The head of the Spanish Tourist Office in the UK has insisted that British holidaymakers remain welcome despite the Balearic islands being demoted to the amber travel list from Monday.
Javier Pinanes added his voice as the travel industry condemned the latest changes to Covid travel rules, moving the Balearics from the green watchlist after just a fortnight, announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday.
Pinanes, UK director of the STO, said: “We must respect the decision from the British government. We would highlight, however, that, according to Spain’s Ministry of Health, in the Balearic islands, 3.85% of hospital beds are Covid-related based on data published on July 13.
“The majority of new cases are among younger age groups, specifically 12 to 19 and 20 to 29 year olds, and despite the increasing Covid rates, the hospitals in the Balearic island archipelago are not under pressure.
“Likewise, there have been no fatalities reported due to Covid-19 in the Balearic islands in the last seven days and there are strict safety and hygiene processes and measures in place.
“The Balearic islands continue to be a safe tourism destination that strictly adhere to safety protocols that have been established by the authorities.
“British visitors remain welcome in the Balearic islands and Spain.”
Balearic islands tourism minister Iago Negueruela added: “Our tourism sector has already welcomed many British tourists back to the islands over the last few weeks and the Balearic islands remain open.
“Travel is different this summer and we would like to continue encouraging visitors to travel responsibly, follow the local rules and take all the necessary steps to have a safe holiday.
“We have very sophisticated infrastructure in the Balearic islands and our health systems and hospitals are not under pressure. The rise in infections is predominantly amongst young people and for the vast majority, there are no harmful symptoms. Likewise, many measures and protocols are in place to ensure that our visitors can have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
“We are pleased that from Monday, fully vaccinated Britons, which represents almost 35 million people, will be able to travel to the islands without the need to quarantine on their return. We continue to welcome our British visitors.”
However, Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, warned that the removal of the Balearic islands from the green watchlist to the amber list “highlights that the reality for the travel industry is that our summer season will be on a much smaller scale than pre-Covid years”.
He added: “Many holidaymakers have opted for UK breaks for summer 2021 because of a lack of confidence in the government’s erratic approach to travel earlier in the year and as we are seeing now.
“Even though fully vaccinated customers will be able to travel to amber list countries without quarantine from Monday, this announcement leads to unease about how quickly countries can change from list to list.
“Despite reports of increases in overseas enquiries, many travel businesses won’t earn any revenue from future bookings until the customer has taken their trip because the industry is commission-based.
“Therefore the travel industry needs ongoing financial support and an extension of measures such as furlough to bridge the gap between now and a time where bookings are being redeemed and travel is getting back to pre-Covid levels.”
Traveltime World director Jackie Steadman tweeted: “We used to sell beautiful holidays all over the world, making dreams come true for our clients, now we are just a free advisory service for the UK gov! Our industry needs sector support while we delver this service.”
British Airline Pilots Association acting general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Chopping and changing the rules for the most popular destinations continues to prevent aviation from fully taking off this summer and the sector can’t survive on scraps.
“Extended sector specific furlough for aviation is now a necessity so that skills and expertise are not lost whilst vaccination programmes around the world catch up with the UK.
“This latest announcement also highlights the importance of clarity over the traffic light system criteria. Balpa is calling once again for the data to be published and for transparency on how the list is compiled so that the travel industry can plan and passengers can feel confident to book.”
Adrian Murdock, co-founder of hotel booking platform Hoo, said: “The process of travelling abroad has become a minefield of Covid protocols, testing requirements and additional costs that the average holidaymaker simply can’t stomach, with many having already endured a year of cancellations and long waits for refunds in 2020.
“While the promise of a quarantine-free holiday for those to have received both of their jabs may bring some reassurance, it’s unlikely to bring about the significant boost required to revive the sector.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “These changes further highlight that anybody considering booking a holiday this summer should only do so if they are prepared to rebook, often at extra cost, and potentially face more expensive testing or quarantine if the rules suddenly change.
“It can be near impossible to get your money back in these circumstances, and while flexible booking policies that offer to rebook your holiday for free can be of use, the devil is in the detail. You will always have to pay any difference for new dates, and price increases can be significant.”