airlines and the wider travel sector were promised a watchlist and three weeks’ notice of any changes from green to amber, and not just four days.
“It has been incredibly disruptive and costly for both travel and tourism businesses and consumers. It simply hasn’t worked.”
“The travel sector needs this now if it is to survive this summer as domestic travel alone will not save the day.”
Earlier, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary derided the government’s policy on Sky News.
The boss of Europe’s largest airline said the “stop, go, stop, go approach to travel is bonkers”.
He told the broadcaster: “It’s typical of Boris Johnson’s government, just making this stuff up as they go along.
“There is no green list.
“What we keep calling for in the travel industry is, now that we have 80 per cent of the adult population of Britain vaccinated, why can’t those people go on holidays to Portugal and Spain without restrictions? They’re already vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, the boss of Great Rail Journeys, Peter Liney, has called the frequent changes of rules “devastating”.
The chief executive of the York-based firm said: “The impact of the government’s indecision around the return of international travel cannot be underestimated on the future of the travel sector.
“It is devastating the travel industry and creating chaos for both customers and businesses alike.
“The first week of June saw sales across the board drop by 40 per cent compared to May, directly in response to the latest government travel announcements which saw the abrupt removal of Portugal from the green list.
“Current booking levels are simply unsustainable and consumer confidence in taking a much-needed break is being squashed once again.
“We need consistency, data and logic to underpin government decisions if we have any hope of navigating our way back to international travel. All seem to be lacking.
“Alongside all travel operators, we are crying out for clear guidelines for the safe return to overseas holidays.”
Announcing the short-notice change in Portugal’s status last week, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “The public has always known travel will be different this year and we must continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine rollout.”
The Labour Party has called for all amber list countries, including Portugal, to be placed on the red list.
MP Huw Merriman, who is chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said on Monday: “If we continuously pull the plug on travel due to unknown risks, rather than rely on the vaccine, then we’ll never go back to normal.
“Government is creating a gold-standard ladder from which it can never climb down.
“Where does this leave Global Britain?”