DfT V FCDO: Conflicting Advice Surrounding The Traffic Light System

Come May 17th, the advice regarding travel given by the Department for Transport (DfT) through their new ‘traffic light system’ may not align with that given by the Foreign Office (FCDO).  If you tuned in to Travlaw’s most recent episode of Hot Topics, or have read any of our recent articles on the Taskforce’s Traffic Light system, you will not be surprised to hear that we are disappointed by this news!

For a full explanation of the DfT’s proposed plans for the re-opening of travel, have a look at Sophie’s recent article here. However, in summary;

The Global Travel Taskforce’s Traffic Light system is due to be formally rolled out next month, when destination countries will be allocated a category of Red, Amber or Green, representing High –Risk, Moderate Risk, and Low-Risk destinations of travel. Dependent on the colour of the destination, various restrictions and requirements will be imposed on travellers before they enter, or return to, the UK.

Our presumption, along with the majority of other people in the industry, was that FCDO travel advice would mirror that of the DfT, – so countries labelled as Green by the DfT, would have no FCDO advice against travel,  but countries labelled Amber, and definitely those labelled as Red, could potentially be labelled as ‘no-go’.

Such an approach would, of course, make things a lot more straight forward as most operators will refuse to run holidays in countries to which the FCDO advise against travel but would be able, ready and willing to send provide holidays to destinations against which there is no FCDO travel advice – making discussions with customers (and of course the issue of refunds!) much more straight forward.

Unfortunately, it seems the above approach is not a given, and it is very much a possibility that differing guidance from the respective departments will be in place come 17th May.

So why is there is a conflict between the two government bodies?

The DfT and FCDO each have their own systems for deciphering whether travelling to, and returning from, a destination country is safe, as they are both in fact assessing very different things.

The DfT system focuses solely on the risk of travellers importing coronavirus back into the UK and so, when making their decision, will consider issues such as coronavirus infection rates and variants of concern in destination – that people could potentially pick up and bring home.

The FCDO’s system however makes its decisions based on the actual risk of harm to British travellers whilst in destination, and so takes more elements into consideration. They will subsequently consider not only the DfT’s classification of a country, but  will also look at information from intelligence sources, data provided by local authorities in each country and local knowledge from other embassies around the world.

So whilst a country may have a ‘low COVID risk’ and so appear as Green on the DfT’s travel guide, that same country may have a high risk of a terrorist attack for example, and so be deemed ‘Red’ under the FCDO’s system.

How does this affect this industry, and what do we think?

Well it is unhelpful to say the least, not just because both bodies decided to use the same coloured ‘traffic light system’! Effectively, a country could therefore be listed being both Green and Red at the same time, in that DfT could say “green” but FCDO say “don’t go there”…  – which really is somewhat confusing!

Our belief is that, if a country is labelled as having different levels of risk by both the DfT and the Foreign Office, FCDO advice will supersede, and so it will be FCDO advice that deciphers whether or not customers can travel to specific destinations and whether a refund is due under the Package Travel Regulations should they choose not to go.

Overall, we believe that FCDO advice will be less restrictive than that of DfT. (For example, FCDO currently do not advise against travel to the Canary Islands, yet under DfT advice – we cannot leave the UK to go anywhere, until at least 17th May). We therefore remain hopeful that, when official classifications of each country are confirmed, the most important criteria considered by both bodies will not unduly restrict the resumption of foreign holidays.

If you have any questions about this article, contact Krystene at

krystene@travlaw.co.uk

or

0113 258 0033

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