Holidays: Tourism Secretary ‘desperate’ to welcome Brits to Spain
Hopes of a booming summer season hinges on a Covid passport scheme which is expected to be ready for lift-off on May 17. It would allow millions to jet off to the Iberian peninsula for a long-awaited summer holiday – their first in 13 months. The prospect of a wave of tourists flocking to the Balearics and beyond was greeted with joy and relief in Madrid yesterday.
Tourism chiefs in Iberia – which covers Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar – told the British public: “You are our No1 and we have missed you dearly.”
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Express, Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdes said: “Spain is very eager to welcome back Britons this summer after an extended period.
“The UK is our No1 market.
“We have missed our British visitors dearly and we are very hopeful to welcome them back soon.
“We feel vaccine certificates will help boost tourism and again raise hopes for summer holidays on Spanish shores.”
Many destinations popular with British tourists will require them to have received a vaccine jab and provide proof of a recent negative test before they are allowed in.
Covid passports, or health certificates, would allow them to meet this obligation and means a second summer season is not lost.
Spain is ready to welcome Brits back in weeks, tourism chiefs have said
However it is not clear yet whether tourists must have had one or two doses of the vaccine.
But Mr Valdes lauded Britain’s world-leading vaccination programme as “very efficient” and said he was confident it would pave the way for a “summer restart for international holidays between Spain and the UK”.
He added: “We are ready to receive visitors with protocols, measures and advice in place to ensure their safety during their visit.
“Our tourism sector has been working intensely behind the scenes to prepare for a tourism recovery.
“We know British visitors are vital for many tourism-reliant areas in Spain and we share a long and successful tourism history with the UK.
“We look forward to tourism bouncing back and seeing British visitors enjoy the diversity our country has to offer.”
The UK Government is expected to reveal which countries feature in its new traffic light system on May 6 or 7. It is thought that all of Europe and countries like Turkey will be either amber or green.
Green means quarantine-free travel would be allowed, while amber would mean 10-day isolation periods for those returning from these destinations.
Red means no entry will be allowed from these countries.
The Department for Transport wants an official certification scheme enabling Britons to instantly prove at borders they are safe to cross. Covid passports would prove travellers have been inoculated against the virus. This scheme could be up and running as early as May 17, but certainly in time for the peak summer season.
Mr Valdes said: “We hope by early May the UK will clarify the date for restart and that all of Spain will be under the minimum possible travel restrictions .
“A travel corridor between Spain and the UK is another possibility.
Fernando Valdes, Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism
“We want tourists to travel to Spain with all the guarantees of their safety and a travel corridor could provide a possible solution.
“If we are able to reach agreements on these matters by June, we will be able to have a summer holiday, probably not in the same manner as 2019, but a well-needed restart to international tourism.”
Fully vaccinated travellers could even be allowed to sidestep tests and quarantine. That could mean the rapid opening of holidays to 30 countries that previously said they would ask travellers for proof of a jab, like Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey and Israel.
Britain’s biggest holiday firm Tui has reported bookings for July onwards are up 500 per cent, with Spain, Greece and Turkey the most popular destinations. However, some experts have warned of a sting in the tail, with foreign family holidays from all firms potentially costing as much as 91 per cent more as a result of testing protocols.
The Covid passport is likely to be digital, offering proof the holder has received a Covid jab, and certified by the Government.
Officials are now in a race against time to make the scheme work.
Tui has reported bookings for July onwards are up 500 per cent
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are working on a solution to enable residents to prove their Covid-19 status, including vaccination status, to other countries on the outbound leg. We are working on this as a priority and intend to have the solution ready as soon as possible.”
The good news comes as Covid stopped being the leading cause of death in England and Wales. The virus was third in March, behind dementia and heart disease, said the Office for National Statistics.
Between November and February the virus was the leading cause each month.
So far 33,257,651 Britons have had their first Covid jab while 11,192,601 have had their second.
Spain’s state of alarm – its name for lockdown – is due to end on May 9, eight days before the UK embarks on stage three of its roadmap to freedom.
While scores of travel operators have been left on the brink by Covid travel bans, no country has felt it more than Spain, the world’s second-most visited country after France. Before lockdown it attracted 82 million tourists a year – including 18 million arriving from the UK – with the industry providing more than 12 per cent of the country’s income. In total, Britons pumped £16billion into Iberia.
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Comment by Paul Charles
It is not just May 17 the whole travel sector is eagerly awaiting for, but three other dates, or checkpoints, as the Global Travel Taskforce refers to them.
June 28, July 31 and October 1 are to be pencilled in your diary as they will be the dates when the Government further opens up travel as we hopefully ease our way out of this pandemic.
Do not under-estimate the impact of the removal of the Permission To Travel Form from May 17. This means anyone can travel overseas without needing a reason, and won’t need to be interrogated North Korea-style by armed police at the airport.
I understand the Government will reveal which countries are in the new traffic light colours of red, amber and green on either May 6 or 7.
As global data is updated on Thursday each week, this enables the Government to take stock of the latest data on May 6 and then publish its thoughts on how countries will be rated.
I still understand from high-level sources, and believe, all of Europe, and countries such as Turkey, will be either amber or green in the first traffic light map. Add to that green possibilities such as Israel, Barbados, Morocco, Maldives, Seychelles, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and the British Overseas Territories and it’s easy to see why 20-30 countries could be green from the outset.
The US will go green before July 4 as President Biden reopens borders to the British as part of a reciprocal deal. At the same time as the traffic lights, the Government will be publishing a Covid-19 charter outlining consumer rights on travel. This will cover off what consumers can expect if a country changes colour at short notice and how they can seek a refund or rebook.
The Government will also reveal more about how those who have been fully vaccinated will be able to escape self-isolation at home for 10 days when returning from an amber country. A test may still be needed but someone fully vaccinated will not need to stay at home. Cabinet Office papers confirm this is being studied in detail.
The US has already led the way here, saying that US citizens who’ve been fully jabbed don’t have to quarantine at all when they get back but merely have to take a PCR test on day three of their return.
Then, on May 10, the PM is expected to give the go-ahead for travel overseas to begin. This is the one-week notice period he has already set out before opening up the next phase of undoing lockdown.
Paul Charles is a travel consultant