a road with flags on it

Looking back through the covid-19 crisis, virtually every initiative launched from the UK Government, for better and worse, offered weeks and weeks of lead time. It makes it harder, or easier, to understand why the UK Government turned its back on its people, and many UK businesses over the weekend.

Think: mandatory face coverings, which went into effect Friday, where two weeks prior notice was offered, or the list of destinations which are exempt from quarantine upon arrival, which were announced weeks before their actual start dates.

In my opinion, the UK Government is using a health crisis to negotiate its way into Brexit, and spiting its own people and travel businesses in the meantime. It’ll be a miracle if a singular UK travel firm is left when its all over, at this rate.

People will return to travel again, whether it’s months from now, or after a vaccine emerges but the wanton reckless behaviour the government is employing means every British traveler will end up connecting in Europe, wherever they wish to go, because there won’t be any UK travel businesses left.

a sign with flags on it

The “scores on the doors” from the weekend.

British Travellers: -1, British Travel Firms: -2, Spain: 0, UK Government Ego: 1.

And no, this isn’t golf. Those aren’t good scores.

So why… did the Uk Government give the public, who booked trips to Spain in good faith give just hours notice before forcing mandatory 14 day quarantine for all visitors and those returning home? And while we’re at it – why weren’t airlines or tour firms given even a moment of advanced notice?

Uncertainty kills travel, and even if the UK removes spain from the quarantine list in two weeks time, the most valuable part of summer will be over, and demand with it. Seeing how quickly a country was dropped, fear will keep people from booking other destinations as well.

Worse, people who were abroad, many of whom must report to physical jobs like offices, factories, etc now risk being made redundant due to 14 days of necessary isolation, despite taking every noted precaution to follow the rules.

They left when leisure travel was permitted and 14 days of quarantine were not necessary, and the government closed the door on them, putting not just their holidays, but actual livelihoods at risk. They then passed the buck onto the employers of these holidaymakers, asking them to be understanding. Good luck with that…

The easy answer which will of course be the government talking point, would be epidemiological reasons, citing clusters of covid-19 cases in Spain. Yes, there are clusters, but in reality, these small clusters were mostly isolated in Catalonia, and Spain has stayed at virtual parity with the UK over current rates, so that’s reaching, at best.

In reality though, the places where most Brits were off to, or already enjoying, like the Balearics, Madrid or Canaries, weren’t even within hundreds of miles of so called hot spots. It’s a lot like shutting down the entire UK over new cases in Leicester.

Even if this was the justified reason, why did the UK break with protocol set out by the government itself, which said destinations would be reviewed every two weeks, and only then could be taken off the list – a la Serbia, adding greater confusion with the no-notice, knee jerk move?

That list was due to be updated today anyway, which would’ve given those returning home for the work week a fair chance to get in before the curfew.

a group of people walking in a courtyard with Plaza Mayor, Madrid in the background

Don’t be naive and think that a new cluster of cases wasn’t always in the cards, either.

Every country, or rather ever European country except the UK, which has yet to create proper testing facilities at airports took time before reopening their doors to model what the effects of more visitors would bring.

The “doors” were closed specifically to allow time to create protocols, like track and trace, isolation zones and testing facilities to handle what they always knew was coming, when they reopened again.

Greece is a perfect example. The country wasn’t remotely phased when new cases were reported along land borders with Eastern Europe after the reopening of tourism, and took swift action to add new testing requirements to those localized areas, as well as quarantining those who tested positive to curb the flow.

It was all in place, ready to go, and allowed the rest of Greece to continue offering a safe and functional destination, with all the positive commerce from visitors that comes along with it.

But back to Spain…

a large building with towers and a body of water

Spain insists the country is absolutely safe, and looking at current covid-19 related deaths across Europe, they’ve got fair ground to stand on, compared to the UK. Covid-19 should not be political, it’s a health crisis.

With that said, looking at the circumstances of the weekend, speaking to colleagues, government types and travel companies who were not given advanced notice, there’s one ugly word which seems to justify the actions better than any others. This is a brexit thing.

The UK Government rolled out a rather embarrassing website last week, detailing the “new normal” for travel to Europe once the transition period out of the EU ends at the end of December. UK travellers will be forced into the “other passengers” immigration queue, among other non flattering changes, as it stands.

As a key potential travel and trading partner, it appears the UK is spiting its own travel companies, and people, which both just lost the rest of their summer bookings to their most popular destination, to try and improve their Brexit negotiating stance.

By making the shock-twist quarantine move, UK Gov proved to Spain just how quickly it can and will shut down a vital part of its economy, if it doesn’t play ball with future UK desires. It appears it did it just for show…

Bargaining chips are of course important, but not if they cost UK travellers jobs, and create the untimely demise of virtually every UK travel firm, which employ thousands upon thousands of people.

The UK Government has injected less than a billion to airlines over the crisis, the largest amounts of which actually went to WizzAir, rather than British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Jet2 and so forth.

In contrast, Air France and KLM received 10 billion in state assistance, and Lufthansa 9 billion. That’s effectively three airlines which have received circa 18 billion more than all UK airlines and travel firms combined. It’s all fun and games until they go bust, and the UK’s proud history as a traveling nation is left without a single airline.

If you think that’s dramatic, British Airways owner IAG is desperately seeking over £2 billion to weather the storm. The grants from The Netherlands, France and Germany to prop up airlines were effectively gifted aid, which gives these airlines an incredible advantage as travel returns.

The world is in crisis, health is more important than anything, but when even health officials can’t quite understand why a government would make a move such as the one the UK made over the weekend with Spain, something odd is afoot. At this rate, unless change comes, it’ll be a miracle if there’s a singular UK travel firm left when this is all over.

As long as Dominic Cummings is entertained though, it’s all ok, right?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Hopefully people remember the total shambles and double standards this government is going about buffering this country, at the next general election

  2. You make some excellent points. Sadly, I’m not sure it will make much difference. Like the US, Britain just doesn’t seem to want to learn from countries that have done it right and it’s the people who will end up paying for such shortsightedness.
    Regarding airline bailouts, didn’t BA specifically said that it had lots of money and actually argued against government assistance for airlines in the UK? Of course the reasons they did so were to try to drive Virgin out of business and put flight attendants on near poverty pay for the foreseeable future so there’s zero altruism involved, only greed. That makes handing them money a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.

    1. All correct. BA was utterly opposed, and are only now realizing the scale of devastation for all. Think Willie Wanker, I mean Walsh, might want that one back.

  3. Your criticisms of the UK Government may be right or wrong (I think largely wrong) but to say this is to do with Brexit really is pushing things to the limit. Do you really think that he UK’s actions against Spain are going to endear the UK negotiators to Barnier? I really think not.
    To pick up just one of the other rambling points – “””who booked trips to Spain in good faith”””.
    Travellers booked knowing that the UK Government had announced at the time air corridors were announced that these arrangements could be withdrawn without notice if there were spikes in specific countries. Anybody arranging a trip to Spain, or elsewhere, did so in the full knowledge of the risk. Or maybe they relied only on the media who did not emphasise this point. Caveat Emptor.
    I love travelling but the risks of individual country’s actions are too great currently. The UK is wonderful country to explore for this year.

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