Tourist board director Javier Piñanes wishes the UK had imposed travel restrictions to specific regions of Spain rather than the whole country, he tells Travel Weekly
Q. Do you disagree with some or all of the UK government’s decisions regarding travel to Spain?
We respect the decisions made by the UK government but our preference would be that decisions are made solely and exclusively on epidemiological criteria on a regional basis rather than a nationwide policy. There are very popular destinations in Spain which have extremely low infection rates, such as the Canary Islands, well below the figures in the United Kingdom, and our objective would be that the current travel advice and quarantine measures are lifted for those specific regions.
Q. How much notice were you given about the quarantine being extended to the islands, and then about the FCO advice changing to include the islands?
We were given an indication of this from our ministry of tourism shortly before the advice was changed.
Q. Were you consulted by the UK government?
Yes, there is ongoing dialogue between our governments.
Q. Is there any medical evidence of increases in infection rates that would support the UK government’s stance?
Yes, there are localised outbreaks in some of our regions. A large percentage of these are in the regions of Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra; however, many regions have very low infection rates and very few or no hospital admissions. Despite the infection rates, this has not put pressure on our healthcare system. In the last seven days, there have been 37 ICU admissions in the whole of Spain.
Q. Are you trying to get the decisions overturned?
We endorse policies based on safety and scientific evidence. What we are asking for is that decisions are adjusted on a regional basis, based solely and exclusively on epidemiological criteria.
Q. Are you confident of getting any changes made and seeing British tourists back in numbers this summer?
This will be based on the evolution of the crisis, not just in Spain but also in the UK. We would certainly hope for a swift revision of the current advice.
Q. Are you taking any practical steps – as well as lobbying – to make sure the decision is reversed, or to make sure restrictions aren’t imposed again?
Our government is in dialogue with the UK government. Many of the regional governments have also voiced their opinions about the blanket travel advice and have called for revisions of the current advice.
Q. How much is this hurting the Spanish tourism industry?
Hugely. Tourism is one of our primary industries and there are many regions, such as the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Andalusia, the region of Valencia and many places in northern Spain, that rely on tourism with the UK being one of the top source markets. We had hoped that tourism returning in the peak summer period could help to recoup some of the lost revenue from the impact of the pandemic early on in the season.
Q. What measures had tourism businesses put in place to ensure people’s safety?
The ministry of industry, trade and tourism produced 21 tourism guides characterised by the type of tourism establishment with a series of technical and health and safety recommendations for tourism to be enjoyed in a safe way. The international transport health and safety standards have also been incorporated.
The use of face masks is mandatory both on transportation and in spaces open to the public throughout Spain’s national territory, except in the Canary Islands where other strict measures have been implemented – and the islands have one of the lowest infection rates in the whole of Europe. Regardless of the compulsory use of face masks, it is a protection measure that has been adopted by Spanish society in a widespread and exemplary manner.
The tourism industry is thoroughly prepared to welcome tourism in a safe and hygienic way. The sector has made a huge effort to adapt and has managed to implement effective measures. There is no improvisation or haphazardness by the authorities or the private sector in the welcoming of tourists who were expected this summer season. Tourism and its supply chain are prepared to offer its services with the maximum guarantees of safety and protection.
Q. We’ve seen pictures of British youngsters, particularly in the ‘party towns’ of Spain and the islands, not social distancing at all, leading to whole areas being closed down. What’s your response to this?
The number-one priority is safety and the effective management of the pandemic. Measures are being taken in a swift manner that ensure the safety of our residents and visitors.
Q. What would be your message to UK tour operators and travel agents? How important are they to UK tourism to Spain? Do you feel they’ve been on your side in this, where the UK government hasn’t?
Thank you for supporting Spain’s travel industry. The UK is our number-one source market. Our relationship stretches back for many years and we are proud of our shared history and mutual love of each other’s countries. We thank the UK travel industry for their lobbying efforts and we look forward to welcoming British visitors again soon.
Q. Can you see Spanish hoteliers offering more space to travel companies from other markets as a result of the UK’s restrictions?
Hoteliers will have to do whatever they can to try and recoup some lost revenue. We have no doubt that when tourism from the UK opens up again, tour operators will be welcomed with open arms.
Q. Are Spanish people – whether in the tourism industry or not – wary about British visitors because of the high infection rates in the UK?
It is a challenging time for all but we are confident in the way we are managing the pandemic and the guidelines and preparations put in place by the tourism sector. The measures have been put in place to protect residents and visitors. British visitors have always been welcome in Spain and we hope to welcome them again soon.