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Published on Sunday, July 26, 2020

'Go to Spain...but don't. Come back...but not yet. Then stay home for 14 days...'

  • Announcement described as 'disastrous'
  • Transport Sec flew to Spain hours before rules changed
  • Anger and disbelief at lack of notice
  • TUI cancels mainland programme to 9 August

The government's announcement of new advice to Spain has been roundly criticised as shambolic by industry leaders, suppliers, holidaymakers and agents - with questions being asked as to why the 'travel corridor' with the UK's biggest overseas destination was suspended at such short notice.

World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) President & CEO Gloria Guevara said the announcement, late on Saturday night, was 'disastrous for the hard-pressed travel and tourism industry, both in Spain and the UK'. TUI expressed 'disappointment at the lack of notice from the government', British Airways said 'thousands' of Britons' travel plans were in 'chaos', while agents posted on social media about feeling sick with worry and not being able to sleep.

However, the government defended its decision to act immediately, citing a 'fast moving picture', which even caught Transport Secretary Grant Shapps off guard.

Shapps, who - just a few days ago - encouraged people to go ahead and book a summer break, flew out to Spain hours before the government rules changed. It's reported he was informed of the new guidance by conference call.

The Department for Transport announced late on Saturday night that people would need to self-isolate when returning from anywhere in Spain, including the Canary and Balearic Islands. At the same time, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) changed its guidance to advise against all but essential travel to the Spanish mainland.

Initially, the DfT announcement said people returning from the Spanish islands did NOT have to quarantine. Some agents, who contacted clients to give them the 'good news', then had to get in touch again to say ALL holidaymakers returning from anywhere in Spain must quarantine for 14 days on return.

For many passengers, the rules changed while they were in the air, either returning home or flying out on holiday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the last-minute announcement, telling Sky News' Sophie Ridge on Sunday: "We must be able to take swift, decisive action to protect the UK."

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth swiped: "You couldn't make it up that Grant Shapps is over there on holiday in Spain when he is the Transport Secretary - I think that tells you everything about the sort of government approach to this."

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, also defended the timing, saying: "There is no magic time at which to do this. We have to do it as soon as we are certain about the data."

TUI cancels Spain programme; Jet2 currently operating 'as normal'

TUI has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain up to and including 9 August, with Managing Director Andrew Flintham saying the company would contact customers to arrange refunds or rebookings. Customers currently on holiday will be able to return on their intended flight home, he said.

But his annoyance was evident in TUI's weekend statement, as he called on government to work more closely with the industry. "We're incredibly disappointed that we didn't get more notice of this announcement, or that this decision wasn't made yesterday, as many Brits travel on holiday at the weekend.

"We also look to understand why quarantine has been issued for a whole country, including the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands, when the travel advice isn't aligned (only applying to mainland Spain). It demonstrates why clear regional travel corridors need to be considered."

The operator initially said it was cancelling all Spain flights, but updated its schedule on Sunday evening to say it would still operate to the Balearics and Canary Islands from Monday 27 July, although flights on Sunday 26 July were cancelled.

EasyJet said it was 'disappointed' at the decision to impose quarantine for travel from the whole of Spain and British Airways said the decision was 'throwing thousands of Britons' travel plans into chaos'.

It added: "This is sadly yet another blow for British holidaymakers and cannot fail to have an impact on an already troubled aviation industry."

EasyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and BA still plan to operate full services to Spain this week, however, it's unlikely travel insurance will be valid for customers who travel to mainland Spain, while the 'non-essential travel' advice is in place.

EasyJet said customers no longer wishing to travel could transfer flights without a fee or receive a voucher.

Jet2 said its schedule to Spain, including the mainland, is currently operating as normal, but it is 'reviewing options' for customers due to travel to the four areas in mainland Spain it operates to: Costa de Almeria, Alicante, Malaga and Murcia.

Meanwhile, a petition to take the Balearics and Canary Islands off the quarantine list has been signed by over 50,000 people since it was launched late on Saturday evening.

More reaction

Jet2: "Like all airlines and tour operators, we are operating in an extremely difficult and fast-moving situation. Travel advice is changing all the time, often with little or no notice, and in the case of Spain and its islands, the advice is inconsistent. We are having to make difficult and complex decisions in response to this, including keeping our policies under constant review. We urge the government to provide the industry with more clarity, so that we can keep our all-important customers up to date and informed."

TUI (updated Sunday 26 July 18:00)  "Due to travel advice change against all but essential travel to mainland Spain TUI UK have taken the decision to cancel all holidays to mainland Spain up to and including Sunday, August 9 2020.

"We know how much our customers look forward to their holiday abroad and some will be able to accommodate the new quarantine restrictions, therefore all those that wish to travel to the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands will be able to travel as planned from Monday 27th July.

"Customers due to travel to all areas of Spain between July 27 and Sunday, August 9 will be able to cancel or amend holidays and will be able to receive a full refund or the option to rebook their holiday with a booking incentive."

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel: "Many holidaymakers will be deeply angry that the government didn't make this decision 48 hours ago, before tens of thousands of them flew off for their summer holidays in Spain.

"Many would not have travelled if they had known they'd face 14 days of quarantine on their return."

Gemma Antrobus, Owner of Haslemere Travel and chair of AITO Agents: "How is it that some of the government decisions give plenty of notice to prepare…mandatory mask wearing, for example, yet others are encoded nearly instantaneously…Advice on travelling to Spain? It's been over four months of bonkers decision making. It has to STOP."

Manchester Airports Group (MAG): "The government is right to respond when infection rates spike in particular regions, as they are in Catalonia.  But applying these changes to the whole of Spain is unnecessary and will cause huge disruption for passengers."

Airport Operators Association (AOA): "This will further damage what is already a fragile restart of the aviation sector which continues to face the biggest challenge in its history."

Designer Travel: "The decision was taken with no notice and is conflicting in its content. We are seeking clarification from suppliers and airlines as well as constantly monitoring the Foreign Office for updates."

ABTA: "ABTA has said consistently that protecting public health must be the priority at this time, and it is vital to base decisions about travel on the best health and scientific advice.

"We suggest the government considers lifting the quarantine rules for flights to and from certain regions with lower infection rates, or to places such as the Balearic Islands or the Canaries - which are geographically distinct from mainland Spain - to avoid further damage to the UK inbound and outbound tourism industries."

By Lisa James, Deputy Editor (UK)

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