Spain eyes bilateral tourism agreements with third countries if no EU-wide deal on travel

Spain is open to setting up bilateral agreements and safe corridors with non-EU “third countries”, including the UK, if no deal is reached regarding travel requirements across the European Union, the country’s Secretary of State for Tourism has said.

Spain eyes bilateral tourism agreements with third countries if no EU-wide deal on travel

Spain is prepared to negotiate bilateral travel deals with “third countries”, with everything from vaccine passports/certificates to safe travel corridors on the table.

“If a decision cannot be reached we will be thinking of other solutions such as green corridors with third countries that can help us to restart tourism flows,” Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdés told Bloomberg TV.

Valdés echoed Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto’s recent statement that Covid vaccination certificates or passports will form part of the safe travel corridor scheme her government is preparing to allow the reopening of international tourism, something Spain desperately needs by summer in order to jumpstart its ailing economy.

READ MORE: Spain to add Covid-19 vaccine passport to travel corridor scheme

“We believe that the vaccination certificate has to complete our portfolio and that we are heading towards a summer with some kind of mobility,” Valdés said.

“Maybe if you were vaccinated that means you don’t need to take a test, or that it will give you some flexibility regarding borders”.

Canary Regional President Angel Torres, whose region is currently open to EU tourists and visitors from a handful of other nations as long as they can present a negative Covid test, has suggested that any potential vaccine passport should be “reinforced by an antigen test” as they only take 15 minutes approximately to provide results.


The return of British tourists to Spain

Asked if Spain would follow in Greece’s steps and look into the possibility of a bilateral agreement with the UK, Valdés said that his ministry is “already having discussions with our colleagues in the UK” and that Spain would consider a “green corridor” with Britain as a “third country” if there was no EU deal on travel requirements reached.

“For us the British market is our main market but obviously since we are a member of the European Union, the solutions first have to be part of the discussions in the EU.

“We’re going to be cautious, we need to take into consideration the safety of our citizens but the vaccination campaign is evolving and we are integrating these other means, we believe that maybe by summer we will be regaining British tourists in Spain,” Valdes concluded.

Spain recently extended the ban on travellers from the UK, Brazil and South Africa until at least March 16th, over the new Covid variants in those nations.

But the country’s tourism industry has really felt the loss of 82 percent of British tourists in 2020, an annual figure which in recent years has been higher than 18 million visitors.

There are also anywhere between 800,000 to a million British homeowners in Spain, most of whom have up until Brexit been able to spend extended periods of time in their Spanish homes, but who are now in many cases unable to enter Spain as non-residents from a non-EU country.

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The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.