Businesses and employees from the West Midlands region joined in solidarity today (Wednesday 23rd June) to speak up for travel and urge the UK Government to reinstate a risk-based managed approach around a safe restart of international travel in time for the peak summer period.

A socially distanced gathering took place at Birmingham Airport as part of the national ‘Travel Day of Action’ campaign. Parallel events took place across the UK, where employees and businesses representing aviation and travel industries called on Government to expand the Green list of countries in line with the evidence to make restrictions more proportionate, and to rethink the financial support offered to our sector, specifically by extending the furlough scheme beyond the current September cut off.

The Travel Day of Action comes ahead of the Government’s forthcoming traffic light review and reports of Government data showing that fewer than one in 200 travellers are testing positive on their return and no “variants of concern” were detected from passengers returning from amber list countries.

Joining Birmingham Airport staff in support for the reinstatement of travel were representatives from the local tourism attractions, destination marketing organisations, Coventry City of Culture Trust, trade unions, travel agents, airlines, handling agents and the three Chambers of Commerce for Greater Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry.

The pandemic has been a catastrophe for the travel industry and Birmingham Airport alike and is leading to UK businesses being unable to maintain trade relationships overseas or attract international visitors. The airport is only currently serving one country on the Green traffic light list (Gibraltar), with all others on the restrictive Amber list, and although airlines are serving a handful of Amber countries, volumes are small and customer confidence has hit an all-time low.

Birmingham Airport is operating at passenger levels 95% less than in 2019 and without an urgent review of the methodology, which should include UK vaccinated travellers being able to travel without quarantine restrictions and expensive testing, another summer will be lost.

Speaking at the event, Nick Barton, Birmingham Airport’s Chief Executive said:

“Whilst most of Europe and the US have now eased air travel restrictions, Britain’s businesses are losing out because they can’t fly to clients overseas to maintain equipment or close deals in person, nor can they afford to quarantine on return. The UK is becoming an outlier to the rest of Europe, undermining Global Britain’s aspirations.

“The Government’s Traffic Light System has failed to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel it promised and is ignoring the very risk-based system they designed.

“International travel can return safely in a risk managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic-light system. With more than half the population now having received their second vaccine, this must be factored into decision making rather than taking a broad-brush approach.

“We also call on Government to rethink the current requirements for testing, which is totally unaffordable for most hardworking people, and to extend the furlough scheme beyond the September cut off for our sector, which has been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Before Covid-19, the aviation industry was a cornerstone of the UK economy. As the third most internationally connected country in the world, it enabled tens of millions of UK residents to travel overseas, whether on business, for holidays, or connecting with families and friends. It generated over £53bn in domestic spending and catered for the 41 million tourists and business people arriving on Britain’s shores, spending £28.4bn in the country’s world-class cities and attractions.  

With tourism supporting thousands of jobs in the West Midlands region, the continued air restrictions have a wider regional economic impact.

Helen Peters, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s England and member of the West Midlands Board for Tourism, explained:

The transport sector supported over 8,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs and contributed over £1.5bn to the local economy in 2019. This industry plays a vital role in bringing millions of visitors to Warwickshire and the West Midlands – with 134m tourists travelling to the region in 2019, generating £13bn for the local economy and supporting some 137,000 FTE jobs.[1]

“Reviewing ongoing blanket travel restrictions, so that tourism businesses in Warwickshire and the West Midlands can have a meaningful restart and welcome visitors back through their doors after almost 16 months of closures.”

As the EU Commission prepares to relax testing and quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated EU nationals travelling within the 27 bloc countries from the 1st July, the airport hopes that the UK is included as a scheme entrant and that the UK reciprocates this arrangement for EU nationals entering the UK.

With 74% of Birmingham Airport’s overall traffic flying to Europe in 2019, inclusion in this scheme will make travel to the Continent less complex and more accessible for the millions of fully vaccinated UK residents.

The impact of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions on international travel has been significant, and during the year ending 31st March 2021, passenger volumes at Birmingham Airport reduced by 92% compared to the previous 12-month period, with less than a million passengers using the airport. Subsequently, it has made 43% of its workforce redundant and 51% remain on the Job Retention Scheme,

Nick Barton added:

The Job Retention Scheme has been an invaluable support and allowed for our employees, many of whom hold security clearances and specialist licences, to maintain their credentials.

“We therefore call for the JRS scheme for the travel sector to be extended beyond the September cut off to make the necessary operational decisions for an efficient restart once restrictions are meaningfully lifted and to reduce uncertainty and worry for employees.”

Organisers and supporters of the cross-industry Travel Day of Action include ABTA, Airlines UK, the Airport Operators Association, BAR UK, UKinbound, the Business Travel Association, IATA, Advantage Travel Partnership and the wider industry under the umbrella Save Future Travel Coalition, alongside unions GMB, Unite, BALPA and Prospect.

[1] Source: STEAM 2019.

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