Chalkmarks: The battle for the British tourist

MANY countries in Europe rely on the flow of tourism from the north to the south in the summer months. It’s the classic route that has sustained countless businesses for decades. Badly damaged by the pandemic, travel went from “a hundred to zero” in 2020 said Eduardo Santander, the executive director, of the European Travel Commission.

It is not surprising that this year tourism dependent destinations found ways to get travel going again with Mediterranean islands rushing to vaccinate their residents. And hopes were high when the UK was first to begin the vaccination rollout in December.

Portugal, Spain and Greece opened up to double-jabbed Britons. The UK introduced a traffic-light system, which rates countries green, amber or red, based on their covid infection numbers. It seemed perfect. Portugal was given green-list status which generated a surge in bookings. Spain and Greece were placed on the amber list, which caused confusion as many of their popular holiday islands had low covid rates and vaccination was progressing.

Then on Thursday 3rd June, the UK government slammed on the brakes. Portugal was moved to the amber list. Holidaymakers rushed back to Britain early to avoid quarantine rules and airlines put on dozens of extra flights to meet demand. 

Fears the travel industry will lose a second summer

Speaking about the future of tourism in Europe, Mr Santander has called for more transparency from the traffic-light system and criticised “overnight decision-making” which is “killing travel” as it causes frustration for the holidaymaker and for the tour operators, hotels and airlines, who have planned out their summer operations and cannot hire and fire staff in the same way.

He said: “In the last weeks there are a lot of decisions, they are not based on scientific evidence. And that scientific evidence is shared among all countries. It should be very transparent. I don’t really understand these decisions overnight because that’s the killer for the small and medium-sized enterprise and for the hotel chains because it’s not planning, it’s pure improvisation.”

Mr Santander also said that while there had been “a fierce, historical battle for the British tourist” in Europe “cutting deals between countries doesn’t work”.

He said: “Last year it didn’t work out. It works for a few weeks and there’s a little energy for entrepreneurs and it faded like smoke. I’m going to refer here to a word, which is never used in tourism, which is solidarity. You have to share the cake this summer. You have to leave people to make their own decisions, and not try also to manipulate people’s willingness to travel, while artificially creating too many different systems because that will create frustration, confusion and data will show a drop in the demand for sure.”

Travel firms operating in Portugal now face paying out refunds to Britons for cancelled holidays.

Ryanair and Manchester Airports Groups are suing the UK government over its traffic-light system for the lack of transparency.

Fearing it will lose a second summer, the EU is looking across to the US to save its season. This week the bloc added eight countries to its safe “white list” including fully-vaccinated Americans, while excluding Britons – despite almost 60% of the population having had both doses of the covid vaccine, compared to America’s 44%.

No green light to travel until August 

It’s unclear when the UK will move more European countries on to its green list to allow summer holidays to restart. While more than 42 million Britons have received their first jab, the rising case numbers of the Delta variant has spread across the country and is predicted to delay further easing of lockdown restrictions that were expected to lift on 21st June.

It’s been reported that the UK government is considering allowing double-vaccinated Britons to travel to amber-list countries without the need to self-isolate on return. This is not expected to happen until August and may not allow families with young children who are not vaccinated.

“Everything is very volatile: closing, opening, misinformation, government’s changing their opinion very quick,” said Mr Santander. “Is this going be, again, the way we are going to deal with it this year? I hope not.”

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