Industry criticises decision as Labour calls for ‘smarter measures’
New quarantine rules for Spain will have a “devastating” impact on the travel industry, operators and airlines have warned.
Under rules introduced at short notice over the weekend, travellers coming back from Spain will now have to quarantine for 14 days.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office also changed its position to advise against all non-essential travel to mainland Spain. The Canary Islands and Balearic Islands are exempt from the FCO advice against all non-essential international travel, but returning holidaymakers from the islands will still be forced to quarantine.
An ABTA spokesperson: “The announcements by the government relating to travel to and from Spain have major financial implications for travel businesses that are already under significant pressure. The costs associated with stopping and starting operations are considerable, and businesses need to be able to plan ahead with more conviction.
“Protecting public health is rightly a priority and it is understandable that decisions are being kept under constant review but no specific information has been shared by the government as to the precise criteria or infection rates being used to determine policy positions, making it impossible for travel businesses to make more effective business decisions.
“As well as sharing this information, to minimise necessary disruption, ABTA also urges the government to move as quickly as possible towards a regional approach to its quarantine policy. Such an approach might enable travel to the Balearics and Canary Islands, which are immensely popular destinations for British holidaymakers at this time of year.”
Andrew Flintham, Tui UK and Ireland‘s managing director, said: “We’re incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get more notice of this announcement, or that this decision wasn’t made yesterday, as many Brits travel on holiday at the weekend.
“We also look to understand why quarantine has been issued for a whole country, including the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands, when the travel advice isn’t aligned only applying to mainland Spain. It demonstrates why clear regional travel corridors need to be considered.
“The health and safety of our customers and colleagues is always our highest priority and welcome travel advice that protects those that holiday with us.
“However, the UK Government must work closely with the travel industry as this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”
Ryanair, which said it will not reduce the number of flights to and from Spain, called the decision “regrettable.” “I think it is very disappointing,” Neil Sorahan told Reuters.
“I have no doubt that we will see other localised outbreaks and we need to be flexible enough to deal with them as they arise over the next number of weeks and months,” he said.
British Airways said the move was “throwing thousands of Britons’ travel plans into chaos”.
Kelly Cookes, leisure director at Advantage Travel Partnership said it was “devastating news” for the travel industry.
“Spain had been dominating in terms of bookings and just as there was a glimmer of hope to try and recover some of the summer season, the change in Government advice will have huge ramifications on consumer confidence when it comes to booking travel elsewhere,” she said. “The health and safety of travellers is paramount, however this will put many travel agents back at square one in terms of the refund process and I’m sure will impact revenue for travel businesses who were starting to get back on their feet.”
The shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said “smarter measures” at the border were needed. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he said: “We certainly would be following the advice and introducing protective measures at the border if there are spikes in cases in other countries, absolutely.”
“But there are two serious questions around this. The first is why we are still employing the blunt tool of the 14-day quarantining rather than smarter measures and secondly the chaotic nature of the decision-making which certainly hasn’t bred confidence in the government’s approach.”
He added: “I think you need a smarter set of quarantine measures at the airport. I’ve suggested this test, trace and isolate regime but you can also have temperature checking and other things. You [have to] look at a range of measures.”
However, the foreign secretary defended the “swift decision” amid criticism. Dominic Raab told Sky News that the government “took the decision as swiftly as we could” and added that “vague advice” would “create more uncertainty”.