UK holidaymakers have had their summer plans thrown into turmoil following the surprise announcement last weekend made by the British Government to close the travel corridor between the UK and Spain with immediate effect. The decision means that all travellers returning from Spain (including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands) are required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. The Government has also warned that holidays to other European countries are also under threat, although there is not a confirmed list of ‘at risk’ countries.

The dramatic U-turn has also caused further disruption to Europe’s already ailing aviation and tourism sector.

Holiday tour operator TUI said in a statement that it would be cancelling “all holidays to mainland Spain”, until 9 August.  Andrew Flintham, TUI’s Managing Director said that, “this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”

The European Regions Airline Association’s Director General, Montserrat Barriga, also commented that, “We are disappointed once again by the improvisation from Spain and the UK. What kind of hands are we in? Really worrying and materially impossible to run an aviation business like this.”

Regional airports are expected to be particularly hard hit by the closure of the travel corridor with flights to the Spanish islands from outside of London making up 27% of all flights in August 2019. The UK airports’ trade body, the Airport Operators Association (AOA), has called for the Government to drop its blanket quarantine policy and move to a risk-based approach that allows travel to safe destinations such as Lanzarote in the Canary Islands,  and Majorca and Ibiza in the Balearics.

Underlining that it is of course right that public health concerns are a priority in the response to COVID-19, AOA is urging the UK Government to introduce air bridges on a regional basis. A blanket quarantine measure, it says, risks further damaging the fragile re-start of the aviation sector.

Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive, said: “The Government has acted with urgency to reintroduce quarantine measures for Spain based on public health concerns, but we must not allow this to usher in a return to an illogical, ill-conceived and misguided policy. They must act with the same urgency to exempt those islands where a quarantine is wholly unnecessary.”

The chaos caused by the uncertainty over whether travel corridors will stay open also reinforces the need to introduce stronger measures to ensure that air travel can remain open while ensuring public health is protected. Testing at airports is key so those who are COVID-negative can continue to travel without the need to self-isolate upon arrival. And there’s good news on that front. Israeli-based company Nanoscent has developed a test (which it claims is 85% accurate) that involves the user breathing into a nasal tube of an ‘air trap’ with the results then analysed by a scent reader with the results produced almost immediately. It’s also a cost-effective solution with each test unlikely to cost more than $10.

It’s not foolproof but it’s a good start and actionable solutions are what the industry needs now, not uncertainty over travel corridors!

Have a great weekend (especially if you’re in Spain),

Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.

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