It has been a week with the Covid-19 PCR test at the forefront of discussion in Spain and specifically regarding its implications to the 2021 tourism sector in the Balearics.

  • First the Government announced that the test would be required ‘in principle’. 
  • Next some tourism organisations, notably including Ibiza’s biggest UK carrier, Jet2, hit back stating that the tests would strike a huge blow for recovery of the sector as they would add too great a cost load to family holidays. 
  • Next the Balearic Government said they would pay for arriving tourists to have rapid tests in Ibiza airport from the start of the 2021 tourist season. This was announced at the same time as the Balearic hoteliers trade association said they wanted to pursue an early start to the 2021 season. 
  • Next the Government confirmed the specifics of the plan for required testing from November 23rd. 

This is a roll up article drawn from sources including the Balearic Government and National Spanish Government, Ibiza Consell, Local and national Press including El Pais and the Periodico de Ibiza. 

Editorial Comment

This is quite a hefty piece – but a VERY important subject that will undoubtedly have a major impact on a successful season 2021 – and the need, for many the critical need, for a successful season 2021 cannot be overstated. Put it this way, many people worried that a tourist tax of 2 or 3 euros per night would deter people from coming here on holiday. At current commercial rates the cost for an entry and departure PCR test for a family of four would add around 1,000€ to the cost of a holiday – in this context it is easy to see why Steve Heapy, Managing Director of Jet2, said he has considerable concerns on the affect of this policy. 

PCR Test Required to Enter Spain BUT Ibiza Will Pay for Tourist Tests in 2021
PCR Test Required to Enter Spain BUT Ibiza Will Pay for Tourist Tests in 2021

Also contained in this article is the industry announcing that they want to bring forward Ibiza’s season start by up to eight weeks – from March instead of the usual start of May. Any other year this would in itself be a massive piece of news affecting Ibiza and dominating all discussion. It is very 2020 that such an important announcement goes almost unnoticed as a subtopic. 

One point we need to make before we get to the full article. There is some doubt over use of the word ‘tourist’ versus ‘traveller’. 

‘Tourist’ from November 23rd.

Some media outlets, notably the Diario de Ibiza, have published news of the full PCR test requirement coming in from 23rd November stating that it is a requirement for ‘tourists’. As far as we can tell that is an incorrect or misleading assertion. The requirement for the test applies to ALL TRAVELLERS entering Spain by Air or Sea. You need to have the test as a resident returning to the island as much as you do a visiting tourist. 

‘Tourists’ from 2021.

There is a second level of confusion here as the Balearic statements regarding covering the cost of the rapid tests conducted at airports do specifically state the word ‘tourists’. Does this mean that as a resident returning to the island, or a worker arriving at the start of the season you would not be entitled to the free test? We do not know at this stage, though hope it will become clear well before it becomes an issue in March next year.

Now the full article …

Part 1 – PCR Tests Required for Entry to Spain

Spain is to require a PCR coronavirus test for all travellers arriving from countries considered at risk.

This was stated by Spanish health minister Salvador Illa on Wednesday during the meeting of the country’s Interterritorial Health Council. Thus, people who want to enter Spanish territory from a country with high incidence of the disease must carry proof they are not infected, via a negative test result carried out in the 72 hours prior to arrival.

This measure, which will come into force on November 23rd, is in addition to other health controls already established for international passengers arriving in Spain, such as temperature control and visual checks. European countries such as Greece, the United Kingdom and Italy have already adopted the PCR requirement.

Declaration

Specifically, the health control form that must be filled out by all passengers arriving in Spain will now include a new question: whether the passenger has had a negative PCR test performed in the three days prior to arrival. According to health ministry sources, authorities will be able to demand the result of this test from the passenger at any time. The document must be the original, written in Spanish or English, and may be carried as a paper document or in electronic format. If it cannot be shown electronically, it must be personally presented before boarding. These new controls will be published in the Spanish official gazette and will enter into force on 23rd November.

15 Day Review

In an announcement published on Thursday in Spain’s Official Gazette, the government offered more details about the new requirement and provided a list of 65 affected countries and territories, which include the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy, Argentina, Switzerland and Russia. (see bottom box for full list).

This list will be reviewed every 15 days and the update will be available on the Health Ministry website and on the Spain Travel Health website.

PCR Tests Only

In the Official Gazette announcement, the government also confirmed that for now only PCR tests will be accepted, not antigen tests or antibody tests such as ELISA, CLIA or ECLIA.

Traffic Lights

What does Spain consider to be a country at risk? In the case of European Union countries and Schengen area partners, the criteria referred to is the EU recommendation 2020/1475 of 13th October, which establishes a traffic light system based on the cumulative incidence of Covid-19, and will be used as a reference.

A red light is signalled when a territory has a 14-day case notification rate of over 150 (that is, more than 150 cases notified per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days), or a rate of over 50 if the test positivity rate is greater than 4% (that is, when over 4% of PCR tests given in a territory return a positive result).

Currently, almost all of Europe receives a red light. Only Norway, Finland and some areas of Greece are rated ‘orange’, which means that travellers arriving from those areas do not have to present a PCR result in Spain. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control maintains a regularly updated European map showing current traffic light colours. 

As for other countries, the Spanish health ministry has only stated that the 14-day case notification rate will be taken into account, “complemented by capabilities implemented as provided for in international health regulations”.

Notifications

Travel agencies, tour operators and transport companies that sell tickets will be required to inform travellers of the obligation to have a PCR test with a negative result in order to travel to Spain.

Starting on November 23, passengers filling out a health control form before entering Spain (available on www.spth.gob.es or through the free app SPAIN TRAVEL HEALTH-SpTH) will find an additional question asking whether they have a negative PCR test result taken over the previous 72 hours.

The Gazette adds that “passengers arriving in Spain by sea and those arriving by air who, exceptionally, were unable to fill out an electronic health control form, may show a paper form before boarding, as an alternative to the QR code. In this case, the form must be accompanied by the document certifying that the diagnostic test has been done.”

Canaries

The Canary Islands, which currently have the best coronavirus situation in Spain, recently approved a similar measure that is set to go into effect on November 14. But in this case it affects both foreign and Spanish tourists, who will not be allowed into a hotel or other tourist accommodation without a negative test taken within the last 72 hours.

For now there are no plans for other regional governments to follow suit and ask tourists from other parts of Spain to produce a negative PCR test in order to stay at a hotel or holiday rental.

Part 2 – Government to Pay for Tourist Rapid Tests at Airport On Entry & Calls for Season to Start in March

  • Hoteliers want the tourist season to start in March, specifically at Easter
  • The Government will pay for the antigen tests, or better known as rapid tests, for tourists who come to the Balearic Islands in the 2021 season.

The Balearic Executive has explained that it recommends that tourists do a PCR at origin but, if they do not present it upon arrival, they will be given a quick test both at ports and at airports.

The Minister of the Economic Model, Tourism and Labour, Iago Negueruela, has stated that “our focus has always been directed to PCRs at source” with harmonized European regulations, but if it is not possible “the Government will guarantee that tests are carried out”.

Negueruela also stated that one of the aspects of the health security strategy that the Government wants to agree with hoteliers to try to reactivate the economic engine of the islands from next Easter is to define what diagnostic tests could be performed on tourists and what other measures can improve entry control at airports and ports.

Start of the tourist season at Easter

This has been decided in the meeting held by the president of the Government, Francina Armengol, with the hoteliers. In addition, they have opted for the tourist season to start in March, specifically at Easter. “March has to be the month we open,” Negueruela has declared.

For her part, the president of the Mallorca Hotel Business Federation (FEHM), Maria Frontera, said that “the control of ports and airports is essential.” Frontera insisted that beyond the commercial strategies that can be established from the business sphere, the health situation in the Balearic Islands and in the main markets for tourism to the islands, Germany and the United Kingdom will be the determining “variable” .

Appendix – The Debate on the Affect of PCR Tests from an Economic Standpoint. 

  • Tour operators and CAEB criticize PCRs at origin because they make travel more expensive
  • The test costs more than 100 euros, which is an extra expense for a family

(note that this part of the article is outdated now following the Balearic Government decision to pay for rapid tests at the airport – but the text is still provided here for interest and in understanding how the subject progressed over the past 10 days)

The Canary Islands will begin to require PCR from those who travel to that archipelago, a measure that, in principle, also convinces the Consell de Ibiza and the Government, but which tour operators such as Jet2Holidays reject because these tests are very expensive (from 100 to 160 euros each ) and because it is not easy to perform these tests well in advance.

Last week the Canary Islands became the first Spanish autonomous community to promote, through decree law 17/2020, of October 29, the performance of diagnostic tests in the place of origin of each tourist. To access the tourist establishments of that archipelago, users will need to demonstrate that they have carried out, within “a maximum period of 72 hours prior to their arrival, a diagnostic test for active infection established by the health authorities and that proves that they have not tested positive as a transmitter of this disease.

The measure, pioneering, and which responds to the pact established in mid-October between that autonomous community and the Balearic Islands with the central government to open tourist corridors, already has powerful detractors, such as the tour operator Jet2holidays. Its CEO, Steve Heapy, expressed last week his disagreement with the Canarian decree for having ignored, among other things, the increase in cost for tourists to pay for the PCR, according to the Tourinews portal.

The head of the main tour operator in the United Kingdom recalled that a PCR in his country costs, on average, about 130 euros. In Ibiza, for example, one of the main clinics on the island charges 160 euros for this test, while a laboratory in Vila asks for 110 euros for each PCR and 75 euros for the serological test. Jet2holidays calculates that for a British family of four, the trip is about 520 euros, just one way. If another analysis were required on the way back, double, a thousand euros. Unacceptable for many, especially with the crisis that Great Britain is going through and on the eve of a Brexit that is expected to be harsh and dire.

The insular director of Ibiza Tourism Promotion, Juan Miguel Costa, indicated in an interview with this newspaper his support for “doing PCR or some kind of test” on whoever was going to enter the island. In his opinion, “the solution is to carry out these tests at origin and, probably, at the exit”. But this solution, at least if it is the tourist who must pay for it, has met with the frontal rejection of European tour operators, who also warn of the impossibility of carrying out the tests with the advance notice required by the Canary Islands Government.

Learn from canaries

José Antonio Roselló, vice president of the Confederation of Business Associations of the Balearic Islands (CAEB), indicates that we must be attentive to what happens in the Canary Islands because Ibiza has to draw lessons from that experience. And the first, he suggests, is that you cannot happily ask to have PCR done in your country of origin: “It is true that the logical thing would be to ask for a test at origin and for tourists to come with it in hand . But if this is done, we must be aware that, probably, it will mean a drop in tourism, since many people will not be in a position to make an appointment in advance of the trip in their countries, or they will not be able to afford this expense so important ”, he warns.

In his opinion, “what has already happened with the Canary Islands PCR shows us that much is said about this issue but little is known. Sometimes you have to talk less and do more, and this is a clear example. The CEO of Jet2holidays has shown, Roselló stresses, “that the PCR make the trip very expensive, as the figures that they suppose for a typical family of four. And other experts highlight the logistical difficulty for travelers to have a test between 48 and 72 hours before the trip.