The UK travel industry needs rapid inbound testing, and we need it now

The travel industry has come to terms with the fact that the only thing that can really save the sector now is finding a vaccine. While vaccines for the virus are on the horizon, ‘normality’ is still far off. Even after a vaccine is approved, it may still be years before a lot of people feel comfortable travelling again. This is why the UK travel industry needs rapid inbound testing at airports, and we need it now.

As suggested in the name, rapid testing is faster than regular tests with results available within 20 minutes or so. In October, Heathrow Airport began offering rapid testing to passengers travelling to Hong Kong. Gatwick Airport also recently announced it would offer rapid testing to all passengers from November 30th. For £60, travellers flying from Gatwick can get a test if they require a valid, negative COVID-19 test certificate for destinations requiring one from up to 96 hours before travel.

Rapid outbound testing is certainly great for Brits who wish to go abroad, but what we really need is rapid inbound testing. Travel is going to play a crucial role in getting the UK economy back on its feet again, but this depends on the re-opening of the UK’s skies. In 2019, 79% of inbound visitors reached the UK by air. Pre-departure rapid testing is the safest and quickest way to get moving again.

Lots of countries now require negative COVID test results before travellers can enter the country, this means they can avoid 14 days of quarantine. The UK, however, is being left behind. As it stands, passengers entering the UK must quarantine for 14 days, unless they are arriving from the ever-changing travel corridor list.  Demand for travel will simply not return until the 14-day quarantine rule is lifted.

At Best of Scotland Holidays, we work primarily with the travel trade and travellers from the US and Canada, none of which are on the travel corridor list and haven’t been for many months. This has severally impacted our business which is why we are in desperate need for inbound rapid testing.

British Airways and its US partner, United Airlines, recently announced that it would start testing passengers flying from New York and Los Angeles to London’s Heathrow Airport for COVID-19 in an effort to persuade the British government to scrap the 14-day quarantine rule.  

On touchdown at Heathrow, passengers will undergo a quicker three-test approach which aims to validate a customer’s negative status for COVID-19 throughout the travel journey. This could be monumental change that helps our business, but we need to more airports and airlines to do the same.

I do not doubt the challenges of rapid inbound testing. To be successful, airports and airlines across the globe will have to work together to build a new and reliable rapid testing procedure. Previous methods have been unreliable with travellers showing up with pieces of paper, test results or vaccination records and there is no real way of verifying them. In some instances, these have been fake certificates.

Travellers need a seamless experience that will deliver quick and accurate results that captures and digitally records data.

For an industry that has contributed so much to the UK economy, the travel sector has seriously been left behind. In 2019, international visitors spent £28.4bn and contributed £5.5bn in VAT alone, according to The Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey 2020.

The UK Government cannot afford to let our industry collapse. The sooner we can re-open our skies, the better. We truly believe that rapid inbound testing is the answer.

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