At the start of February, there were conflicting messages about travel and tourism over Easter. On the one hand, there were the airlines. They were saying that Easter would be “impossible” on account of the restrictions in place.
The president of the Airlines Association in Spain and CEO of easyJet in Spain and Portugal, Javier Gándara, observed that “we cannot predict what will happen in March”. Even for summer there was “total uncertainty”.
On the other hand, there was, for instance, the Spanish tourism minister, Reyes Maroto. She had to backtrack somewhat on what one source described as “euphoria for an Easter with tourism”. Maroto had implied that there would indeed be Easter tourism.
She had national tourism more in mind than international, but under the circumstances this was clearly better than nothing. As everyone started to form the impression that destinations such as Mallorca would be open for Easter business, Maroto had to stress that there was a caveat - the health situation and the health data.
You hardly need me to tell you that the past several months have been characterised by uncertainties and conflicting messages. And so it is now. A few weeks on from what Maroto had to say, and the opposite applies. There may not be much international tourism, but there will be some. National tourism, however; well, forget it.
The inconsistencies with policy are obvious, and they have sparked off a good deal of indignation. The Balearic government’s coronavirus chief advisor, Marga Frontera, found herself in the midst of an almighty Twitter row the other day.
Leading the charge was Amadeu Corbera, president of the environmentalists GOB. Rather than environmental issues, he was angered by the fact that Mallorca was being treated like a “colony” for foreign tourists (aka German tourists). Frontera had to insist, as tourism minister Iago Negueruela was, that health measures applied equally to tourists.
But there was, of course, the additional factor of Spaniards being unable to travel unless for justified reasons. An ironic hashtag that appeared was #WillkommenGuiris. Frontera concluded the argument by observing that “personally” she would have preferred that European and Spanish government policy on mobility was “more restrictive”.
In this regard, she spoke for many. Would it not be more sensible to forget about Easter; keep mobility to a minimum, hope to God for more rapid vaccination and save the summer.
The German government can say till its blue in the face that a lifting of advice against travel to Mallorca (and the rest of the Balearics plus also, for instance, Valencia) isn’t an “invitation to travel”.
However, appealing to responsibility means nothing in the face of Eurowings piling on the flights and tour operators swinging into action. And so one has the absurd situation whereby German tourists can arrive on the island, yet - as an example - travellers from Valencia cannot unless they have justified reasons, and tourism isn’t one of them.
Valencia’s incidence rate is as low as that in the Balearics. Way lower, therefore, than it is in Germany. But policy means one thing for one and one thing for another.
A blanket restriction, much though this would clearly affect that part of the island’s tourism trade that will be open for Easter, would at least have been more equitable.
Criticisms in this respect can be and are deflected. Frontera did this. Negueruela has. Permitting international travel is a matter for the Spanish government and not the regional government, he has pointed out.
The criticisms have nevertheless provoked responses. The exterior health service will be doubling their controls at airports.
There is to be “double verification” of negative PCR tests for foreign travellers, meaning principally German travellers. Fine, but how many foreign travellers has the exterior health service “controlled” at Balearic airports over the months of the pandemic? The number is below 40,000.
This double verification sounded like spin, as also did the Negueruela announcement of fines for hotels which fail to control “cohabitants”. Placed in an awkward situation of having to police guests, which really shouldn’t be their responsibility, the hotels - already badly hit financially - are being targeted for potential penalties if they slip up.
Negueruela has stressed that Easter “is not the most important thing”. And it isn’t, but if the Spanish government says that it is ok for foreign tourists to arrive but not Spanish tourists, that’s up to the Spanish government. The inconsistencies are monumental.
Turkey and vaccine passport competitive edge
With the vaccine passport on its way and with the Balearics set to “pioneer” it, according to Iago Negueruela, Turkey is seeking to steal competitive advantage with the UK market by not requiring such a passport.
The Turkish government has said: “We will not require vaccination passports upon arrival in our country.
We expect that the requirement will not be necessary, as the British government is rapidly and impressively implementing the vaccination programme for the entire nation.
A significant part of the population will be vaccinated by the start of summer.”
Turkey is also making the tourism sector a priority for its own vaccination programme. The likes of hotel workers will be vaccinated before the summer.
A call for something similar in the Balearics was ruled out.