Britain was a world leader in travel. Not anymore

Britain’s strict Covid-19 testing requirements for overseas visitors and Brits wishing to holiday abroad had a “devastating impact” on the UK travel industry this summer, causing it to fall behind European rivals and putting thousands of jobs at risk.

That’s according to Britain’s Travel Association, which said Tuesday that more than two thirds of its members are planning further layoffs once government support for wages comes to an end later this month. London’s Heathrow Airport, meanwhile, revealed Monday that it is now Europe’s tenth busiest airport, slipping from the top spot in 2019. “The government needs to wake up to the damage its policies are doing to the UK travel industry and the impact they will have on the wider economic recovery,” Travel Association CEO Mark Tanzer said in a statement. “A diminished holiday industry is a diminished aviation industry with fewer routes and fewer flights. That’s not how you achieve a global Britain,” he added.

Despite one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, the UK government has kept in place a range of travel requirements for visitors and Brits wishing to leave the country. Travelers are required to take costly coronavirus tests before departure and upon return to England, even if they are fully vaccinated and traveling from countries deemed as low risk for coronavirus by the government. Anyone arriving from a high risk country is required to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense.

By comparison, EU citizens who are double vaccinated have been able to travel within Europe without the need to test for months, according to the Travel Association. “The government’s overly cautious travel requirements have led to the UK trailing behind its European competitors,” it added. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Heathrow was Europe’s busiest airport, welcoming a record 80.9 million passengers in 2019. It now ranks behind major rivals including Amsterdam’s Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Frankfurt International, as well as smaller airports in Turkey and Russia. Passenger numbers were down 71% in August versus the same month in 2019, and cargo volumes were 14% weaker. Some EU competitors reached pre-pandemic cargo volumes at the end of 2020, according to Heathrow Airport.