It was reported by The Times that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) may hand out travel advice independent to the UK’s new traffic light system, and many have remarked on the bedlam that would ensue amongst confused travellers.
“Travel advice is an independent assessment of the risk [to] Brits travelling abroad. It’s independent, trusted advice and will remain so,” a FCDO source is quoted as telling The Times.
ITIJ has also reached out to the FCDO for comment on the matter, asking the regulator to confirm whether the UK traffic light system and FCDO advice would be worked out together or if there was a chance that a ‘green’ country could fall under the FCDO’s ‘essential travel only’ banner.
In response to ITIJ’s enquiry, an FCDO spokesperson quoted a government spokesperson as saying: “The Global Travel Taskforce report sets out how, when the time is right, we will be able to restart international travel safely while managing variants of concern. We will continue to work closely with the travel industry on implementing its recommendations and will set out further details in advance of 17 May.”
In addition, the FCDO spokesperson referenced that the Prime Minister had asked the Transport Secretary to set up the Global Travel Taskforce to develop a framework for a safe and sustainable return to international travel, drawing on extensive engagement with the international travel and tourism industries; and that the government had stipulated that international travel would resume on 17 May at the earliest, with further details to be set out in advance of that date, including which countries will fall into which list.
The spokesperson added: “FCDO Travel Advice continues to be regularly updated to provide up-to-date information and advice on the risks to British travellers abroad.”
Could there some (small) margin for a clash in travel advice? We won’t rule anything out at this point, although, clearly, the UK travel and tourism industry is doing its best to come together in a joint effort to relaunch international travel.
Confused and dissatisfied travel insurance customers
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that two separate regulatory bodies offering contradictory advice is not going to effect any positive resolution to the long-suffering global travel and tourism industry.
Further to that, ITIJ notes that contradicting advice could have dire consequences for the UK travel insurance industry, which could see consumer confidence falter to worrying new levels. Travel insurance, for the most part, is only valid so long as the traveller does not travel against FCDO advice (unless it’s one of the new policies introduced during the pandemic like that of ROCK Insurance Group). But what should happen if a traveller books a trip to a green list country that is subsequently placed under a ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory by the FCDO at the onset of their trip? Should a traveller need to claim, they would be unable to, as their travelling against FCDO advice will have invalidated their travel insurance.
Moreover, if a traveller decides to cancel their trip due to their destination being placed under a ‘Do Not Travel Advisory’, but their airline continues to operate their flight as the destination remains acceptable for travel under the traffic light system, they will once again find themselves at a loss unless they had purchased a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy, for example.
Ultimately, travellers are going to quickly tire of the inconsistent travel restrictions, and may choose to forego travel entirely, which would be bad news for the global tourism industry, as it’s desperate to recoup some of its losses after a year-long international travel hiatus.
Immediate clarity has been called for by the travel industry. “Green and amber countries should not be caught up in additional travel advisories as it will cause complexity for customers and impact how many people will be able to travel overseas this summer,” said Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, who also reasoned that FCDO advice on essential travel ‘should only be in place for destinations where the risk to travellers is unacceptably high’. “We need to see alignment between the Foreign Office advice and the traffic light system to provide clarity and transparency to consumers and operators,” he added.
Too right. And failing that, travel insurers may need to come up with some more creative cover options.