AS many in the UK long for the guaranteed blue summer skies of overseas destinations, the picture for international travel in many ways looks more overcast and turbulent than ever.

The Global Travel Taskforce established by the UK Government finally produced its long-awaited report – aimed at facilitating a safe return to international journeys amid the coronavirus pandemic – earlier this month. It might have been wishful thinking to have believed this was going to be a silver bullet, in a complex situation full of risk. But the degree to which the report left people scratching their heads – consumers certainly and much of the international travel industry too it seemed – was demoralising.

For many people hoping to escape on an overseas holiday this summer, in many cases having been unable to do so last year, the report must surely have made what will often already have looked like a bewildering decision even more perplexing.

Some will have paid deposits on summer 2021 holidays last year, perhaps at spells during this pandemic when it might have been hoped that international travel would have been more straightforward by now. As their planned departure dates have drawn ever nearer, would-be holidaymakers will have been facing decisions on how to proceed.

It is crucial to bear in mind, as more and more of the economy in Scotland and the rest of the UK reopens, that the priority has rightly been and should continue to be on saving many thousands of lives. And nobody wants a further lockdown – so it is crucial to recognise the importance of safe reopening in this context even amid what sometimes seems like a cacophony of complaining.

However, when it comes to the safe reopening of international leisure travel, which seems perhaps not that far away now given global vaccine success, we must not forget the mental health benefits to many people of overseas trips. And, in a post-Brexit UK which often appears increasingly insular, the mind-broadening aspect of travel is surely more important than ever.

International travel, when it can be undertaken safely, must not become the preserve of the wealthy and the elite (the actual elite and not those portrayed erroneously as being so in these days of populism). The UK Government, for all its talk of a Great British summer of staycations, must do its utmost to ensure overseas holidays remain widely accessible and affordable, not only for the overall health of the population but for the good of the travel sector and broader economy.

Another crucial aspect to enabling a return of holidays abroad is reassuring consumers. And this is where things become very difficult.

As things stand, it looks like it will be more difficult for many people to decide on whether to holiday abroad in coming months than it was last summer.

The Global Travel Taskforce report seems well-meaning enough, and it is crucial, taking on board the lessons learned from the UK Government’s previous laissez-faire attitude to international arrivals during much of the pandemic, to get things right this time in reopening overseas travel.

However, if holidaymakers had many questions before, they will likely have more after the publication of the report.

It seems the UK Government could do more to clarify the situation, and where things are likely headed. The devolved nations would then have to make their own decisions in relation to international travel (and the Scottish Government has been more cautious on this front in the past) but some further clues from the Johnson administration would be an important first step.

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Travel operators took quite different decisions in the wake of the slightly earlier-than-expected publication of the Global Travel Taskforce report which, perhaps unsurprisingly given the lack of answers relative to the questions it threw up, came without much fanfare.

Jet2 moved swiftly to cancel flights and package holidays until June 23.

In contrast, package holiday giant TUI stuck with its plan of recommencing holidays from May 17, the earliest possible date for international leisure travel provided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his roadmap way back in February.

Meanwhile, holidaymakers remain on tenterhooks.

Travel operators are understandably trying to bring in crucial revenues by encouraging bookings. Across the board, there has been much focus for months now on selling holidays for 2022. However, there is also a significant push for this summer.

Returning to the crucial factor of consumer confidence, however, there are still many questions to be answered.

The Global Travel Taskforce report outlined plans for green, amber and red destinations, with various implications for quarantining or otherwise, and differing testing requirements.

It will have focused the minds of many – including travel industry leaders as well as consumers – on the practicalities and expense of testing.

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There was understandably much debate following publication of the Global Travel Taskforce report about the expense of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for Covid-19 coronavirus. Many noted these were more expensive than lateral flow tests. There has in recent days been some progress on bringing down the cost of the PCR tests but how low the price will go remains to be seen.

You wonder at times whether it might be worthwhile for the UK Government to step in on a temporary basis to offer to fund such tests. This is obviously a matter for discussion. Many people will see the spending priorities as being elsewhere and view losing out on overseas holidays as a small sacrifice relative to what many people have suffered.

However, while acknowledging the absolute validity of these points, funding tests would be one way of trying to ensure travel remained affordable, while also helping enable recovery in a sector which employs very large numbers in the UK and aiding the economy.

However, it is not just down to the UK or Scottish governments to help out the international travel sector both now and crucially in years to come, to save jobs and preserve supply-side capacity essential to affordability.

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The travel operators themselves, while they obviously need to juggle some very unpalatable financial considerations, must put fair dealing with customers at the very heart of everything they do, in practical terms.

They must offer maximum flexibility, and the option of refunds in as many circumstances as possible. That is the way they will secure bookings. All going well, the vast bulk of people will not have to cancel, so the revenues will stick. However, on this basis, those who feel that in light of developing circumstances they are unable to travel will be protected. Many consumers are particularly vulnerable at the moment, given huge labour market uncertainties as well as the myriad scenarios for planned holidays that could be thrown up by how the pandemic develops and by coronavirus testing and isolation requirements.

In this context, those travel operators which look after their customers now by offering refunds or at the very least meaningful flexibility are also likely to benefit significantly in terms of future bookings over years and decades. And so they should. This awful pandemic has highlighted, in all aspects of life, good and bad behaviour. It seems right that such behaviour is remembered when it comes to the companies that consumers are happiest to do business with in future, and those they would not spend money with again.

The insurance industry, of course, also has its part to play in consumer confidence around overseas holidays.

At the moment, for many consumers willing and able to wade through the small print, exclusions on insurance policies will present another hurdle to them booking overseas holidays.

The insurance industry is, of course, focused on risk. However, it obviously makes its money from providing people with cover for various risks.

People purchasing travel insurance are seeking to take out cover which protects them against as much of the risk as possible. They are not looking to buy a policy full of exclusions. Hopefully, market forces will come into play here and comprehensive cover, not policies full of coronavirus-related exclusions, will become ubiquitous sooner rather than later. And travel operators should work with insurers where relevant to enable them to offer greater protection against risk to customers.

There must be a continuing focus on public health and saving lives when it comes to the reopening of international travel.

However, as overseas holidays become possible again it will be crucial for government, tour and flight operators, and the insurance industry to do everything they can to keep overseas travel affordable and, to the maximum extent possible, low risk. If they do so, consumers are more likely to book.

This will help preserve capacity in this key sector, save jobs, and support the economy. The current situation is grimly complex but what needs to happen to make it easier seems obvious.