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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Why Europe’s fourth wave could boost the holiday appeal of rule-free England

For families, the UK is more relaxed than many countries when it comes to entry requirements for children. Canada imposes quarantine on unvaccinated children aged 12 to 17; Israel imposes an outright ban on unvaccinated minors; France requires all children to have either a vaccine certificate or recent negative PCR test in order to enter restaurants or bars. To visit the UK, children aged 4 to 18 must simply take a test within 48 hours of arriving, with no vaccination requirement at all. Under 4s can enter swab-free.

There have been examples of people travelling to escape Covid-19 measures. In February 2021, French tourists crossed the border to Madrid where bars and restaurants were open and people could stay outdoors until 10pm. In their French hometowns, restaurants were shut and a strict 6pm curfew was in place.

There could be a similar trickle of people travelling to the UK if more European countries enter a lockdown, but it is hard to picture the UK’s inbound tourism economy cashing in significantly on the fourth wave in Europe. Indeed, in some countries there is still a feeling of bewilderment as to why things are so normal here in the UK. England in particular is seen as something of an outlier, for both its laissez-faire approach to crowd capacity limits during the Euro 2020 football and for failing to introduce vaccine certificates. 

Our relaxed approach could be working against the UK’s appeal as a holiday destination. Last week a YouGov survey showed that vaccine certificates have general support across Europe; in Italy, 58% of people believe they should be mandatory to enter a restaurant. Spain (51% in favour) and France (50%) are more divided on the topic, but are still far more supportive of the move than the UK, where 41% of people believe they should be used for entry to restaurants. 

Fabio Bergonzini from Bologna, Italy, told CNN Travel: “The general perception from here is that in the UK, people don’t regard Covid as an issue anymore, as if it’s not even discussed. Some Scottish friends told me that everyone in Scotland is going around with masks, but people in England aren’t. Considering that I don’t leave home without a mask, I’d feel a bit strange being the only one masked in [the] UK.”

There is also the post-Brexit impact on inbound tourism. As of October 1 2021, Europeans cannot enter the country on an ID card but must instead show a passport, and on January 1 2021 the Government abolished the VAT Retail Export Scheme which allowed tax-free shopping in the UK for non-EU citizens. Rather than expanding this privilege to Europeans, the Government scrapped the scheme entirely. Fuel shortages and supply chain issues haven’t helped with the optics of a nation best avoided.

With all this in mind, according to Joss Croft, CEO of Ukinbound, we are facing a difficult winter ahead. “UK businesses that are heavily reliant on inbound tourism face a tough winter. For the vast majority of our members, bookings/expected arrivals during November and December are expected to be down by over 75% compared to the same period in 2019, with many international visitors deferring their visit to 2022. 

“Additionally, Europe is the UK’s largest inbound tourism market and further lockdowns and restrictions across the continent will impact people’s desire to travel internationally. 2022 is showing green shoots for the industry but signalling to the world the UK is open for business and welcoming has never been more important.”

So yes, we have stability when it comes to our Covid-19 case rate and our weekly death rate is creeping slowly down. Individuals have the liberty to visit restaurants, bars and art galleries without showing evidence of their vaccination status, and wearing a mask indoors is a choice not an edict. Meanwhile, our booster programme continues apace. Put it all on paper and you would have thought people would be rushing here in their droves. And yet, once again this winter, we will have this ‘plague island’ largely to ourselves.

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