High cost of PCR tests negatively impacts international travel recovery

  • Pricing of PCR tests is a critical factor
  • Having to take two tests during a trip adds significant cost
  • Multiple tests are likely to be key in planning an international trip for some time

Vaccination rollouts have been pinpointed as a catalyst for the recovery of travel, but the pricing of PCR tests is also a critical factor and risks holding back recovery in the long-term.

Prices for COVID-19 PCR tests do vary, but can dramatically increase the cost of an international trip. Research by Which? in April 2021 found that the average price of one PCR test was £120 (US$166) in the UK. Having to take two tests during a trip adds significant cost and this can serve as deterrent to traveling. This calls for yet more sector collaboration to reduce costs and make it more feasible for a travel restart.

COVID-19 has tightened budget constraints for many. Industry’s latest consumer survey found that 50% of global respondents ‘completely’ or ‘somewhat’ agreed they have reduced household budgets in the last year. Additionally, 54% (‘completely’/somewhat’) are also now following a strict weekly/monthly budget, highlighting that the added expenditure of an international getaway could be problematic.

A vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests prior to departure and/or on arrival and upon landing are currently needed to legally travel to and from many countries. It will take a considerable amount of time for a whole population to be vaccinated and therefore multiple tests are likely to be key in planning an international trip for some time. The costs associated with this will reduce the ability for many individuals to be able to travel any time soon.

Family outbound travel is what could really be set back here. Even if some older members of the family are vaccinated and do not have to pay for COVID-19 tests, those aged under 18 are still likely to have to pay for a test – not just one, but multiple. This could fall onto the parents, adding further costs, which will undoubtedly not be welcomed.

TUI is the first tour operator to make a bold move on reducing the costs of testing for international travel. The operator recently announced that it planned to offer COVID-19 PCR tests for £20 for UK tourists traveling to countries on the government’s ‘green list’. In partnership with government authorized test provider Chronomics, management declared plans to make travel this summer as ‘easy and affordable’ as possible.

This is a well-considered strategic move from the tour group, demonstrating that the cost of testing for COVID-19 can be considerably cut if partnerships are formed. More operators and airlines should be collaborating with authorized test providers to make travel more accessible and generally more affordable in an ongoing uncertain situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.