ONE of the most heartening or uplifting signs as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic has been progress to something beginning to resemble normality for Scotland’s airports, in terms of renewed growth in overseas travel from very low levels.

It has been a long haul for airports and for the international travel sector as a whole, which has tended to find itself first into restrictions and last out. And it has been a journey which has probably been far more protracted than even some of the most despondent would have feared.

There have been some difficult false starts and stops since the pandemic took hold in early 2020.

Following the most recent major setback as the Omicron coronavirus variant wave emerged, resulting in a rapid reintroduction of onerous restrictions on overseas travel in the UK and elsewhere, the situation has in recent weeks been easing. And there are positive signs of more to come on this front.

Earlier this month, the scrapping of the testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in or returning to the UK was a hugely important step forward in easing the bureaucratic burden and uncertainty for such passengers.

This followed the removal in January of the requirement for fully vaccinated passengers to take a “pre-departure” test in overseas countries before leaving for the UK, which had been reimposed as the Omicron wave took hold.

So, for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in or returning to the UK, things have become much easier.

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And there was another major move in the right direction this week from the European Union on the easing of restrictions for people travelling to member states, notably for vaccinated passengers.

The European Council declared that “member states should lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for persons vaccinated with an EU or WHO (World Health Organisation)-approved vaccine, provided they have received the last dose of the primary vaccination series at least 14 days and no more than 270 days before arrival or they have received a booster dose”.

The council noted its recommendation is not a legally binding instrument. And member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation.

However, while passengers will have to check carefully the requirements of individual countries in the EU before they travel and keep an eye on the evolving situation, it is clearly a major move in the right direction.

Even before this recommendation, some EU member states, including the likes of Denmark and Sweden, have in recent weeks made it much easier for fully vaccinated people from the UK to travel there.

There has even been talk, so far unconfirmed, that the UK’s lengthy and somewhat complex passenger locator form, which must be submitted at some point during the 48 hours before people arrive in the country, might be scrapped in coming weeks.

What happens on this front remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, however, having to fill in such a form online before arriving in or returning to the UK is another disincentive to travel. In the context of people from the UK going on holiday overseas, it requires passengers not only to set aside time when they could be making the most of their travels but also to have internet access where they are.

It is not as onerous a restriction as the testing requirement but it is a continuing barrier to travel.

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Encouraging people to travel again is all about removing onerous bureaucracy and uncertainty. It is also about allowing people to travel overseas with confidence again, which depends not only on the dismantling of restrictions and bureaucracy but also on other assistance. What will be crucial as we head into the next phase, and as the prospect of Easter and summer holidays beckons for many, is that passengers have the safety net they require when booking and undertaking overseas travel.

Holiday companies and airlines, regardless of the fact they have faced huge financial pressures over the last two years, must offer flexibility where people find themselves unable to travel for coronavirus-related reasons. There have been some examples of good practice on this front but more can be done.

Obviously, the burden on this front must also be shouldered by companies offering travel insurance. They must ensure adequate coronavirus-related provision – people are, after all, paying insurers to cover risk. Things appear to have improved on this front already but insurance providers must pull out all the stops to ensure not only adequate cover but also clarity for consumers.

While there might be short-term costs for holiday companies and airlines, and insurers in providing such a safety net and greater certainty and thus enabling people to travel with confidence, it will be for the long-term good of everyone.

Certainty and confidence are prerequisites for a return to the type of overseas travel patterns we saw before the pandemic.

So removing uncertainty for would-be travellers, and providing them with reassurance, will also be good in the short term for an international travel sector that has been laid so low by the pandemic.

What is more, individual holiday companies, hotel operators and airlines which show best practice on this front would seem likely to be rewarded over coming months and years as consumers remember who enabled them to travel with confidence again after such a long time.

Things are clearly moving in the right direction on the international travel front with some major uncertainties and bureaucracy already removed.

However, with the pandemic not over, significant uncertainties and hurdles remain.

If the industry supports consumers in tackling these, this will be to the benefit of all.

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There is undoubtedly a long way to go and, in a Scottish context, policymakers must do their utmost to help rebuild connectivity for leisure and business travellers. And many holiday companies, travel agents, hotel operators and airlines will have to rebuild their balance sheets after the most difficult of periods.

Crucially though, as we look forward with greater hope on the international travel front, we should remember how far we have come.

We have moved from having deserted airports to ones that are perhaps not yet bustling again but do feature the quiet buzz of excitement from passengers once more able to travel overseas with relative, if not complete, ease.

This provides hope for the future both for would-be travellers and an international travel sector which is a major employer and makes a very important contribution to the economy.