Spain "will establish its own criteria". | ATIENZA


What an unholy mess. The coronavirus crisis has offered fertile ground for confused and mixed messages, and the easing of lockdown has merely served to add fertiliser to an already flourishing set of circumstances. The past few days have witnessed a flurry of what at times have even included reports containing their own apparent contradictions about what may or may not be happening with regard to the ability of UK tourists travelling abroad for holidays, or more accurately the ability of these tourists being able to return to the UK without needing to endure a fourteen-day period of self-isolation.

Spain's denial of there being talks with the UK about air bridges (or air corridors) was itself a contradiction of what had been reported a good couple of weeks previously, when the UK Foreign Office had confirmed that there were talks. Spain now prefers there to be a Europe-wide approach, a Spanish foreign affairs ministry source seemingly having said that this was the case but adding that if there isn't such a travel deal, Spain "will establish its own criteria". The point is that there is a Europe-wide approach and there has been since the European Commission set out its guidelines. The trouble is that these don't cover the UK. Prior to the commission coming out with the guidelines, it might be remembered that Spain was saying exactly the same thing about setting its own criteria.

Within all this mess, therefore, politics would appear to be playing their part. There are internal EU politics and there are also, if one believes Paul Charles, UK Brexit negotiation politics. Charles is the CEO of The PC Agency (a luxury travel PR company) and a voice of the Quash Quarantine group of travel firms. Describing the quarantine as "bizarre", he fingered Dominic Cummings. To quote: "The word from several sources, including Conservative MPs and City financial sources, is that the measures are a tactic by the government's chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, to help EU Brexit negotiations by showing how important UK visitors are to the key European economies and that Europe can't do without them. If millions of us don't turn up at the beach, then European economies suffer."

Whatever may or may not now transpire, the fact that Jet2 took the decision to put its operations back further to the middle of July was a reasonable indication of a lack of meaningful development.

Turespaña and its missing CEO

Turespaña released a promotional video earlier this week. One report of this said that "at last" the national tourism agency was doing something. This wasn't justified as there had been a previous video, but it was symptomatic of a general criticism of Turespaña and therefore also the Spanish government and specifically the tourism ministry.

Much is being made of the fact that Turespaña hasn't had a CEO for over a year. Héctor Gómez had been in the post for nine months before resigning in order to run for election to Congress; he is now a PSOE deputy. In the meantime, Majorca's Bel Oliver, the secretary of state for tourism, has in effect been in charge. She is president of Turespaña because of her political position, but being president isn't the same as being a dedicated CEO who is charged with driving the country's tourism promotion.

The president of the Cehat national confederation of hotel associations, Jorge Marichal said the other day that the CEO's post is "key" to the recovery of the tourism industry and that someone qualified needs to be occupying it. By implication he didn't consider that Oliver is that person. As a consequence, Marichal has criticised what he sees as having been "improvisation, contradictory messages and huge errors in communication on behalf of the government".

Almost a month ago, the first ever CEO of Turespaña, Ignacio Vasallo, expressed his concern at the "absence of the secretary of state". She should be launching communication campaigns in the principal tourism markets, and yet she was barely visible.

Canaries unhappy about Balearics pilot tourism

The so-called pilot project to bring German tourists to the Balearics has been another source of confusion, not least where the numbers are concerned. President Armengol finally settled on a maximum of 10,900 when announcing that the national ministry of health had given its blessing to the scheme. Meanwhile, the Canary Islands tourism ministry was expressing its discontent with this plan, which was being sold as an early opening up of tourism activity when it wasn't - it was a pilot project to prove that the destination (the Balearics) is safe.

The Canaries tourism ministry has, I think, got this wrong. It was always intended as a means of proving safety, but the ministry does have a point when it says that the scheme is deficient in that testing of tourists at points of origin isn't being stipulated. The Canaries would provide a better pilot scheme because this testing would be insisted upon. Or so the Canaries tourism ministry says.

The health ministry has hinted that other Spanish destinations might be able to participate in this pilot as well. The Canaries would be one of these other destinations, but nothing has yet been made firm, so at present the Canaries cannot expect tourist arrivals until the start of July.

A great deal of attention has been paid to this pilot project, with politics - it seems to me - once more a facet. President Armengol latched onto what had originally been an idea put forward by the hoteliers and made it appear to have been a Balearic government initiative. The Balearics being the first has clearly irked the Canaries, while the government in Valencia is also now pitching to be allowed to adopt a scheme of its own.

When the test tourists start arriving from Monday, they will of course be presented with a bill for the tourist tax at hotel receptions. The Balearic government having ruled out there being any suspension of the tax, it might be noted that the Catalonia government has at least taken the decision to postpone a planned increase in its tourist tax until the start of 2021. This is in order to "supply oxygen" to the tourism industry. The increase had been due to come into effect on the first of July.