Travel companies and the aviation industry reacted with trepidation to the tightening of restrictions at international borders after governments including the UK and Israel imposed extra testing and quarantine measures or outright bans on foreign arrivals.
Stocks across the sector had already tumbled on Friday as the spread of the Omicron variant rattled investor confidence.
ABTA, the travel industry trade body, said that the introduction of mandatory PCR testing for international arrivals into the UK was a “huge blow for travel businesses”.
“These changes will add cost to people’s holidays which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme,” ABTA said.
The industry had just begun to recover after 20 months of volatile restrictions and periods of enforced closure. In the run-up to Christmas an increasing number of businesses had begun to plan events or resume sending staff abroad.
In a statement released on Friday, the International Air Transport Association said governments must find “safe alternatives” to closing borders and that “travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to control Covid variants”.
Events such as the Conference of Paris, a large gathering of chief executives across the energy and industrial sectors, are still due to be held next week.
One executive at a large hotel group said that since restrictions had begun to be reimposed in countries such as Austria and Germany last week, the situation had “accelerated” and while major events had not yet been cancelled, they were expecting conversations with clients on Monday.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said that while public health “must be a priority”, governments had acted too hastily and an international protocol that standardised restrictions should be introduced. “The introduction of costly PCR tests and mandatory self-isolation for all travellers until results are returned, will have a significant impact on business travel,” he said.
Paul Charles, an adviser to the World Travel and Tourism Council as well as airlines and hotel companies, said that there had been a larger drop off than usual in airline bookings overnight.
“I think the new self-isolation measures will wipe out most inbound business and leisure trips in a critical period running up to Christmas,” he said.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the body understood the need for temporary measures but added they should “be in place no longer than absolutely necessary”.
Travellers preparing to come back to the UK who had ordered a lateral flow test are now required to buy a PCR test instead.
David Frost, chief executive of SATSA, the trade body for inbound tourism to South Africa, said that travel companies had “already seen thousands of booking cancellations” for the country’s “critical summer period”.
A snap weekend survey by the body suggested there had already been more than 1.5m holiday cancellations within days of the Omicron variant being detected. The UK has historically been South Africa’s largest market for inbound tourists.
Spain also changed its travel requirements for incoming travellers from the UK, one of its major source markets for tourism. From December 1, travellers must be fully vaccinated instead of being able to show proof of a negative Covid test.
Retailers in the UK also said they needed more clarity on the reintroduction of mandatory face coverings in shops and on public transport. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that “retailers will play their part in communicating the new rules on face coverings, but they must not be the ones enforcing these rules”.
Incidents of abuse against shop staff had been around 450 per day before the pandemic but had spiked since then as retailers attempted to ensure customers complied with government restrictions, the trade body said.
Additional reporting by Ian Smith
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