By Joe Yasin
This may seem an unlikely headline. However, when the cost of every holiday journey out of the UK – due to five compulsory private Covid tests was going to be hundreds of pounds more expensive than pre-Covid (Times, 07/04/21), it meant that price of a return flight to Paris would rise from £50-100 to £350-500. That would be equivalent to the Channel being not a mere 21 miles across, but nearer 2,000 miles wide to fly across. Flights to America would increase by 60-80%, flights to Paris by 400-600%.
Fortunately, perhaps, the UK government has stated that it has managed to get a company that has reduced the test costs to £45 each, adding a mere £180-£250 to a Paris trip – merely being equivalent to towing Britain off to west of the Fastnet Rock off the west of Ireland. And Tui, and possibly some other holiday companies are to offer tests at a mere £25 each, reducing the additional cost to £125 extra per person, and a ‘mere’ £500 extra for a family of four.
The stated rationale for this testing by our Brexit-loving government – even if we have been double vaccinated – is not to pull us away from Europe (oh no!), but to keep out new variants of the coronavirus. However, it will have that effect. Travel will go back to the 1950s or 1960s, when it was the privileged preserve of the fortunate few and Europe was a truly strange and faraway land of which we knew little.
IF this compulsory testing regime is kept forever – as the need to prevent new variants coming in to the UK would imply – as new variants will arise all the time we Britons will suffer a huge change in our travel patterns and many people will effectively live in the isolation from foreignness of 60 years ago. Perhaps even more isolation than that, because we have lost an empire and no longer have the need to send many people abroad to run it.
The impact on the leisure travel industry would be considerable, and cause many changes. Goodbye to the cross-channel trip to stock up on wine and beer. Goodbye to the city break and stag and hen parties in Prague. Short-term trips will become unaffordable for many.
When the cost of tests will add, even with a cheaper test, £500+ to the cost of a holiday for a family of four, many families will not be able to afford a foreign holiday at all.
This large fixed sum might be thought more affordable if spread out over a longer period of holiday, so maybe we will move back to a two week break aboard, rather than twice as many one week holidays, with twice as many tests to pay for. This would be a return to the habits of the 60’s and 70’s.
Whatever happens, an increase in travel costs will shrink the market.
It will probably be the transport (airlines, airports, ferries and Eurostar) part of the travel industry which will suffer most, rather than accommodation abroad, with the many short break, short-haul trips taking the largest hit.
There could be advantages – far less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from aviation… possibly a slower pace of life… and you can definitely relax more in two weeks than one. Unless of course you can never escape Zoom meetings!
Using the 2018 ABTA Holiday Habits report to give an approximate baseline, we can try to estimate which sectors will decline and which could grow. Lower priced holidays would be expected to decline the most. There may be an opportunity for purely domestic cruises (‘cruises to nowhere’) that would have a price advantage
|City break||48%||—-||A cruise||8%||–|
|Beach holiday||40%||—||A domestic cruise||?||++|
|Countryside break||21%||–||Renting privately||7%||–|
|Sightseeing trip||15%||Coach holiday||5%||—|
|Lakes & mountains||9%||–||Activity holiday||4%||–|
But would any of this disruption be necessary? In the interests of controlling the virus, it has been proposed that the UK Government offers free tests to every adult twice a week – over 100 million Covid tests every week. And if the government can afford to offer over 100 million Covid tests free every week, could it not divert a small proportion of that to giving tests to all UK holidaymakers for free? It would only amount to a fraction of one week’s supply of the tests that the government proposes to give away – to pay for holidaymakers testing for a whole year! It would save the airlines, the airports and European holidays for the average family.
But does the Government really want us to go on holiday abroad at all? Of the recently disclosed list of 14 Green List destinations to which we will be allowed, not a SINGLE ONE* will actually allow holidaying Brits entry! It is obviously a bad joke.
*Israel will allow entry to fully vaccinated holidaymakers from May 23rd.