The Spanish government has been critical of the EU not getting a move-on in setting out protocols for travel.

The Spanish government has been critical of the EU not getting a move-on in setting out protocols for travel.

21-03-2020T. AYUGA

The announcement on Tuesday of the fourteen-day quarantine of foreign travellers arriving in Spain was a surprise more in terms of its timing and the way in which it appeared to differ from other Spanish government announcements than it was in terms of its conditions. The whole tourism and travel industry was waiting for the European Commission to come out with its guidelines on Wednesday, and so the quarantine decree seemed unnecessarily precipitate.

An interpretation was that there were some Euro politics at play. The Spanish government has been critical of the EU not getting a move-on in setting out protocols for travel. Even so, announcing a quarantine looked like an odd way of playing these politics, considering that when the national transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, has spoken about Spain adopting its own measures if the EU doesn't act, he has implied that Spain would be moving towards a reopening of borders in order to facilitate tourism. Ábalos, it shouldn't be forgotten, was the first to talk about "health corridors", and that was over three weeks ago. The EU's guidelines used the same language and the same concept. In many respects, those guidelines could have actually been drafted by the Spanish government, such were the similarities to what has been said in Spain.

A different interpretation was that there was a case of the right hand and the left hand, although a point that needs stressing is that when the Spanish de-escalation plan was established, Prime Minister Sánchez made clear that it would be the health ministry which would be calling the shots. It was the health ministry which decreed the quarantine. Still, it would be implausible to believe that other ministers wouldn't have been aware of what the health ministry was going to announce. Or would it? No, as the national tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, was one who was unaware that Tuesday's Official Bulletin would contain the quarantine announcement. It just appeared. There had been no prior indication that there would be a quarantine. The Balearic government certainly had no idea.

In practice, the quarantine probably doesn't amount to much. It is intended to endure for as long as the state of alarm persists. It is known that the Sánchez government wants this to last for a month after the current expiry date of 24 May; it is in fact trying to bend the rules to allow it to make a month's extension next time rather than the fortnight that the rules indicate. As no international travel for the likes of tourism has been contemplated under the de-escalation plan, the quarantine was neither here nor there.

Regardless of what airlines or tour operators might be saying about June, the generally accepted target date for some reactivation of tourism is the start of July. The quarantine would not therefore impinge on this, unless the Spanish government were to totally contradict itself by extending it beyond the anticipated end of the state of alarm. It can, I believe, be reasonably assumed that the quarantine is temporary only until the end of the de-escalation phases, and it wouldn't completely surprise me were it to be reversed in the intervening period. The government has a habit of changing its mind.

A problem, though, is with the message that this quarantine announcement gave out. Gloria Guevera, president of the World Travel & Tourism Council, observed that it was a message of competitive "disadvantage" to Spain. It can be misinterpreted and no doubt is being misinterpreted. Although Jorge Marichal, president of the Cehat national hotels confederation, was pretty relaxed about the announcement, saying he could understand that similar rules should apply to travellers as to Spanish residents while the state of alarm exists, he would no doubt have been one of many who were unable to accept the sense of it. As has been pointed out, the death rate from coronavirus in Germany is vastly lower than in certain parts of Spain, e.g. Barcelona and Madrid, while the need for quarantine doesn't make sense if travellers have been subject to all the necessary protocols before they travel, which is what the Spanish government has been calling for and which the European Commission's guidelines state as well.

Improvisation, this is one word that has been used to describe the quarantine announcement, and one cannot disagree.


Some ministers talk too much

In the UK, meanwhile, we had the health minister seemingly engaging in improvisation as well. A lesson of the crisis should perhaps be a reinforcement of what has always been the case - there should be consistent communication by governments rather than there being ministers who talk off the top of their heads.

Matt Hancock and the UK government are no longer subject to Brussels exigencies (well, not completely subject to them for the time being), but the European Commission's message this week pleading for governments to stop giving out messages that confuse everyone could equally apply to Hancock. Was he talking policy or was he just airing a view when he made his remarks about UK citizens not taking overseas holidays?

We have had ministers from other countries saying similar things - one country in particular, Germany. Both Heiko Mass, the foreign affairs minister, and Thomas Bareiss, the tourism secretary of state, had indicated that foreign holidays for German citizens this summer were improbable. The German message has of course changed since then.

It would be better at times if ministers just said nothing.


Tui - norms and payments

Tui, who are lining up holidays in the Balearics, Cyprus and Greece from July, have issued their ten Covid "norms" for hotels, such as opening times for restaurants to be increased so as to prevent crowding and to facilitate social distancing; limiting buffet service with there being table service instead, even if this means clients picking items from a buffet and ordering these from a waiter; and deep and complete cleaning and disinfection of rooms.

While the tour operator is making clear its requirements for hotels, it is understood that there are a number of hotels, especially in the Canaries, who are unhappy with Tui. This has to do with payments due to hotels for the first quarter of this year. Outstanding payments are apparently being linked to the resumption of operations. The head of the Excelencia Turística de Tenerife association, Juan Carlos Lorenzo, is particularly critical of the fact that this retention of payment from partners (the hotels) is not in line with the tour operator's sustainable business model, also noting that Tui are a beneficiary of German government aid - a 1.8 billion euro loan via the KfW state bank.

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