(CNN) – Across Europe, beaches are preparing for their first socially estranged foreign visitors, hotels are ventilating rooms, and restaurants are setting outdoor tables. Now that the borders are open, the travel industry is trying to save as much of the high tourism season as possible.
Right now, almost everyone is invited, but despite the attractive prospect of the blue Mediterranean seas and bluer skies, no country comes, and people are very angry about it.
Apparently, for the UK, the summer holidays could still be canceled.
Despite appearing to be emerging from one of the continent’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, the country has decided to suddenly close its borders by imposing a 14-day quarantine that critics say will torpedo the last remnants of hope for its travel industry.
Unless the rules change soon, millions of Britons hoping to ease their post-closure sadness with an escape to warmer climates will likely have to scrap their plans unless they want to endure forced isolation on their return or risk a £ fine. 1,000. – about $ 1,250.
And for the UK tourism industry, any prospect of absorbing some much-needed foreign tourism dollars is fast fading. Britain has many charms, but two weeks of incarceration in the same room is not the reason why people visit this scepter island.
If that wasn’t enough to fuel the frustrations, it appears that far from being strictly enforced, the new regulations will only be lightly controlled after they go into effect on June 8, with spot checks that virus carriers who are actually losing may actually lose. designed. to keep kidnapped.
That contrasts with much stricter measures in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, imposed much earlier in the pandemic.
There are claims that visitors or returnees may use a “Dublin Dodge”, as arrivals from the Republic of Ireland will be exempt from quarantine. In theory, they could travel from anywhere and transit through the UK’s closest neighbor.
‘Strong economic tool’
Greece is opening its beaches and receiving foreign visitors.
Byron Smith / Getty Images
And the rules have come too late for some, with questions about why Britain’s borders remained open during the height of its virus outbreak and are only now being tightened as the country relaxes with social restrictions.
“There is no doubt that quarantine should have been imposed at the start of the pandemic, in early March, because that was when it would have been most effective,” says Paul Charles, founder and CEO of The PC Agency, which represents the boards of tourism, including Ireland. , New Zealand and Finland in the United Kingdom, as well as the main brands and operators.
“If you look at countries that have successfully overcome the coronavirus, like New Zealand and Vietnam, they have something in common. They quarantined from the start. That was the advice of the WHO. But our government never did that. So we can “I don’t understand why they are doing it now when the Covid-19 cases are falling and also when there is now a test and track system … they are using a hard-hitting economic tool to try to keep the cases low.”
There are some exceptions to the quarantine rules. Truck drivers, frontline Covid-19 healthcare workers, and elite athletes who come for biological safety football or cricket matches or the F1 British Grand Prix in late July will be exempt.
All others must complete a form prior to arrival, on pain of a £ 100 fine, providing the government with an address where they plan to isolate themselves for two weeks.
While fines of £ 1,000 will be imposed on those who violate the conditions in the UK, only a fifth of travelers are expected to receive random checks. The metropolitan police force, which covers London, has said it does not have time to enforce it.
Some quarantine conditions have further fueled questions about its likely effectiveness. Arriving travelers will be able to go to their destination by public transport and leave their accommodation to buy the essentials. In Hong Kong, newcomers receive a prison-style bracelet and are told not to leave their hotel room for two weeks by government order.
‘Right move, bad time’
Restaurants are reopening in France, where border restrictions on other EU countries have been lifted.
BERTRAND GUAY / AFP via Getty Images
So why now? The UK government says the quarantine will be introduced in June precisely because other countries are opening up, and says that means a higher risk of new cases of coronavirus coming from abroad.
“Foreign travelers could become a high proportion of the total number of infections in the UK and therefore increase the spread of the disease,” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told Parliament on Wednesday.
His announcement was condemned both by members of his ruling Conservative Party and by the main opposition Labor party. Lawmaker Liam Fox, a former conservative trade minister, described it as “unnecessary economic isolation” that would stifle post-virus recovery.
“If such a barrier was required, why was it not introduced into the outbreak earlier?” added. Conservative Member of Parliament Steve Brine called it “the right move at the wrong time.”
George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah, echoes a vision. “By following its quarantine plans without taking due account of the economic consequences, the government decides to ignore the devastation it will cause to businesses, jobs and the lives of all those whose jobs will be lost,” he says.
“I think it’s too late,” agrees Brian Young, managing director of G Adventures, which offers small-group tours around the world. “The impact on this entire sector affects customer confidence. It takes time for everything to work. If the quarantine continues beyond the end of June, the summer season will be lost entirely. Places like Greece are highly dependent on tourism and they can’t afford to lose their entire summer. “
Patel defended his government’s measures against questions about why the quarantine was not introduced earlier to prevent the tens of thousands of people who continued to enter the country when Covid-19 infections spiked.
“Some have suggested that public health measures should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at the time the scientific council was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission became widespread,” he told parliament. .
The government’s argument to implement quarantine has now been met with disbelief by the travel industry at large.
Some 300 companies, including luxury brands Black Tomato and Kuoni, as well as major players like Travelbag and Netflights, endorsed a letter sent to Patel demanding that quarantine be removed before it is implemented, saying it will devastate a sector that is already underway. is recovering from the outbreak.
A new survey of 124 owners and CEOs of UK travel and hospitality companies found that 60% expect staff to be laid off when the measures take effect. A total of 94% believe that summer reserves will disappear if quarantine is applied. Meanwhile, 99% believe that politics will harm the economy. Tourism represents around four million jobs in the UK, 11% of the total workforce.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country would discourage non-essential travel to the United Kingdom while quarantine measures exist.
People arriving in the UK will be able to travel to their quarantine location by public transport.
TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images
Mirjam Peternek-McCartney, CEO of travel communications firm Lemongrass Marketing, puts things in clear terms. “Tour operators are suffering, carriers are suffering, hoteliers are suffering, and UK cities that welcome international tourists, such as London and Oxford, will see many companies that are totally dependent on tourism go bankrupt.” , he warns.
Robin Sheppard, founder and president of Bespoke Hotels Group, the UK’s largest independent hotel group, says he is puzzled at the moment.
“If it had come around March 23, I would have understood it, but presenting it now, so inaccurately, seems very silly,” he said. “I do not disagree with the original sentiment, it is just the wrong time. Not having heard the public reaction to this and adjusting the plan is just crazy.”
In another letter to Patel and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, sent on June 1, Julia Lo Bue-Said, executive director of The Advantage Travel Partnership, expressed concern that the government considered the opposition Quarantine was simply a concern of luxury operators. .
Refuting this, and citing the fear of small businesses to close, she demanded an end to the quarantine plans. He also called for changes to the current travel advice of the UK Foreign Office, which warns against all but essential travel, and the establishment of so-called airlifts.
A bridge too far?
The latter has become a hot topic, promoting the idea that routes to countries with low infection rates can be established, avoiding the need for quarantine. About 94% of UK travel companies are said to be in favor of the plan.
Portugal’s foreign minister has already said he will be happy to welcome UK tourists in late June under such plans, and Spain and Italy also said they want to welcome the British desperate to go abroad this year. , promoting its vital tourist sectors in the process.
“The government needs to speak quietly ‘quarantine’ and talk about airlifts and test and track, which are the right things from a health point of view, but also the right things to help the economy recover,” says Paul. Charles. “The same talk about quarantine measures is hurting stocks. In the last three weeks they have collapsed. The industry has no sales in April, there are no sales in May and now the possibility that there will be none in June. People are worried about getting stuck on her return. “
In his statement to parliament, Patel said the airlift option was being actively explored and that quarantine measures would be reviewed after three weeks.
Sean Moriarty, CEO of the Quinta do Lago resort in the Portuguese Algarve region, said establishing such free movement corridors would help, but may not be enough.
“Even with airlifts in place, we are aware that travelers will be more cautious when going on vacation,” he said. “However, we are already witnessing a huge increase in reservations and inquiries for extended villa vacations in Quinta do Lago from July to October, where guests will be working from home and using free rooms for offices or studios.”
Will UK travelers be welcome?
CNN’s Atika Shubert reports on plans underway in Spain to ease restrictions on travel abroad in an effort to welcome tourists, despite concerns over Covid-19.
There is also a question as to whether destinations with unrestricted travel links to the UK would be delighted to welcome their citizens as visitors. The country’s death rate from Covid-19 is the second highest in the world after the United States, with a death toll close to 40,000. Infection rates are maintained at around 1,500 new cases per day. Why do European countries that have successfully suppressed the disease want to risk accepting UK visitors?
“There is no doubt that some of our clients are cautious about receiving British visitors too quickly,” says Paul Charles. “A measured approach is important. As the technology improves, the number of cases decreases and more confidence returns, many will realize that British visitors will be traveling from July. The key is to regain confidence.”
That trust seems to be there, but quarantine means companies can’t see a way to attract UK visitors.
“We have been in contact with our local hosts around the world frequently during this pandemic to get their thoughts and opinions on the situation in their local communities,” says Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures, which joins guides and hotels. to offer outdoor adventures in countries like Morocco, Costa Rica and Romania. “They understand the principle behind [quarantine]But of course they are very concerned about the damage to companies and their local economies. Most are still eager to catch up as quickly as possible and welcome adventurers back from the UK.
“Many of our destinations with much lower infection rates are preparing to open their borders, with well-defined plans to manage risk, including strong on-arrival testing capabilities, but will not yet be able to attract UK customers. due to the quarantine they face on their return to the UK. “
Robin Sheppard reflects Bruce’s opinion, saying he does not think companies abroad are concerned about British travel. “I don’t think they see us as an outcast or some kind of plague in the world,” he says. However, he adds that he doesn’t think many of the UK will go flying this summer. “Many Britons have already resigned themselves to not having an international holiday this year,” he says.
Despite that, tourism boards are already offering incentives to try to lure Britons to book now for later in the summer, in a bid to boost business.
“Even if we can’t immediately go everywhere, many places are explicitly interested in welcoming us, and some places, like Sicily, are offering discounts and gifts to attract tourists,” says Ant Clarke-Cowell, a partner brand. director at Holiday Extras. “Others, like Cyprus, are offering to cover the health care costs of any visitor who falls ill there.”
For G Adventures’ Brian Young, the measures being implemented at UK airports, including temperature checks and airline protection requiring passengers to wear face covers, should allay the concerns of the providers they are using. works worldwide.
“The necessary measures are being taken to guarantee the well-being of the client,” he says. “It’s time to start opening up and getting things moving.”
However, it remains to be seen whether Young will fulfill his wish and whether UK travelers will be launching into the skies later this summer.