Spain’s tourism industry faces a new hurdle in its race to save the summer season, and the outcome will largely depend on decisions made in the UK, where the government is split between those who want to ease restrictions on travel and those who want to introduce stricter rules.
Stricter restrictions would be a blow to Spain’s tourism sector, which relies heavily on British visitors. In 2019, UK tourists accounted for over 20% of all arrivals and collectively spent â‚¬ 500million per week during the month of August. The year 2019 also marked a record of overall international arrivals, 83.7 million, most of which came from Britain, Germany and France.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Ministry of Health has decided to lift the ban on flights from Brazil and South Africa. The ban has been in effect since February. From Tuesday, these flights will be considered “high risk” and passengers will be forced to quarantine themselves for 10 days. The same quarantine conditions come into effect on August 3 for travelers from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Namibia.
UK plans to put Spain on its Orange Plus list, which would require returning travelers to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status
Spain is currently on the UK’s orange list, which means travelers must self-isolate for 10 days upon returning from Spanish territory – however, fully vaccinated people are exempt from this rule. In practice, this puts Spain practically on the green list as 56.5% of UK residents have been fully immunized.
â€œThere has been no explosion in bookings from British nationals [when it emerged that they could travel to Spain without quarantining upon return], but they have been coming at a constant rate since then, â€confirmed a spokesperson for the Riu hotel chain.
â€œWe have seen a drop in bookings from the UK market following the decision to re-add the Balearic Islands to the Orange List, but things have stabilized since then. The changes in restrictions affect all source markets, â€said a source from the Playasol Ibiza Hotels chain.
Spain is grappling with a fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic – the 14-day case rate was 134 per 100,000 at the start of July and 687 by the end. The trend now appears to be changing, but it’s unclear whether that will be enough to convince the UK government that there is no need to add restrictions in its next travel list update, scheduled for Thursday.
Spain is also concerned that new restrictions in the UK could push other major source markets such as Germany and France to adopt their own stricter measures.
For now, London has abandoned its idea of â€‹â€‹an orange watchlist of countries at risk of going red, according to the BBC, a move that would have directly affected Spain. But the UK is also considering putting Spain on its Plus Orange List, which would require returning travelers to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccine status (but not pay for a quarantine hotel like this. is the case for those returning from countries on the Red List). Currently, only France is on the Amber Plus List due to concerns about the beta variant.
If UK and Germany turn off the tap, this summer will look more like 2020 than 2019
Carlos Abella, general secretary of the Mesa del Turismo industrial group
The Spanish travel industry is feeling the pressure of almost a year and a half of the pandemic. The first six months of this year show even worse figures than in 2020, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE): an overview of overnight stays in hotels and other types of accommodation by domestic and foreign tourists, a preferred metric by experts, shows a gap of nearly 74% compared to 2019 and 14% compared to last year.
At present, many companies are surviving thanks to public aid provided by the ERTE job retention scheme and a promise of direct aid made in March but which has not yet materialized. In this scenario, a tightening of travel restrictions for British tourists would be a big blow.
â€œThis would mean closing the doors to the UK market, which is our main home market,â€ explains Carlos Abella, general secretary of the Mesa del Turismo industrial group. The damage would also extend to UK tour operators who rely heavily on travel to Spain.
â€œWe had a roller coaster ride this summer, with ups and downs in bookings depending on decisions made,â€ says Abella. “If the UK and Germany turn off the tap, this summer will look more like 2020 than 2019.”
Fall of tourism in Catalonia
In Catalonia, businesses on the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada say July was weaker than expected due to low numbers of foreign tourists. “We have a large offer in terms of accommodation, and for a good season we need international tourism,” said Pere Granados, mayor of Salou and president of the Tourist Office.
â€œIf we compare with the figures for July 2020, we have tripled them, but we are still light years away from what we had in 2019,â€ explains Marta BorrÃ s, tourism advisor for the city of Cambrils. And in Barcelona, â€‹â€‹only 202 of the 400 existing hotels were open in mid-July.
english version by Susana Urra.