European holiday destinations push for UK ‘travel corridor’

European countries including Turkey, Greece, Spain and Portugal are keen to adopt “transport corridors” as soon as next month that would let British holidaymakers visit Mediterranean resorts without quarantining for 14 days on their return.

Under the UK’s strict new quarantine system most visitors must self-isolate for two weeks. But while prime minister Boris Johnson this week said people could take domestic holidays instead, he added that ministers were discussing adopting transport corridors to exclude countries with low infection rates from the quarantine rules. This could only occur “when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so”, he added.

There has been scepticism about whether European countries would want to strike travel deals with Britain, given its high infection rate: the UK has one of the highest rates of death from coronavirus among countries that produce comparable data, according to Financial Times analysis.

But officials in several European capitals said they hoped for deals ahead of the summer holiday season, reflecting the economic importance of British tourists to Mediterranean resorts.

One government official in Turkey, which received 2.6m UK holidaymakers last year, told the FT that an agreement was close, with a provisional date for the resumption of travel between the two countries set at July 15. “The two sides are in close contact,” the official said. “The UK is a very important country for us.” The final decision would depend on the trajectory of British infections, he added.

Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, said the country would soon pilot tourism programmes in the Balearic and Canary Islands, based on travel corridors, and was in discussions with the German government and tourist operator Tui about the plan. More generally, Spain will relax its 14-day quarantine on July 1.

Ms Maroto had on Sunday struck a sceptical note about the prospect of British tourists coming to Spain this summer, given the UK’s infection rates, but on Thursday she said the government was keen to open up to Britain. “It is our principal [tourism] market,” she said. “We trust it will be very soon that we can receive British tourists.”

All Greek airports will be open from July 1 to international flights — including British ones — with random testing of arrivals. One Athens official said there had been “intense” discussion with the government’s advisory committee of epidemiologists on whether to allow UK tourists to enter the country from July 1 or wait until British infections fall.

“It was decided to open up to everyone at the same time and not discriminate. The UK is our second-biggest market after Germany,” he said. More than 3m tourists went to Greece from the UK last year.

Portugal hopes its relatively low level of virus cases will help secure an air bridge agreement with the UK, which delivered 3m of its 16m foreign tourists last year.

Augusto Santos Silva, foreign minister, said there could be a deal by the end of June, with visitors able to return to the UK without being quarantined. Portugal plans to check the temperatures of passengers when they arrive but has ruled out quarantining tourists.

Britain initially proposed excluding France altogether from its scheme but then dropped that plan — prompting a reciprocal French two-week quarantine to visitors from the UK.

The lack of certainty around the new quarantine scheme has prompted anger from the travel industry, with warnings of a “devastating impact” from Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airports Operators Association. “The concept of ‘air bridges’ must be looked at with urgency to allow travel to low-risk countries while protecting the public from high-risk arrivals,” she said.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, said the quarantine policy was “pointless posturing”. “The UK has one of the worst death rates in Europe and they are only now introducing quarantine when the rest of Europe is lifting it.”

Reporting by Jim Pickard and Peggy Hollinger in London, Laura Pitel in Ankara, Daniel Dombey in Madrid, Kerin Hope in Athens and Peter Wise in Lisbon