From Anguilla to Australia, from Guadeloupe to Greece, British tourists can now travel to more than 70 countries and territories without having to quarantine on their return, although there are some differences among the UK nations (Scotland, for example, still requires those returning from Spain to self-isolate).
But do those countries want British tourists? Not that much. A YouGov poll last week found that people in Spain, France and Italy were more opposed to the arrival of UK tourists than of any other Europeans (although they were even more hostile to Chinese and American visitors). Greece was so nervous about accepting British tourists that it banned direct flights from the UK until July 15.
Who can blame them? Greece has suffered 18 Covid-19 deaths per million population, France 447.4. The UK figure is 666.5. The death rates in Spain and Italy have been high but are still, per million, lower than the UK’s.
Yet British tourism is important to many economies. The 2.9m Brits who visited Greece in 2018 accounted for almost 10 per cent of the country’s visitors. There were 18m British travellers to Spain last year — more than from any other country. In Australia (which is still closed to all arrivals other than Australian citizens and permanent residents and their families), UK tourists in 2019 vied with the US for third place in international arrivals, after China and New Zealand.
It is almost 40 years since I first started reporting on the travel industry. Then based in Greece, I saw how tourism brought increased prosperity to its islands. I have since covered tourist developments from Asia to the Caribbean. Everywhere I have witnessed the love-hate relationship tourist destinations have with UK visitors.
Understanding this ambivalence requires an appreciation of what tourist policymakers are after. Tourists spend money on hotels, food, drink and taxis. They also strain local resources, including water and accommodation. Some destinations, such as Venice and Barcelona, have tried to stem the flow of visitors. The tourist ideal is manageable numbers, but higher spenders, who contribute more to the local economy without causing too much disruption to everyday life.
From this point of view, some UK tourists are welcome. British families with children are popular. They spend money and largely behave themselves. UK business travellers, like business travellers generally, are most welcome of all. They travel out of season, stay in luxury hotels, eat in smart restaurants and generate further trade and business.
The problem are the young British travellers, who have scarred resorts such as Magaluf in Mallorca and the Greek island of Zakynthos. Tourists from other countries drink and occasionally become riotous. But few behave as badly as the young Brits.
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Local tourist industries sometimes recognise their role in creating this monster — the hotels that stuff their rooms with British youngsters who, through their tour operators, block-book in advance; the bar owners who push to be included in the nightly pub crawls. Some of these destinations attempt to go upmarket, hoping to attract families instead. It rarely works. They are stuck with the debauched reputations they helped to create.
And now the tourist-receiving countries face the fear that attaches to all UK travellers, previously welcome or not: that they are coming from a country that, more than nearly any other in Europe, allowed its coronavirus infection rate to spiral.
For tourist destinations, it’s a painful choice. Millions of livelihoods depend on not losing the summer season entirely, but they are afraid of further infection that will come from large numbers gathering, abandoning common sense in the sun and failing to self-distance. They will fear the consequences of young British inebriation most of all.
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