Volker Wissing is Germany’s new transport minister. Wishing you were here? Will Wissing be sending postcards home this Christmas from sunny climes, such as the Canaries? It’s doubtful. Herr Wissing has been wishing for a safety-first German Weihnachten and raising a glass of Glühwein to missing friends.
“In the current situation, it seems more sensible to spend Christmas in a small group at home and not plan big trips around the country.” Yes, but what about big trips abroad?
Well, the Wissing recommendation was taken to mean them as well. No sooner was he not quite yet the sworn-in new transport minister than Herr Wissing was being attacked for having previously been a critic of Covid rules yet now wanting extensive travel restrictions.
“There is no ban on travel from Germany or within Germany over the Christmas holidays,“ stated Alexander Dobrindt, who was Angela Merkel’s transport minister between 2013 and 2017.
Far from hitting the ground running with a perfect landing, Wissing, in Dobrindt’s opinion, had crash landed. And in having done so, the German tourism industry, i.e. TUI, was fearing “reservation restraint”, CEO Fritz Joussen-speak for a sluggish winter season, including bookings for the Canaries, which - but some 24 hours earlier - had been the chief destination beneficiary of TUI increased capacity of 36,000 seats for the winter.
It is possible, of course, that German holidaymakers will completely ignore Herr Wissing and jet off anyway, thus sparing TUI from reservation restraint and empty seats. But this all spoke to - yet again - the destructive power of the virus, even if an anxiety element of the latest wave (now including Omicron) may be more the making of politician imagination than of epidemiological reality.
There again, we don’t know. Not yet anyway. Better to err on the side of caution. Is it not? The outgoing German health minister, Jens Spahn, certainly believed so. “Until we know more, we need to be careful.” He was referring to travel restrictions into Europe and Germany, but we all know that restrictions can broaden - the Spanish requirement for British visitors to prove double vaccination, and this alone, is a case in point.
Overreaction? Maybe, but maybe not. Yet we had Willie Walsh, now the director general of the IATA International Air Transport Association, urging politicians to let travellers make their own decisions based on scientific data. And which data would they choose, Willie? As importantly, how would they interpret their chosen data sets?
The absolute frustration of Willie Walsh, Fritz Joussen and most others in the travel and tourism industry is shared by the overwhelming majority of the public, in whichever country. Everyone is sick of the whole virus thing, the sudden changes to regulations, and the shifting narrative, with emphasis now being placed ever more on the booster jab and not just the double vaccination. And this is twelve months on from a time when no one in Spain had received a single jab.
The current situation just serves to reinforce the folly of predictions. Which brings us to Mallorca, where this current situation is of limited consequence because of the low number of winter visitors, but where it will soon be of maximum consequence. A 2022 summer more or less back to normal may yet be what we get; God knows, let’s hope so. But double, treble-jabbed though we may be, we don’t know.
Right now, with worries that summer bookings will weaken because of Omicron and high infection rates, we nevertheless have ABTA saying that UK holidaymakers will be making up for two seasons characterised by restrictions. Spain will be heading the list of destinations, the travel association noted a few days ago. But how swiftly confidence can potentially be dented, Boris Johnson announcing a return to working from home and a tightening of the rules on mask-wearing.
It is all about confidence. And so whenever new measures are brought in or reintroduced, an ebbing away of confidence can affect the willingness to travel. As an example - bookings for the Canaries fell by 28% over the week of November 30 to December 6.
We don’t know. Let’s simply admit we don’t. Or rather, let politicians, travel experts and others admit they don’t. That way we can’t be disappointed, but we may just end up being ecstatic.
The best tourism villages in Spain
Mallorca has three of the prettiest villages in Spain, according to the association for the “pueblos más bonitos”. They are Alcudia, Fornalutx and Pollensa. But are any of these the best tourism villages?
As far as the UN World Tourism Organization is concerned, they are not. At the UNWTO’s highly fractious general assembly in Madrid, where the much criticised Zurab Pololikashvili was reelected as general secretary until 2025, a new “mark” was unveiled - Best Tourism Villages. There are now 44 of these on the entire planet, and two are in Spain.
Is either of these two in Mallorca? No. They are, respectively, in the Pamplona region of Navarre and the Castellón province of Valencia - Lekunberri (population around 1,500) and Morella (some 2,500).
These villages, the UNWTO has explained, are notable examples of rural tourism which seek to preserve local culture and traditions and protect biodiversity. Above all, they are examples of where the UNWTO wishes to maximise the contribution of the tourism sector in reducing regional inequalities and tackling depopulation.
A theme of the Spanish government, depopulation is such that the village of Morella once had a population of over 7,000. This was more than a hundred years ago, but the depopulation point is nevertheless valid. But how valid is the Best Tourism Village accolade?
There were 170 candidates from 75 countries, from which 44 were chosen. How does any one organisation, even one as globally based as the UNWTO, arrive at a harmonised set of criteria and apply them?
Somehow, this has happened, but as with the “pueblos más bonitos”, one wonders how beneficial this is. Town halls apply to be a pueblo más bonito and their villages are then judged. But to what effect?
Does the award make any real difference in terms of tourism? With the UNWTO, one would have to guess that there is some sort of pre-award-giving selection process in order to arrive at candidates. How does it all work?
Still, good luck to Lekunberri and Morella, which will now be hoping - in order to preserve local culture and traditions and protect biodiversity - that they don’t get overrun by tourists.
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