CORONAVIRUS

What to keep in mind if you are planning a vacation for September

With the coronavirus crisis causing great uncertainty, EL PAÍS has looked at what travelers from Spain need to consider before they book a trip abroad, with respect to cancellations, holiday deals and the risk of a new lockdown

Travelers at Málaga airport in Spain.
Travelers at Málaga airport in Spain.Efe

The changing situation of the coronavirus health crisis in Spain and the rest of the world has led to great uncertainty about travel in September. Indeed, fear of the possible consequences of the pandemic, such as another lockdown or new quarantine measures, is the main reason why 40% of Spaniards think it is unlikely they will go on a vacation this year, according to a report from the Spanish National Tourism Observatory (ObservaTUR). Traveling under Spain’s “new normality” is very different, and certain precautions must be taken before a trip is booked. Here is a list of factors that must be considered when planning a holiday this fall.

Can I travel to any destination?

At the time of writing of this article, it is not currently possible to travel from Spain to all overseas destinations, given that the conditions of entry are constantly changing. Most countries have introduced restrictions on travelers from Spain, if they have not directly banned arrivals. Given that the epidemiological situation of the pandemic is different in every country, experts recommend consulting government websites of your planned destination to find out what measures have been set regarding visitors from Spain. Some countries have asked travelers to show that they have tested negative for Covid-19 two days before their flight, while others, such as the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland, have introduced mandatory quarantine measures for travelers from Spain.

The online travel agency Rumbo has developed an algorithm that periodically creates a list of the safest countries to visit, based on the number of active Covid-19 cases, the state of the healthcare system and the distance to the destination country. Ahead of September, the countries highest rated by the algorithm were Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.

What are my rights when it comes to cancellations?

Enrique García, the spokesperson of Spain’s Consumer and User Organization (OCU), has bad news on this front. “We would like to say that cancellation insurance is effective in these circumstances, but in practice, it only works when the consumer, for health reasons, cannot continue the journey.” He warns that, unless a person reads the small print on the contract and adjusts it to their situation, these “poorly named cancelation policies” will not cover the current contingencies caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It is advisable to book a trip with flexible cancellation policies (without added costs) for each service required, such as transportation, accommodation, activities and other services. But a traveler may receive a complete refund of these purchases for reasons of force majeure outside of their control.

Keep in mind that if you book a trip abroad without meeting the current conditions of entry in that country, you lose your right to a refund or to any type of compensation.

And if a new lockdown is introduced in September?

If a person cannot go on the holiday they have purchased due to new confinement measures, they have the right to ask for a refund. This could be for a complete refund because they have not gone on the vacation, or a partial one, if they have not been able to enjoy the entirety of the trip.

If I plan a vacation at the last minute, will I get a discount?

The uncertainty in the tourism industry has led hotels to offer last-minute flash offers to ensure minimum occupation. Ana de la Fuente, the head of the sales team of the travel site Weekendesk’s Spain and Portugal offices, says that this year “clients are reserving with very little notice. Some 90% of our reservations are made for the same month they are in.” She adds that hotels are offering discounts of up to 35% for their September campaign on Weekendesk “because if not, many do not know if they will be able to open.”

Is it safe to travel by train, bus and plane?

All transportation companies must, without exception, ensure that travelers wear a face mask for the duration of their trip. What’s more, given that in most cases safe distances cannot be guaranteed, there are very strict cleaning and disinfection protocols. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are also handed out to all passengers.

With respect to air conditioning, both buses and trains have been forced to program their systems so that there is greater recirculation of air. In other words, the units don’t recycle air from inside to save energy, but rather try to retain it for the shortest time possible to prevent air transmission of the virus. “There have been no outbreaks linked to means of transport,” adds Enrique García from the OCU.

Are camping sites just as safe as hotels?

Yes. Despite what it might seem, the law does not differentiate between one type of tourist accommodation and another when it comes to coronavirus safety measures. All must comply with the same rules to reduce possible contagions, especially with respect to limits on capacity and disinfecting common areas. “We have seen that both hotels and camping sites are correctly maintaining all the security measures,” says Enrique García.

What kind of vacations are people looking for during the pandemic?

“This year is a very special one, but the holidays of most Spaniards are similar to what they were last year, mainly in search of sun and beach,” says Alessia Dordonia, the head of communications of the travel site Lastminute.com. Despite this, the north of Spain, which typically has cooler weather, is seeing its best August in terms of tourism. The northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria, for example, have hotel occupancy levels at 95% and 93% respectively, while in Madrid the figure is below 30%.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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