Spain kicked off its summer tourist season on Monday, welcoming vaccinated visitors from most countries as well as European tourists who can prove they are not infected with the coronavirus. It has also reopened its ports to cruise ships.
The move opened the borders to the first tourists from the United States and other countries outside the European Union since these travelers were banned in March of last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit travel in the world.
Matthew Eisenberg, a 22-year-old student, exited Madrid airport with enthusiasm, ready to enjoy the Spanish capital with two other American friends.
“We came to Spain on the first possible day because we are very happy to travel here,” said Eisenberg, showing a certificate for the two Moderna vaccines he received in February and March.
But Spain still bans non-essential travelers from Brazil, India and South Africa, where viral variants have been a major concern.
Visitors must prove that they were fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel or that they have overcome a COVID-19 infection in the past six months. Certificates can be in Spanish, English, French or German – or their equivalent translations in Spanish, depending on the government order.
The vaccines accepted are those approved by the European medicines regulator – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – as well as two Chinese vaccines authorized by the World Health Organization, Sinopharm and Sinovac.
The same documents will be valid for visitors from the European Union until the bloc fully deploys its “digital green certificate” as planned on July 1. Spain joined seven other EU countries already implementing the program on Monday.
Alfredo González, head of digital health and innovation at the Spanish Ministry of Health, said the certificate was not a passport but a document that facilitates mobility across Europe.
“Without the certificate, travel will be possible, but entry into each country will be slower and controls such as quarantines could apply,” González said, adding that all airports have put in place expedited channels with a technology capable of confirming the digital certificates issued. by other EU countries.
From Monday, unvaccinated travelers from the 27 EU countries could also enter Spain with negative results from recent coronavirus antigen tests, which are cheaper and faster than PCR tests.
The Spanish government hopes to welcome 14.5 to 15.5 million visitors between July and September. This represents around 40% of tourists during the same period of 2019, but twice as many as last summer, when only visitors from the EU could enter Spain.
Tourism is a major industry which in 2019 represented more than 12% of Spain’s GDP.
In a flip side, many UK tourists who enjoy southern European beaches are yet to be expected in large numbers as they have to self-quarantine upon their return to the UK
Still, Manchester resident Randolph Sweeting said his vacation on the Spanish island of Mallorca was worth the mandatory self-isolation upon his return home.
“I was here twice last year, and when I got home I had to quarantine myself for two weeks. So that’s not a problem for me. I’ve done it before, ”said the 68-year-old at Palma de Mallorca airport.
Belén Sanmartín, director of the Meliá Calviá Beach Hotel in Mallorca, said the UK government’s decision to keep Spain on its list of high-risk territories was difficult to understand in the Balearic Islands, where the infection rate is lower. to that of Great Britain.
“It was a big disappointment as we were ready to receive visitors from the UK market,” said Sanmartín, adding that bookings at his hotel were slowly picking up, thanks to mainland Spaniards and tourists from Germany and France.
In another move to boost tourism, Spanish ports opened to cruise ships on Monday, nearly 15 months after their ban.
After peaking at the end of January at nearly 900 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, the indicator of coronavirus contagion in Spain has fallen to 115 per 100,000 inhabitants. Yet its descent has slowed in recent days as new infections have spread among unvaccinated groups.
Spain has counted more than 80,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic.