The “abrupt fashion” in which the government announced its travel restrictions for Spain will be devastating to consumer confidence in booking holidays, industry leaders warn.
The Foreign Office updated its travel advice to warn against all but essential travel to the whole of Spain yesterday evening, extending it from just the mainland to include the country’s islands.
Quarantine measures were already in place for those returning from Spain from Saturday.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast on Monday morning, chief executive of travel agency consortium The Travel Network Group, Gary Lewis, said: “You can’t underestimate the huge impact this has on customers; on our members; on the momentum that was slowly building over the last four weeks around customers having confidence to start considering going on holiday.
“We all have talked about what happens if there is a second spike in another country. The government has set up a structure to be able to include and not include [countries] in this process, and we understand that. But for Spain to hit now is devastating.”
He added: “For Spain to hit when there are specific areas that are not having the infection rates increase; to do that blanket quarantine ban; for it to come in in such a fashion, had a double impact on our ability to understand and deal with the logic.
“Clearly, the infection rate is increasing. If you look, you’ll see that Spain’s going up and Portugal and Iceland’s infection rates are going down. But it’s this blanket ban [that is the problem]. And it’s this lack of communication which has caused such upheaval and fear.
“We’ve all been thinking about what happens [if a country comes off the ‘safe list’]; we’ve all been dealing with the biggest issue, which is cancellations, refunds, consumers and those challenges – and all that hasn’t gone away.”
Lewis said that the “abrupt fashion” of the introduction of restrictions to the UK’s biggest outbound destination, “seemingly without consultation or conversation” had caused “such noise and fear.”
Richard Singer, chief executive of holiday price comparison site Icelolly.com, added: “Yes, the government has said they could do this, but it’s the fashion through which they’ve done it that makes confidence just disappear from people.
“Can you imagine being a holidaymaker who arrived in Spain only to be told that it’s quarantine from now on without any notice period whatsoever?” he questioned, noting that Saturday being a typical changeover day meant “another drove of many thousands of British holidaymakers” would have been affected.
And Singer added: “This whole period, for the travel industry, has been very difficult. Obviously we went through this whole plateau period where there was nothing; many felt there wasn’t going to be a summer trading period at all; but then these air bridges were announced and you could see activity starting to happen then.
“Then these bridges never really happened – they were just exemption lists from our own quarantine, with a whole raft of entry restrictions; then it was delayed which meant that the momentum that we had just fell away.”
But he added: “Over the last three weeks, as normal domestic life has resumed – people have got haircuts and have gone and met their families – and people’s attention has turned to holidays. We felt, actually, we were in a pretty good place, all things considered. And then to have that thrown at you on a Saturday evening…I saw it via a tweet from a journalist, and by the end of the evening, there’s a full quarantine.
“You’ll have people thinking now, ‘crikey, could you imagine if I was that Spanish holidaymaker, it’s just not worth the hassle’.”