CORONAVIRUS

UK tourists return to Spain: flight bookings triple since change to quarantine rules

A “glance at the streets” is enough to show that “there is a tourism season,” says a government spokesperson from the Balearic Islands

UK tourists arrive in Alicante on Monday.
UK tourists arrive in Alicante on Monday.Joaquín de Haro
Palma / Málaga / Gran Canaria / Barcelona / Madrid / Alicante - 20 Jul 2021 - 10:20 UTC

As part of England’s so-called “Freedom Day,” which saw all remaining coronavirus restrictions lifted by the government on Monday, July 19, fully vaccinated tourists returning from Spain will no longer have to quarantine for 10 days. The relaxation of these travel restrictions, which have also been implemented by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has seen a 400% spike in flight bookings from the United Kingdom – a fivefold increase since the announcement was made that the rules were due to be changed. Spanish flight authority AENA has calculated that flights from the UK have tripled in number since last week.

The reality is, however, that the situation has not changed that much. Spain remains on the amber list of destinations due to the incidence of the virus, meaning that anyone who has not been vaccinated in the United Kingdom by the National Health Service (NHS) must still isolate for 10 days on return from Spain, and take two home coronavirus tests before they can break quarantine. (For now, the UK nations are not allowing travelers who have been vaccinated in the European Union to skip quarantine in this way, even if they have UK nationality.)

There were 489 flights between Spain and the United Kingdom programmed for Monday, three times more than a week ago – on July 12 there were just 152 flights. The most active airports are Palma de Mallorca, with 113 flights; Ibiza (70); Alicante-Elche (62); and Málaga (59).

British tourists in Magaluf, Mallorca.
British tourists in Magaluf, Mallorca.Cati Cladera / EFE

Airlines are ramping up their schedules in order to deal with this sudden spike in demand. Since England announced it would be lifting quarantine requirements, bookings have risen by 400% – albeit starting from very low levels, according to sources from Spain’s ALA airline association.

Former Spanish flag carrier Iberia is running three daily routes between Spanish airports and the UK, offering nearly 2,000 seats every day. For September, four daily flights are forecast, but more will be added should they be necessary.

Budget Irish airline Ryanair has stated that bookings between the UK and Spain have reached new records, and are at their highest since September 2019. Alicante, Málaga, Tenerife and Murcia are the most popular destinations, with some seeing 500% more reservations compared to the previous week.

Ryanair, which offers 144 routes between the UK and Spain, will add more capacity in July, August and September for the most popular destinations. Currently it is operating at 80% of its capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The Balearic Islands were the only Spanish destination on England’s green list of countries, but given the rise in infections there the government opted to put them back on the amber list from Monday.

Iago Negueruela, spokesperson for the Balearics’ regional government, said that despite the islands being on the amber list, more than 35 million fully vaccinated UK nationals now have “greater ease” when travelling thanks to the new rules. Negueruela added that a “glance at the streets” is enough to show that “there is a tourism season,” and that the decision by the UK is not having an effect on reservations.

The Costa del Sol, another hugely popular destination for UK tourists, has also been waiting for the season to get going. The market accounts for a third of their business, with three million visitors arriving from the UK in 2019. “There was a spike in bookings when the end of the quarantine requirement was announced, but many were not confirmed later on,” explained José Luque, president of the Aehcos hotel association in the Costa del Sol. He defined this season as “highly volatile,” and believes that the situation will not return to normal until the fall.

Tourists in Torremolinos (Costa del Sol) on Monday.
Tourists in Torremolinos (Costa del Sol) on Monday.Garcia-Santos / El Pais

Based on reporting by Lucía Bohórquez, Nacho Sánchez, Guillermo Vega, Blanca Cia, Ramón Muñóz and Rafa Burgos.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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