“A jug of cold water.” This is how Carlos Garrido, president of the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV), defines the decision of the United Kingdom to save only to the Balearic Islands as a safe destination and to keep the rest of Spain in its amber list, that with the territories to which the Government of Boris Johnson advises against traveling. “The fact that they do not even include the Canary Islands is bad news. The British market is the most important both in terms of number of visitors and volume of consumption. This is going to slow down the whole season a lot, ”he explained by phone as soon as he heard the news. The representatives of the sector emphasize, however, that the approval of the Balearic archipelago opens the door so that in three weeks, when the list is reviewed, other territories such as the Canary Islands can also pass to the green list. For this they have to meet the requirement of improving their epidemiological data.
In 2019, the golden year of Spanish tourism before the brutal impact of the coronavirus, 18 million Britons traveled to Spain, 21% of all foreign visitors. Nobody in the sector thinks anywhere near those figures. But the decision of Thursday of the British Government removes that scenario even further. “This is negative news that will slow down the recovery of the sector,” says Martí Sarrate, president of the Corporate Association of Specialized Travel Agencies (ACAVE).
José Luis Zoreda, executive vice president of Exceltur, the body that acts as lobby of the sector, however prefers to see the glass half full. Zoreda highlights the importance of including the Balearic Islands in the green list, which implies that from next Wednesday the British will be able to fly to those islands without restrictions. A number is enough to explain this relevance: in July and August 2019, British tourists left more than 1,500 million euros in the archipelago. “For the Balearic Islands it is undoubtedly a very considerable push”, adds the representative of this employer’s association in the sector. The other side of the coin is shown by the territories that run out of sterling. This impact will be especially noticeable in the Canary Islands, Costa del Sol and Benidorm, which are highly dependent on visitors from the British Isles.
The Balearic Government and the tourism sector have applauded the decision made public in London late on Thursday. The regional president, Francina Armengol, has written on her Twitter account that Foreign Health “must require” evidence of covid-19 at source from the British who visit the archipelago, as well as set “strict and safe entry controls.” The president of the Mallorca hotel federation, María José Aguiló, has urged the sector to prepare for the strong increase in travelers that she anticipates starting next week, reports Lucia Bohórquez.
But optimists cling not only to the fact that the Balearic Islands have remained within the green list, but to the message that it supposes for the rest of the sector. “They have shown that they are capable of turning the traffic light green when the necessary conditions are met. Before we had the doubt of whether they were being objective in their decisions and now that doubt has been cleared. Now the important thing is not to look so much to the United Kingdom but to ourselves and to take the necessary measures to reduce the accumulated incidence ”, points out Jorge Marichal, president of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT), the employer’s association that represents both hotels such as tourist apartments, campsites, resorts or spas.
The Exceltur representative shares this idea that Thursday’s decision shows that the Johnson government is acting purely with sanitary or epidemiological criteria. “Neither Spanish nor foreign territories should feel harmed for political reasons. They have only included the Balearic Islands and Malta, leaving out the Greek islands, with a very high vaccination rate ”, adds Zoreda.
The threat of the delta variant
But, even if Spain managed to improve its epidemiological data, the problems to reactivate tourism would not have ended. Because in recent weeks the delta variant has spread in a worrying way in the British Isles. To the point that at the European summit that began on Thursday the leaders of France and Germany, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, bet on requiring British travelers to undergo a quarantine period after their arrival in the countries of the UE, a decision that, if adopted, would end the season in Spain. “Such a decision would be the finishing touch for the sector. The most important thing is not to take steps back and not to return to the restrictions. If that implies closing some markets temporarily, we would understand it as a solution so as not to go through what we have been through again ”, responds Garrido, the representative of the travel agencies.
“It is true that there is concern about this new strain of the virus. But there is also important news, such as that Americans are going to start visiting Spain. The most important thing now is to have a responsible behavior and make sure that the de-escalation in the measures to contain the pandemic is accompanied by an escalation in the responsible behavior of each one of us ”, adds Marichal, who insists that the measures adopted work, as shown by the inclusion of the Balearic Islands in the British green list. “We have days to prepare the situation and make sure that in the next review, within three weeks, more Spanish territories enter that list,” concludes the representative of the hotel management.