Tourist magnet Spain will let people from anywhere in the world who are vaccinated against COVID-19 enter the country from June 7, hoping to galvanise a recovery in the devastated tourism sector.
The world's second most visited country before the pandemic hit, foreign tourism to Spain plunged 80% last year as restrictions brought leisure travel to a virtual standstill, leaving its beaches, palaces and hotels almost deserted.
Entry will be allowed to vaccinated travellers regardless of their country of origin, and notably from the United States, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Friday at Madrid's FITUR international tourism trade fair.
Spain will also permit tourists from 10 non-EU countries deemed low-risk to enter without a negative PCR test for coronavirus from May 24.
Britain, Spain's largest market for foreign tourists, will be included on the list, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Israel, among others.
"They're welcome - more than welcome - without restrictions nor health controls," Sanchez told reporters.
Spain was one of Europe's worst-hit nations in the pandemic, recording over 78,000 coronavirus deaths and 3.6 million cases. But infection rates have fallen and vaccinations are progressing fast, enabling most of its regions to scrap curfews.
Speaking a day after the EU reached a long-awaited deal for digital vaccine certificates, Sanchez said the return of tourism would be the key driver of Spain's economic recovery.
The sector previously accounted for 12% of output.
Health Minister Carolina Darias said Spain was working with the EU to extend the bloc's vaccine certificate programme, due to launch on July 1, to third countries.
Spanish hotel reservations are already rising since a state of emergency expired earlier this month and Sanchez said the new travel regime would allow arrivals to reach up to 70% of pre-pandemic levels by the year's end.
This summer he forecast arrivals could reach 30%-40% of 2019's levels.
TOO LATE, TOO NARROW
While the Spanish arm of global airline association ALA welcomed the news, president Javier Gandara said obstacles remained, noting Britain had yet to include Spain, or at least its lowest-incidence regions, in its "green" list, meaning Britons still have to quarantine upon returning.
Gandara called for Spain to renew travel from Latin America, where many of the vaccines being administered have not been approved by the World Health Organisation nor by Europe's Medicines Agency.
"We ask that Latin Americans be allowed to travel to Spain on condition they present a negative PCR test result," he said.
The decision to reopen routes between Spain and Latin America should come within weeks, Iberia airline CEO Javier Sanchez-Prieto said on Thursday.
Spain's hotel federation CEHAT also reproached domestic and European officials for the delay in rolling out the digital COVID passport.
"If the certificate had been launched earlier, perhaps the months of May and June - vital for Spanish tourist activity - would not be lost," CEHAT stated on Friday