Mayor and Birmingham Airport urge Government to re-think quarantine restrictions

17 June 2020 Becky Humphries

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Birmingham Airport chief executive Nick Barton have called on the Government to ease quarantine restrictions on travellers arriving from abroad over fears of the damage it will cause to the region’s economy.

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Birmingham Airport adjacent to the NEC, facilitates the arrival of thousands of business travellers to Group venues each year.

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the pair warn that the newly-implemented strict aviation quarantine rules will have a long-term detrimental effect on both the West Midlands’ travel industry and its business tourism sector.

Under the restrictions introduced last week, travellers arriving from abroad are ordered to spend 14 days in isolation, making many business and holiday trips unrealistic. This is of huge concern to both the airport, which has seen a 90 per cent fall in passenger numbers due to the pandemic, and the region’s successful business tourism industry which relies significantly on travel from abroad.

The restrictions are due to come under review later this month, and the Mayor and Birmingham Airport are urging the Government to adopt a more flexible approach, particularly with regard to those arriving from low risk countries or locations. Suggestions include offering testing on arrival, or the introduction of air bridges with key countries that have low transmission rates.

Mayor Andy Street, who signed the letter on behalf of the region’s Economic Impact Group (EIG), said: “What the Government is trying to achieve from a public health perspective with these measures is absolutely right, but the 14-day quarantine will have unintended and severe consequences for our regional economy. The EIG and Birmingham Airport believe these public health outcomes can be achieved through other measures, such as testing on arrival and air bridges.

“Not only do the current measures hamper tourism, with international tourists contributing more than £800m each year to the local economy, but it also impacts our businesses. The West Midlands is very proudly home to a number of major businesses - such as JLR, National Express, and Mondelez - who rely on international travel to conduct business. The quarantine restrictions are not only hampering their recovery, but the recovery of our region.”

As well as the impact on both the tourism and business tourism sectors, there are concerns about the damage these measures will to do Birmingham Airport. The airport, which has already had to pause its ambitious £500m expansion plans because of Coronavirus, employs 7,000 workers in the West Midlands directly, and helps support a further 31,000 more across the region.

Nick Barton, the Chief executive of Birmingham Airport, said: “We fully support the need to protect public health. However, the longer the blanket quarantine policy is in place, greater and more damaging impacts will be felt by our business and industry as a whole. We are urgently calling for this policy to be amended to take a risk-based approach, such as using air bridges or similar initiatives, to make it effective. We need urgent clarity on the travel restrictions to stimulate demand so that airlines have the confidence to restart services and support the UK’s economic recovery.”

In 2018 tourism was worth £836 million to the regional economy and is considered to be especially important for popular destinations like Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick. The region’s success in attracting foreign investment has also been bolstered by its strong international travel links.

The NEC Group venues see thousands of international business travellers and visitors through their doors each year.

Paul Thandi, a member of the EIG and CEO of the NEC Group, said: “Our economy must now be given as many chances as possible to recover.  The 14-day quarantine serves to limit this.  We need to strike a balance in aiding economic growth whilst maintaining our support for public health matters.  Employing alternative measures for air travel would play a key role in this.”

The EIG brings together business leaders, central government, banks, trade unions, and local authorities including the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to work together to support our economy as it recovers and protect jobs following the Covid-19 pandemic.