Story updated on Sunday, July 26 to include latest Tui statement

Tui has led criticism of the timing of the UK government’s decision to remove Spain from the ‘safe list’ of countries that do not require travellers to quarantine for 14 days on their return.

Industry leaders have also questioned the decision to include the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands in the measures when updated FCO guidance advises against non-essential travel only to mainland Spain.

The reimposed quarantine measures will apply from Sunday.

Tui cancelled all flights due to depart to mainland Spain and the Canary Islands on Sunday, and later confirmed it had cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain until August 9. Those still wishing to travel to the Balearics and Canaries with the operator can still do so from Monday if they choose to accommodate the quaratine requirements on their return.

UK & Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham said: “Customers due to travel to all areas of Spain between 27th July and Sunday 9th August will be able to cancel or amend holidays and  will be able to receive a full refund or the option to rebook their holiday with a booking incentive.

“We will proactively contact all these customers. Customers with holidays from 10th August will be updated on Friday 31st July. All customers currently on holiday can continue to enjoy their holiday and will return on their intended flight home.”

Speaking immediately after the announcement on Saturday, Flintham 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.”

Flintham added: “The health and safety of our customers and colleagues is always our highest priority and we 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.”

An Abta spokesperson said: “Spain is British holidaymakers’ most popular destination attracting over 18 million of us each year, and the FCO advising against all but essential travel to the mainland will be disappointing to British holidaymakers and the industry alike.

“Abta has said consistently that protecting public health must be the priority at this time, and it is vital to base decisions about travel on the best health and scientific advice.

“We suggest the government considers lifting the quarantine rules for flights to and from certain regions with lower infection rates, or to places such as the Balearic Islands or The Canaries – which are geographically distinct from mainland Spain – to avoid further damage to the UK inbound and outbound tourism industries.”

The Balearics government said it was working to get a safe air corridor established with the UK.

Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: “Requiring UK travellers returning from Spain to once again quarantine for 14 days will be hugely disappointing for thousands of UK holidaymakers – and is disastrous for the hard-pressed travel & tourism industry, both in Spain and the UK.

“While the health and safety of travellers – as well as those who work within the industry – is paramount, this move will be a bitter blow for those holidaymakers already in Spain who will now be forced into isolation when they return home.

“WTTC believes quarantines do nothing to help restore consumer confidence at a time when we need to encourage people to return to travelling, in line with our Safe Travels protocols, to give a hope of saving some of the 2020 summer season.”

She added: “We urge governments to consider local lockdowns instead of closing entire borders. Painting an entire country with the same brush does not benefit anyone. While we understand the concern about destinations like Spain with new Covid-19 cases, the majority of the country and its islands, which are incredibly popular holiday destinations, have less cases than the UK.

“We encourage the government to consider solutions which reduce the impact on holidaymakers and those whose livelihoods depend upon travel & tourism.”

Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said: “The Government is right to respond when infection rates spike in particular regions, as they are in Catalonia.  But applying these changes to the whole of Spain is unnecessary and will cause huge disruption for passengers.

“Thousands of British holidaymakers are now faced with quarantine on their return from Spain and its islands, even if they have been in areas with much lower risk levels than the UK.

“For example, the Balearic and Canary Islands have similar infection rates to many other holiday islands, but travel to and from these popular Spanish islands is unnecessarily being restricted because of rates being experienced in parts of its mainland.”

He added: “The government must work quickly to develop a system that is properly risk-based which enables people to continue enjoying holidays in regions with low infections rates, while retaining the flexibility to temporarily restrict travel to areas with rising rates, regardless of the country they are in.

“This will give British holidaymakers, airlines and tour operators the ability to plan their travel with confidence and give the aviation and tourism sectors the best chance of a strong recovery, which in turn will boost the economy and protect jobs.”

Paul Charles, owner of the PC Agency and one of the driving forces behind the Quash Quarantine movement that campaigned against blanket restrictions introduced in June, said: “The timing couldn’t be worse. This is peak period for British travellers to Spain. It’s going to sow enormous anxiety for both those in Spain currently, and those about to depart.

“And it will put terrible pressure on many UK airlines and tour operators who will have to deal with thousands of enquiries about refunds and postponements at a time when these companies are already under incredible pressure.”

Kane Pirie, founder of VIVID Travel, said: “It is quite right the that government keeps all measures under review but to change the quarantine requirements at point blank notice is extreme, and not warranted by the developments in Spain.

“There needs to be more balance between the health and economic risks. Outbound tourism is impossible in this environment with an overload of complicated and unstable restrictions. It has become a minefield. Seven months into the crisis we should be moving beyond these blunt instruments.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Many holidaymakers will be deeply angry that the government didn’t make this decision 48 hours ago, before tens of thousands of them flew off for their summer holidays in Spain. Many would not have travelled if they had known they’d face 14 days of quarantine on their return.”

Industry leaders described the decision as “devastating” and “disappointing”.

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said: “It is devastating news and we hope that Spain can get on top of the spike as quickly as possible. It is disappointing that quarantine is the only measure we have to address spikes.

“Testing when customers return through the airport, tracking and tracing could reduce the need for blanket quarantine measures.”

Joanne Dooey, president of the SPAA, said: “Tonight’s news is understandable, but devastating. This means that passengers whose Spanish flights are due to land in Scotland after midnight will have to self-isolate on their arrival, and they may not learn this until they land. Safety has always been foremost in our thoughts, but this is yet more bad news for the beleaguered travel industry.

“Travel agents have faced a torrid time since lockdown and whilst bookings are steady for 2021, the sector has been massively affected. Agents have worked tirelessly to rebook holidays for their clients. Tonight’s news means that they will be rebooking their clients now for a second or third time.”

Kelly Cookes, leisure director at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “This is devastating news for the travel industry and our travel agent members. 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.

“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 Airport Operators Association said the decision would “further damage what is already a fragile restart of the aviation sector which continues to face the biggest challenge in its history”.