Spain hopes to lure German tourists amid uncertainty over UK travel restrictions

The government has launched an €8m campaign to attract visitors from Germany, as doubts remain over whether Britain’s ‘amber’ travel list will be updated this summer

Alcudia beach in Mallorca in Spain‘s Balearic Islands in May.
Alcudia beach in Mallorca in Spain‘s Balearic Islands in May.CATI CLADERA (EFE)

A lot has changed since February, when German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier upset the tourism industry by advising citizens not to make any reservations for the summer vacations. The recommendation, which came at a time when Germans typically plan what they will do over summer, was to avoid travel within the country, much less abroad. But now, with the Covid-19 vaccination campaign progressing at a good speed and the end of quarantine rules for returning travelers, the situation is very different. Many Germans will be vacationing in another country, even if they have to plan the trip at short notice.

Spain is hoping to convince German tourists that it is the best destination possible. To do so, the central government has spent around €8 million on a publicity campaign called “You deserve Spain” (or, Te mereces España), which is aimed at promoting Spain’s beaches, natural sites, sport and inland regions to a broad range of Germans, including youngsters, families and seniors.

EU travelers can now enter Spain with a negative antigen test, instead of a PCR which costs up to €100 in Germany

The move to lure German visitors comes after the United Kingdom decided to keep all European Union countries, including Spain, on its “amber list” for travel. This means in practice that travelers from the UK can travel to Spain, but must quarantine for at least 10 days on their return and take two home coronavirus tests, which must come back negative before quarantine can end. The decision was a massive blow to the Spanish tourism industry, which had been hoping for more flexible rules – particularly for popular destinations such as the Canary and Balearic islands. Amid the uncertainty over whether the British government will lift these travel restrictions, Germany is poised to become the largest source country of tourists to Spain this summer – a mantle previously held by the UK.

“We have to make it as easy for Germans to travel to Spain as it is for them to travel within their own country or neighboring nations,” said Miguel Sanz, the director of Spain’s tourism board Turespaña, during a press conference at the Spanish embassy in Germany.

As of June 7, passengers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 are to enter Spain, no matter which part of the world they are traveling from (there are exceptions for countries such as India, where a variant of concern is circulating). The country is also one of eight to have already rolled out the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate, which allows bearers to pass without the need to quarantine nor present a negative coronavirus test. This document consists of a free QR code that certifies whether the bearer has had Covid-19 over the last six months, has tested negative for the coronavirus via a PCR or antigen test 11 days prior to the emission of the document, and whether or not they have been vaccinated 14 days previously.

This represents a change from earlier rules for EU travelers, which stipulated that Spain would only accept PCR tests. A PCR test can cost between €80 and €100 in Germany, while an antigen test is three times less expensive or even free, given that the German government offers them free of charge to citizens as part of its coronavirus deescalation plan. According to Sanz, the news that Spain would allow antigen tests has already led to a spike in searches and bookings for vacations, which have jumped 65%.

We have to make it as easy for Germans to travel to Spain as it is for them to travel within their own country or neighboring nations
Miguel Sanz, director of Spain’s tourism board Turespaña

Turespaña forecasts that visitors to Spain this summer could reach 60% to 70% of 2019 figures, said Sanz. This was a record year for the Spanish tourism industry: the country received 84 million international visitors and more than €92.2 billion in tourist spending was recorded. The projections for all of 2021 are slightly lower. Sanz explained that given that the first months of the year “were bad due to the limits on mobility” to contain the coronavirus, Turespaña estimates that Spain will receive between 40% and 55% of visitors in 2019 – the year before the pandemic swept across the world. Tourist spending is not expected to completely recover until 2023, as other types of travel, such as business trips, will take longer to return to normal. The winter season in the Canary Islands, however, is forecast to be positive, said Sanz.

The director of Turespaña, who met with German tourism company TUI and travel agency DRV, said the coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity for Spain to diversify the type of tourism it offers. That’s why the “You deserve Spain” campaign promotes not just the country’s coastal destinations, but also its gastronomy, nature and inland visitor opportunities. The advertisements – which can already be seen online and on social media – promote the idea that after 15 months of coronavirus restrictions and remote working, Germans deserve a vacation in Spain.

“The vaccination policy is the best tourist campaign,” said Sanz, in reference to the progress of Spain’s immunization drive, which has fully vaccinated more than 10 million people against Covid-19. To attract German visitors back, Spain is trying to promote the country as a safe destination, pointing out that many of the rules to prevent coronavirus contagion that were implemented last summer have since been adopted by other tourist hotspots. But when it comes to traveling during the pandemic, EU and German tourists still have their concerns, said Sanz. The goal, he explained, is therefore threefold: to make them want to travel, to encourage trips abroad and for Spain to be chosen as the destination. To help make this happen, Turespaña has on its website a list of travel requirements for visitors from different countries, as well as the current coronavirus restrictions in each Spanish region, such as the limits on capacity in restaurants and the opening times for stores.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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