The Spanish tourism sector faces a new challenge to save the second summer from the coronavirus. Their prospects at this time depend largely on the delicate balance of forces that maintains the British Government, divided between those who are committed to relaxing travel restrictions and those who demand to tighten them even more. This second case would be a harsh punishment for the summer campaign in what would be a kind of deja vu with what happened a year ago. The decision (and much of the future of the industry), which will be made this week, remains in the hands of the Boris Johnson Executive.
The companies in the sector pray that the position of the faction led by the head of Finance, Rishi Sunak, is imposed, which asks not to add new restrictions due to the economic damage they generate and even advocates eliminating existing obstacles. Spain is now on the amber list, which implies for travelers returning to the United Kingdom the obligation to keep a 10-day quarantine, in addition to carrying out a PCR before embarking on the return trip and another on arrival, in the second day. The harshness of this measure, however, has a but. London introduced in mid-July the nuance of requiring only PCR – and not isolation – to those vaccinated with the full schedule. In practice, this means relaxing restrictions almost to the level of the green list – which implies travel without restrictions – and allows for a normalization in arrivals, since 56.5% of British people are fully immunized.
Despite this relative improvement, the sector insists that the situation is not ideal, especially due to the increase in travel costs caused by PCR tests. But it does facilitate some recovery. “There was no boom British reserves [cuando se anunció que podían volver sin aislarse a su regreso], although they have entered steadily since then ”, explain Riu spokespersons. The Playasol Ibiza Hotels chain agrees on this trend: “We experienced a decline in bookings in the British market after the decision to include the Balearic Islands in the amber list again, but the evolution has stabilized. The changes in the restrictions affect all the issuing markets ”, warn sources of the hotel company.
Now, after a month of July in which the accumulated incidence has only grown (the month began with 134 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days and ended with 687 cases), the threat of a hardening of London restrictions. In the last week there has been a small truce with the change in the downward trend in the level of infections, but it remains to be seen if it is enough for Downing Street not to extend its restrictions to those arriving from Spain on Thursday.
Should London toughen its policy, there are two options on the table. The Government is considering, on the one hand, a new category, known as amber under surveillance (amber watchlist, in English), as published on Monday by the newspaper The Times. This new label, which would be designed especially for Spain, would be a serious warning that the Government could pass the country imminently and without prior notice to the dreaded red list, which even implies a mandatory quarantine in a hotel. In this case, the costs, set at a fixed price of just over 2,000 euros, would be borne by the traveler. The Executive is also studying moving Spain to the amber plus list, where only France is, which would imply new limitations immediately. In this case, those vaccinated with the complete schedule would also be obliged to quarantine upon return to the United Kingdom.
The sector, suffocated
The travel industry is very touched after almost a year and a half of pandemic and with a financial situation at the limit. The summer became even more decisive after a disastrous first semester, below the level of 2020, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE). When analyzing hotel and non-hotel overnight stays by national and international tourists, one of the data preferred by experts because it reflects the number of nights spent by travelers, the gap is almost 74% compared to 2019 and 14% compared to the year last.
2021 has been difficult to start and the start of summer has been delayed. Something manageable in a normal year, but this time it rains in the wet. 2020 was disastrous and exhausted the box of resistance that the productive fabric had. The companies have been exposed to any fluctuations in the market and are only sustained by the public support of the ERTEs and by the hope of receiving the direct aid, announced in March and which has not yet been made effective. In this context, a London door slam would be a hard blow to overcome. “It would mean closing the doors to the British market, which is our main source market,” explains Carlos Abella, secretary general of the Tourism Board. This dramatic situation is also experienced by the UK travel industry, for example its tour operators, who depend to a large extent on the connection with Spain. This factor weighs most heavily on defenders in Johnson’s Cabinet that there are no tougher restrictions.
As revealed last weekend The Sunday TimesThe finance officer’s concern has reached such a level that he formally wrote to Johnson demanding urgent changes. According to Sunak, the current model would be causing serious damage to the economy and would have already generated a severe competitive disadvantage against European rivals. In its favor, it has the support of the person in charge of Transportation, Grant Shapps (the department that sets the so-called traffic light system), of a large part of the Conservative Party and, according to the polls, of a majority of the citizenry.
After the increase in infections caused by the delta variant in the last month, now comes the danger of the beta variant, which has led France to be the only country on the amber plus list. Spain still keeps this new mutation of the virus at bay, although it has many options to join France in the most restrictive list, according to the British media. The reason? A runaway cumulative incidence, much higher than that of the United Kingdom – 356.4 cases in the last seven days, as measured in the United Kingdom, compared to 286.6 cases – and a percentage of adults with the lower double vaccination schedule to the British. Spain, on the other hand, does exceed the islands in proportion of the total population with the two doses.
The Spanish economy crosses its fingers that Johnson leaves everything as it is. On the one hand, because of what it implies losing the largest fishing ground for foreign tourists (in 2019 they were more than 20% of total arrivals and they spent almost 500 million euros a week in August). And on the other, due to the cascade effect that new restrictions could unleash in the other large markets, especially Germany (Berlin only allows those vaccinated with the full schedule to travel without mandatory quarantine) and France.
The next few weeks seem key for the future of thousands of companies. And for tourism to get closer to what it was before the pandemic and finally get out of a crisis that lasts too long: “We have been riding a roller coaster for a summer, with increases and decreases in reserves depending on the decisions that are taken. If the United Kingdom and Germany turn off the tap, the summer will look more like 2020 than 2019, ”says the secretary general of the Tourism Board.