Spain hopes easing of UK quarantine will save Canary Islands winter tourism

FILE PHOTO: Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez Laya speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, Spain August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina

MADRID (Reuters) - After a disastrous summer tourism season, Spain is hoping a more flexible British quarantine police will make it possible to save some of the winter season in the Canary Islands, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Tuesday.

Britain, the largest source of foreign visitors to Spain, imposed an unexpected quarantine on travellers over the summer after COVID-19 infections surged there, and many other European countries also imposed restrictions.

That wrecked efforts to revive a tourism industry that accounts for more than one in eight Spanish jobs. The number of foreign tourists visiting Spain fell 75% in July from a year earlier.

While the winter tourism season is not as big as summer’s, it is still substantial. Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean are one of the few parts of any European country warm enough for beach holidays in winter.

“The important thing is that there is a window of opportunity that did not exist before because the UK previously considered Spain as a whole,” Gonzalez Laya said in an interview with RNE radio, adding that there would now be negotiations on details. “It is important for the Canary archipelago which benefits from winter tourism.”

Britain’s transport minister Grant Shapps said on Monday that London could now make decisions on whether to impose quarantines from incoming travellers on specific islands rather than on whole countries.

Spain is also still pushing for a European Union harmonisation of COVID-19 travel measures and for exemptions, Gonzalez Laya said. Spain has been calling unsuccessfully for such a harmonisation since lockdowns were eased all over Europe in May.

Reporting by Inti Landauro; editing by Ingrid Melander