OPINION: Italy’s last-minute quarantine extension for UK is the nail in the coffin for tour operators

OPINION: Italy's last-minute quarantine extension for UK is the nail in the coffin for tour operators
Tuscany is a favourite destination among British visitors - but they'll be absent again this yeat due to restrictions. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
The Italian government’s choice to single out the UK for extra travel restrictions is a serious blow that risks long-term damage to trade relationships, says Carolyn Spinks, Chief Operating Officer of the Association of British Travel Organisers to Italy (ABTOI).

The last-minute decision on July 29th to extend Italy’s quarantine for UK visitors for another month until the end of August has finally put the last nail in the coffin for UK Italian specialist operators who have been under immense and untenable pressure since March 2019.

It will come as no surprise to hear that loss of business over the last 16 months has reached epic heights – as much as 95% down on pre-pandemic business. You might wonder how a company can still be operating under such extreme losses. It has taken mighty resilience, creativity, financial juggling, short-term government loans and extreme cost cutting measures for them to emerge ready for the (already shortened) 2021 summer season.

Q&A: Your questions about Italy’s quarantine for UK arrivals answered

As the UK put all its efforts into vaccinating its adult population, our travel industry has been scrutinizing Italy’s efforts since the beginning of the year, looking at the country’s vaccination schedule as well as infection rates and deaths. 

Nerve-racking patience has been the name of the game as our travel industry ‘willed’ Italy to get the pandemic under control and speed up their vaccination programme in order to open up for this year’s season. Speaking to many of our ABTOI member operators who have been living on a knife edge, the constant question of when might the EU have access to a vaccine and how they might reach acceptable vaccination levels by the summer to open the doors for countries like the UK that really did have a world-class vaccination programme. 

It was near impossible for any travel company to make plans for a season that may or may not happen, to sign supplier contracts, to invest, to create modest marketing campaigns, to charter flights, etc  The questions remained ‘should they invest in a season that may not materialise and how will they survive if this is the second year of virtually zero business?’ 

Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

The serious ramifications for our UK operators reach far and wide, and similarly the relationship between consumer and established operators has been stretched to levels that will not return for very many years. 

Not to mention the public’s perception of why Italy has singled out the UK to quarantine when infections rage across the world, including in the US, while American visitors are at liberty to move around Italy restriction-free. In the UK, infection rates have been dropping for some time and almost 70% of adults have now been double jabbed.

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Now begins the arduous task for our operators to deal with the fallout, to seek refunds from Italian suppliers (most of whom will not refund at such a late stage), to unpick complicated itineraries and contact all the services and accommodation involved, to take calls from angry, frustrated and disappointed clients, to deal with legal cases that will undoubtedly start mounting up as refunds can’t be made. All of this, without any incoming revenue since last March.

The reputation of Italy is fast sinking here in the UK. We have had a year-round market to Italy since time began, established, supported and developed by UK travel companies. It is an enviable and mature market, one which does not switch loyalties according to the latest trendy destination. 

Photo: ANDREA PATTARO/AFP

You would think this counted for something and would be something the Italian government values and supports. Instead, we feel we have been penalised unnecessarily, if you consult the scientific data.

Tourism is an important factor for Italy’s economy, creating jobs in multiple sectors from car rentals to souvenir shops to restaurants and accommodation. In 2019, it represented 14% of the country’s GDP. In the same year, 6.4 million visitors from the UK travelled to Italy and generated revenue of almost 4 billion. 

Italy’s best tourist spots might be busy right now with the domestic market, visitors from other European countries and the US, but come the shoulder, off-peak months and next year, there will be no British visitors to support their tourism infrastructure, to fill their hotels and restaurants, to buy the local services and fill the cities with the mature British traveller, hungry for art and culture, and food and wine experiences.

The Italian government needs to rethink the quarantine restrictions assigned to just the UK market and start considering the far-reaching repercussions for not just their own economy and their reputation here in the UK but how they have treated their overseas trade partners who have contributed and invested heavily into their infrastructure for very many years.


Member comments

  1. While I have great sympathy for those in the devastated tourism sector, I wonder who this editorial is supposed to be targeting? The tone of self-righteous victimhood (which seems to be ever popular with the British when complaining about Europe) is certainly not going to convince anyone in the Italian government to change policy.

    There seems to be no acknowledgement that the UK currently has one of the highest rates of covid in Europe, four times that of Italy. And with new research suggesting that the vaccinated can still be infected with Delta and transmit that vaccination to others, it seems absolutely tone deaf to whinge that you can’t go on holidays from your plague island to less vaccinated countries without having to observe a brief 5-day quarantine.

    And to tout the UK vaccination program as world class compared to Italy’s…does she not know that many Europeans believe that the UK selfishly cut deals and hoovered up as much of the shared vaccines as they could, at Europe’s expense? And now they have to pay the price by quarantining for 5 days at the start of their hollies. Cue up the world’s tiniest violin.

    For Ms. Spinks to end by saying Italy should think about its reputation with the British public is rich. Does she not remember the Euros just a few weeks ago where the British public booed the Italian national anthem? Does she not know how the post-Brexit British are perceived by the rest of Europe? Does she not have any understanding of how the Tory government has created this entire situation themselves? It’s a shame that tourism operators are paying the price for their government’s selfish and cavalier approach to the pandemic, but to try and blame it on Europe is, frankly, exactly why you are in this mess in the first place.

    Were I a spokesperson for the ABTOI, I’d concentrate on communicating the message of a great love for Italy and the Italian people, and reassurance of the safety protocols being taken to keep the locals safe from infected British holidaymakers. I genuinely cannot believe they thought publishing this was a better idea.

    1. Thank you ‘L’ for taking the trouble to comment. I would point out that this was not ‘editorial’ as you thought, but an invite to express an opinion from the UK travel industry after the tortuous last-minute decision came from the Italian Government, an opinion you clearly did not agree with but entitled to.
      However, it seems you missed the point. The ‘ordinanza’ was declared just 24 hours before it took effect, which for thousands of people, not just in the UK, but across the tourism infrastructure in Italy, suffered huge financial loss due to the late arrival of such a decision. And if you consult the scientific data, was totally unnecessary. I appreciate that your lack of knowledge of how this industry works does not allow you to understand the serious ramifications all round, so let me furnish you with a little more information.
      Thousands of vaccinated British people lost their money, and with this, the confidence in Italy as a holiday destination for a long time to come. They had their celebratory holiday cancelled 48 hours before departure, wedding dreams shattered, family connections cancelled and all with an underlying feeling that this was discriminatory. And you have compounded this belief by your comments about Brexit, British football fans and insinuating that the UK Government ‘hoovered up’ all the vaccines to the detriment of the EU. Might I just remind you that the UK Gov took a gamble in May 2020 to purchase possible emerging vaccines, something any country in Europe could have done but didn’t. Italy preferred to wait for the EU to make a decision which came many months later (one of the benefits of Brexit). You might want to take a look at your own country’s actions for the slow roll-out of vaccinations and stop blaming others.
      If you take a closer inspection of scientific data, you will see this was unnecessary and again, underpins the feeling that Britain has been ‘singled out’ for other reasons. You appear happy to let all of Europe cross into Italy, including Spain with an average of 20,000 daily infections but the biggest hypocrisy is Italy enjoying the Americans flooding in with 100,000 virus cases per day. Despite all this, the important information to scrutinize is daily death tolls – UK similar to Italy – because as we all know, the vaccine has weakened the link between serious illness and death, and the virus. Vaccinated people are highly unlikely to get Covid to any extent, they are highly unlikely to pass on the infection too because vaccinated people would only harbour a very low viral load which is why the Delta variant is now hitting a wall in the UK who have 75% of the adult population vaccinated. However, and this is huge, Italy has decided to overlook the vaccinated British people and even ‘Freedom Day’ has proven successful because vaccinations work!
      Your ultimate comment suggesting that ABTOI should overlook this seriously damaging last minute ‘ordinanza’ which has wrecked lives, businesses, confidence and loyal trading partners shows a complete lack of understanding of the bigger picture and scientific data. Bleating on about ‘keeping the locals safe from infected British holidaymakers’ is truly laughable and unfounded.

      1. Thanks “carolyns_611155759a770” for taking the trouble to reply. You didn’t explain, though, why this site closed comments on this post after less than 24 hours (only to reopen them so you could respond to mine, it seems). That does give the impression that this was a sponsored post or that you have some other sort of unidentified relationship with the site.

        I didn’t miss the point of the editorial, I just disagreed with the tone, which seems to veer between self-righteous victimhood and outright condescension (one that you have carried through in your comment, which is breathtakingly condescending).

        I think ABTOI adopting this tone publicly is unlikely to do you any good, and it doesn’t appear to have been well-received even by the British readers of this site.

        As much as you are criticizing the Italian government for making a last-minute decision on this issue, I fail to see how this is any different than the UK’s disastrous traffic light system and their last-minute changes based on even less evidence than the continued quarantine requirement for British tourists in Italy. When new evidence is emerging every day about the vaccinated becoming infected and transmitting Delta to others, I don’t blame the Italian government for waiting for more clarity — and despite your assertions of what I must believe, I support them in having quarantine requirements for visitors from other countries with high infection rates. As much as you seem to feel the UK is being singled out because of politics, the UK has the highest rate of infection in all of Europe (and a higher rate of infection than the US) and cases there are continuing to rise despite the number of tests administered declining in recent days.

        The tourism industry is being destroyed by this pandemic. I have a tourism business that has been closed since March, 2020, so believe it or not, I understand how painful this is. But I also understand that we in this industry have to be as concerned about the local population as much as the tourists we serve, and no such concern was evident in your editorial.

  2. Unfortunately, the data says otherwise:
    Past month – 1.03M infected
    Yesterday – 30K infected x 30 = 0.9M a 10% drop.
    And, of course, we know it gets worse as winter approaches.
    Additionally, as much as I am a Conservative Brit, Boris has burned his bridges with the EU; for the first time in my living memory, the UK PM is considered untrustworthy, so don’t expect any favours here.
    Hopefully, you will be a transit pax and can enjoy the Med; unlike Germany, the weather is fabulous – I should be on the Adriatic for the first couple of weeks of September!

    1. To kaspianoaken:
      Good Luck! I suspect, as long as you agree to stay in your hotel in Rome (which is a shame!), you will be fine.

  3. Agreed, but not Italy’s fault in the main; it was mostly EU policies:
    1. Somewhat naive contracting practices with AstraZeneca (AZ);
    2. Requiring the EMA to issue a Conditional Approval rather than insisting on the Emergency Approval for vaccines already successfully deployed in Israel, the UK, and the US; and
    3. No doubt other bureaucratic BS that resulted in the delay.
    Anyway, my problem is with the UK now – please see the Guardian’s report on this issue (well written by a couple of profs from Durham and Essex Uni’s) – and I am not by any stretch of political inclination a “Guardian reader”: the UK Govt is gambling with its citizens that it can reach herd immunity through vaccination and transmission such that the UK can thrive economically despite the foolhardiness of BREXIT.
    That is all well and good (?!), except for the fact that it is also gambling with the health of the citizens of its economic and travel partners by an irresponsible lack of COVID restrictions. For example, a group of young, unvaccinated Brits can enjoy a night of clubbing then go on holiday to those favored destinations – France/Spain/Greece (whose infection rates are now climbing wildly) – with their minor ‘flu symptoms and harm a bunch of locals/other tourists, who did not realise their Govts had tacitly accepted the UK Govt’s unwritten policy, for cash.
    This is why I am outspoken (unusual for me!) on this subject and am glad that the holiday destination for middle-aged Germans (and this middle-aged Brit who lives there, LOL!) is being protected by the Italian Govt!
    I had hoped to visit the UK this Summer (I am double-jabbed) but, owing to Bad-Boy-Boris’s virilogical engineering experiment – there is no way. I will not be a Delta carrier and infect my family, friends and neighbours!!
    However, I am not naive enough to think we can completely insulate ourselves but hopefully we can reduce the impact by delay until more of our citizens, especially our young people, are jabbed and protected.
    In conclusion, I think criticism of the UK’s, in my mind deliberate, infection rate is warranted, after all it was the UK press that dubbed it “Freedumb Day”; here’s the Mirror: “Reckless Boris Johnson’s ‘freedumb day’ will ‘screw the NHS’ claim top doctors.”
    No, the NHS will survive, it will screw the UK’s economic and travel partners!

  4. Sorry if I didn’t explain myself properly – I was meaning more that the vaccine rollout in Italy was slower than the UK’s, though I’m aware the position for both nations is now much more level. However, my wider point was that criticising one nation’s reaction to another’s infection rate, as seems to be the case in the article above, over simplifies an exceptionally complicated situation.

  5. I am currently waiting on confirmation whether we would be exempt from quarantine as we would be leaving Italy on cruise ship within 36 hours

  6. Unfortunately, the data says otherwise:
    Past month – 1.03M infected
    Yesterday – 30K infected x 30 = 0.9M a 10% drop.
    And, of course, we know it gets worse as winter approaches.
    Additionally, as much as I am a Conservative Brit, Boris has burned his bridges with the EU; for the first time in my living memory, the UK PM is considered untrustworthy, so don’t expect any favours here.
    Hopefully, you will be a transit pax and can enjoy the Med; unlike Germany, the weather is fabulous – I should be on the Adriatic for the first couple of weeks of September!

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