(CNN) – Across Europe, beaches are preparing for their first socially distant foreign visitors, hotels are airing rooms and restaurants are preparing outdoor tables. With the borders now open, the travel industry is trying to save the peak tourist season as much as possible.
Right now, almost everyone is invited, but despite the tempting prospect of the blue Mediterranean seas and bluer skies, a country is not coming – and people get very angry.
For the UK, apparently, summer holidays may still be canceled.
Although it appears to emerge from one of the continent’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, the country has decided to suddenly slam its borders by imposing a 14-day quarantine that critics say will torpedo the last shreds of hope for its travel industry.
Unless the rules change soon, millions of Britons hoping to ease their post-lockdown blues with an escape route to warmer climates will likely have to discard their plans unless they want to endure forced isolation on their return. or risk a fine of £ 1,000 – – about $ 1,250.
And for the UK tourism industry, any prospect of absorbing some much needed foreign tourist dollars is rapidly fading away. Britain has many spells, but holding two weeks in the same room is not why people visit this skeptical island.
If this were not enough to cause frustration, it seems that far from being rigorously enforced, the new regulations will only be slightly checked after they enter into force on June 8th, with spot checks that might actually be missing for the virus carriers that have been designed. to stay kidnapped.
This is in contrast to much stricter measures in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, imposed much earlier in the pandemic.
It is argued that visitors or returnees may be able to 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 neighboring neighbor of the United Kingdom.
“Blunt economic tool”
Greece is opening its beaches and welcoming foreign visitors.
Byron Smith / Getty Images
And the rules came too late for some, with questions asked as to why Britain’s borders remained wide open during the height of its virus outbreak and have only now been limited as the country loosens on social restrictions.
“There is no doubt that the quarantine should have been imposed at the beginning of the pandemic, in early March, because at that time it would have been more effective,” says Paul Charles, founder and CEO of The PC Agency, which represents the tourism bodies including Ireland, New Zealand and Finland in the United Kingdom, as well as major brands and operators.
“If you look at countries that have successfully passed the coronavirus, such as New Zealand and Vietnam, they have something in common. They quarantined the right place in the beginning. That was the advice of the WHO. But our government does not never did. So we can ‘understand why they are doing it now when Covid-19 cases are falling and also when there is a trial and tracing system in place … they are using a blunt inexpensive tool to try to keep low the cases “.
There are some exceptions to the quarantine rules. Truck drivers, Covid-19 frontline health workers and elite athletes arriving for bio-safe football or cricket matches or the British F1 Grand Prix in late July will all be exempt.
All others will be required to fill out a form prior to arrival, under penalty of a £ 100 fine, providing the government with an address for which they intend to isolate for two weeks.
While the £ 1,000 fines will be imposed on those who violate UK conditions, only a fifth of travelers should receive spot checks. Metropolitan police forces, covering London, said they did not have time to enforce them.
Some quarantine conditions further fueled questions about its likely effectiveness. Arriving travelers can go to their destination by public transport and leave their accommodation to shop. In Hong Kong, arrivals are given a prison-style bracelet and told not to leave their hotel room for two weeks.
‘Right move, wrong 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 British government says that the quarantine was introduced in June precisely because other countries are opening up and says that this poses an increased risk of new cases of coronavirus arriving from abroad.
“Travelers from abroad could become a high percentage of the overall number of infections in the UK, and therefore increase the spread of the disease,” UK internal secretary Priti Patel told parliament.
His announcement prompted condemnation from both members of his ruling conservative party and the main opposition Labor party. Former conservative trade minister Liam Fox described it as “unnecessary economic isolation” that would stifle post-virus recovery.
“If such a barrier was needed, why wasn’t it introduced before the epidemic?” He added. Conservative Member of Parliament Steve Brine called it “the right move at the wrong time”.
It’s a vision taken up by George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah. “By following its quarantine plans without due regard for the economic consequences, the government chooses to ignore the devastation it will cause to companies, jobs and the lives of all those whose jobs will be lost,” he says.
“I think it’s too late,” agrees Brian Young, CEO of G Adventures, which offers small-group tours around the world. “The impact on this entire sector jeopardizes customer confidence. It takes time to get things going. If the quarantine continues beyond the end of June, the summer season will be completely lost. Places like Greece depend a lot on tourism. and they can’t afford to lose all summer. “
Patel defended his government’s measures against questions about why the quarantine was not introduced earlier to prevent tens of thousands of people who continued to enter the country when Covid-19 infections were skyrocketing.
“Some suggested that public health measures should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at the time the scientific opinion was clear that such measures would make little difference when internal transmission was widespread,” he told parliament. .
The government’s argument for the implementation of the quarantine was met with disbelief by the wider travel industry.
About 300 companies, including the luxury brands Black Tomato and Kuoni, as well as major players such as Travelbag and Netflights, have approved a letter sent to Patel requesting that the quarantine be demolished before it is implemented, saying it will devastate an industry already in crisis. since the outbreak.
A new survey of 124 UK travel and hospitality owners and CEOs found that 60% plan to fire staff when the measures take effect. A total of 94% believe that summer reservations 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 advise against unnecessary travel to the UK as long as quarantine measures are in place.
People arriving in the UK will be allowed to reach the quarantine site by public transport.
TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images
Mirjam Peternek-McCartney, CEO of travel communications company Lemongrass Marketing, makes it clear. “Tour operators are suffering, carriers are suffering, hoteliers are suffering and the cities of the United Kingdom that welcome international tourists, such as London and Oxford, will see many businesses that depend entirely on tourism go to ruin,” he warns.
Robin Sheppard, founder and president of Bespoke Hotels Group, the UK’s largest independent hotel group, says he has been baffled by the times.
“If it had come around March 23, I would have understood it, but presenting it now, so inaccurately, seems very silly,” he said. “I don’t disagree with the original feeling, it’s just the wrong time. Not having listened to the public reaction to this and adjusting the plan is just madness.”
In another letter addressed to Patel and the UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, sent on June 1, Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of The Advantage Travel Partnership, expressed concern that the government considered the ‘opposition to quarantine simply a concern of luxury operators.
Refuting this, and citing the fear of smaller companies to close business, he called for an end to the quarantine plans. He also called for changes to the current Foreign Office travel advice in the UK, which warns against all travel, except essential ones, and the establishment of so-called air bridges.
A bridge too far?
The latter has become a hot topic, prompting the idea that routes can be established towards countries with low infection rates, circumventing the need for quarantine. About 94% of British travel companies are said to favor the plan.
The Portuguese Foreign Minister has already said that he will be happy to welcome UK tourists from the end of June under these plans, with Spain and Italy also expressing their wish to extend a welcome to the British who are desperately seeking to go abroad this year, strengthening their vital tourism sectors in the processes.
“The government needs to say the word” quarantine “and talk about air bridges and test and track, which are the right things to do from a health perspective but also the right thing to help the economy recover,” says Paul Charles . “The real talk of quarantine measures is detrimental to reservations. They have collapsed in the past three weeks. The sector has not undergone sales in April, no sales in May and now no one’s prospect in June. People are worried about getting stuck on their return. “
In his statement to parliament, Patel said that the option for air bridges was being actively explored and that the 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 the air bridges installed, we are aware that travelers will understandably be more cautious about going on vacation,” he said. “However, we are already seeing a huge increase in bookings and requests for extended villa holidays in Quinta do Lago from July to October, where guests will work from home and use spare rooms for offices or studios.”
Will travelers to the UK be welcome?
CNN’s Atika Shubert reports plans underway in Spain to ease restrictions on travel abroad in an attempt to accommodate tourists, despite concerns about Covid-19.
It also remains to be asked whether destinations with unlimited travel links to the UK would be happy to welcome its citizens as visitors. The country’s death rate for Covid-19 is the second highest in the world after the United States, with a death toll of nearly 40,000. Infection rates remain at around 1,500 new cases per day. Why should countries in Europe that have managed to suppress the disease risk accepting visitors from the UK?
“There is no doubt that some of our customers are wary of welcoming British visitors too quickly,” says Paul Charles. “A measured approach is important. As technology improves, case numbers decrease and confidence increases, many will realize that British visitors will travel from July. The key is to restore confidence.”
That trust appears to be there, but the quarantine means that companies cannot see a way to attract UK visitors.
“We have been in contact with our local guests around the world frequently during this pandemic to get their thoughts and insights into the situation in their local communities,” says Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures, who works with guides and hotels to offer outdoor adventures in countries like Morocco, Costa Rica and Romania. “They understand the underlying principle [quarantine]but are naturally very concerned about the damage to businesses and their local economies. Most remain eager to go back to speed up as quickly as possible and welcome adventurers 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 test capability on arrival, but will not yet be able to attract back UK customers because of the quarantine they face going back to the UK. “
Robin Sheppard reflects Bruce’s opinion, saying he doesn’t believe that overseas companies are worried about British travel. “I don’t think they see us as a pariah or a sort of ruin on the world,” he says. However, he adds that he does not believe that many from the UK will leave this summer. “A lot of Britons have already resigned themselves to not taking an international holiday this year,” he says.
Despite this, tourism agencies are already offering incentives to try to entice the British to book now for the summer in an attempt to do business.
“Although we can’t go everywhere immediately, many places are explicitly keen to welcome us and some places – for example Sicily – are offering discounts and freebies to attract tourists back,” says Ant Clarke-Cowell, associate brand director of Holiday Extras. “Others, like Cyprus, are offering to cover the health costs of all visitors who get sick there.”
For Brian Young of G Adventures, measures put in place at UK airports, including temperature controls and protection from airlines that require passengers to wear face protection, should ease supplier concerns with whom he works all over the world.
“The necessary measures have been put in place to ensure the well-being of customers,” he says. “It’s time to start opening up and getting things moving.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether Young will fulfill his wish and whether UK travelers will rise to the skies by summer.
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