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French tourists outnumber Brits for first time, but will the trend continue?

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HOLIDAYMAKERS’ typical profile in Spain has changed since the start of the pandemic: French visitors have outnumbered British tourists in the past 18 months for the first time in history.

In fact, entries from France have doubled those from the UK: Between March 2020 and now, approximately 6.2 million French nationals have taken their holidays in Spain, compared with 3.1 million Brits.

A full beach in Lloret del Mar (Girona province). Close to the French border, it would have been among the most popular destinations for tourists from the neighbouring country this summer – nearly a third holidayed in Catalunya in 2021

Since the start of the Covid crisis, one in five of Spain’s 25 million foreign visitors has been French, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

Although some pockets of the country, such as the Costa del Sol, reported international tourism figures this August as being nearly back to those of 2019 – the last ‘non-Covid’ year and one which broke all records – nationwide, about half as many foreign holidaymakers as August 2019 visited Spain in August 2021, or around 5.2 million.

British government’s relaxed travel restrictions may reboot market

The trend may soon start to reverse, given that, for the first time since spring 2020, the UK government has removed restrictions on entry to the country for travellers from Spain, either residents there visiting Britain or British residents returning from a Spanish holiday, as long as they are vaccinated – no quarantine is now necessary for fully-immunised people not travelling from a ‘red-list country’ and, for England at least, only one test is required, which can be a cheaper lateral-flow (LFT), rather than the previously-stipulated three compulsory PCRs.

Even without having to quarantine, taking a PCR test 72 hours before arrival, two days after arrival, and a third on day eight – not including any PCRs required for entry to the other country, such as Spain – involves additional organisation headaches and inflates the cost of a trip to Europe by an average of between €350 and €690 per person, which is prohibitive for a family unit or those seeking a budget break.

Now these requirements have been replaced with one compulsory LFT, costing around €40 a head, on the second day after arrival in England, and with the only other stipulation being a passenger locator form completed for both directions – plus a ‘Covid vaccine certificate’, which is a permanent document that can be stored on a mobile phone or in paper format inside a passport – it means the UK’s October half-term week may bring forth an influx of British tourists, and their numbers may rise next year over the spring and summer.

But while the restrictions were in place, the predominant nationality among international holidaymakers in Spain was French, and 20% of foreign visitor spending – €1.18 billion out of a total of €5.9bn – came out of French people’s purses.

Why French people?

Some of the reason for this is geography – air travel rules and limitations during the pandemic did not have to apply to many visitors from France, since the majority, according to the INE, entered Spain by car; six in 10, in fact, compared with approximately four in 10 who travelled by plane and just 1.3% by train, the latter of whom probably did not stay much farther south than about Barcelona, given the limited options for long-distance rail travel along the coasts.

Border crossing: Six in 10 French visitors drove to Spain for their holidays 

Their typical destinations were no more than a day’s drive from the French border – about 32% headed for Catalunya, just over 22% to the Comunidad Valenciana, and 15% to the Balearic Islands.

French tourists in Spain have not necessarily risen in number, only in proportion to other nationalities – in total, visitors from the neighbouring country are still down by around 36% on figures from 2019, a slightly smaller decline than those from Germany (down 40%), but considerably less hard-hit than the British market, with 67% fewer than in pre-Covid years, or only one UK holidaymaker for every three welcomed in 2019 and previously.

Brexit or Covid?

Tourism market analysts in Spain are now investigating to what extent the decline in British tourists relates to the pandemic and how much to Brexit, given that the ‘transition period’, during which the UK was still, in practical terms, an ‘acting’ EU member, ended only a few short weeks before Covid-19 hit Europe.

The fact that the two hurdles came more or less together means that the impact of Brexit on UK tourism in Spain and other EU nations may not become completely clear for another year or two.

Deputy chairman of the Faculty of Tourism at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), Bartomeu Deyá, says: “From the start, the Brexit issue caused a loss in spending power for the British due to the devaluation of the pound sterling, and in the months before the pandemic, a reduction in British nationals in the Eurozone was seen precisely as a result of these shrinking finances.

“Right now, determining what part of their decline is due to Brexit and what part to the pandemic is complex.”

If the pandemic is the key issue, it is hoped the reduction will be a temporary one, since, as Deyá says: “British people are still keen to travel, but with much reduced air connection possibilities [for package holidaymakers]…the much-reduced activity of tour operators such as TUI and Jet2Holidays, which traditionally brought a huge number of British nationals on trips to Spain, has had a significant impact.”

This is not necessarily the case for holiday home owners, though, or people renting an apartment or villa for a week or two under their own steam, given that scheduled low-cost flights from the UK are more widely available and to a greater variety of destinations than charter flights serving package holiday customers, and have been throughout 2021.

“British tourists are very price-sensitive; not like the German market, which tends to stay loyal to a specific part of the world they know and enjoy. UK visitors, when prices rise, shop around for cheaper destinations,” Deyá explains.

“But the advantage for Spain with UK tourists is the comfort-zone factor: Once they try a destination and like it, they tend to stick to it as long as prices remain stable.

“French tourists have always been here, and the market has survived because of geographical proximity. Although we’ve never had the proportion of them before that we’ve had since the start of the pandemic.

“The French, though, are less ‘repetitive’ than the British and, to a larger extent, the Germans; we don’t know yet whether we’ll manage to keep them loyal to Spain and returning year after year,” Deyá concludes.

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WATCH: Guardia Civil Unit taking down two suspected jihadists in Malaga

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WATCH: Guardia Civil Unit taking down two suspected jihadists in Malaga
WATCH: Guardia Civil Unit taking down two suspected jihadists in Malaga. image: guardia civil

WATCH: Video of Guardia Civil Unit taking down two suspected jihadists in Malaga city

Guardia Civil officers launched a counter-terrorism operation that lasted barely a few minutes from start to finish on Friday, October 22. As a result, specialised officers from the Guardia Civil’s Rapid Action Group arrested two suspected jihadists. This operation was carried out in the centre of Malaga city, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, in the middle of the afternoon.

Residents of the Lagunillas neighbourhood were stunned as a white undercover police van shot at full speed into the area and screeched to a halt. They then witnessed fully armed police officers wearing ski masks pile out of the vehicle and running at top speed into the small square located just off Calle Esperanza.

They immediately pounced on two unsuspecting individuals who were alleged jihadist terrorists and incapacitated them instantly. The suspects were thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

More than ten officers were involved in the whole operation, with several pick-ups also pulling into the vicinity. All the officers carried long weapons, wore ski masks and had bulletproof vests on, and proceeded to carry out searches of neighbouring buildings.

What at first looked like an anti-drugs bust clearly caused great expectation among the residents who witnessed the whole event. Boxes were seen to be carried out of one of the buildings and placed in the police vehicle.

The nationality of the two detainees has not yet been revealed. Neither the Guardia Civil nor the Ministry of the Interior have been able to offer more details about the operation because it still remains open, as reported by laopiniondemalaga.es.

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Food & Drink

All-vegetarian Burger King pop-up restaurant opens

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ONE WOULD not normally associate a name like ‘Burger King’ with a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, but one of the planet’s best-known fast-food brands has launched just that: A branch with all its usual menu items as well as new ones, but with no meat, or even fish.

Sadly, only one is in place at the moment and will only be open for a month, although in addition to Burger King’s existing veggie options, it is likely more of these, including the ones on sale until November 19, will start to become mainstream at ‘standard’ outlets.

The pop-up restaurant on the central Paseo del Prado in Madrid includes new recipes already – one of Burger King’s biggest sellers, the ‘Long Chicken’, now comes in a meat-free version.

Known as the ‘Long Vegetal’, the chicken substitute is made from soya and wheat protein, created by the firm The Vegetarian Butcher and, like the non-veggie version, comes in a roll with lettuce and mayonnaise.

To make it a vegan version, just ask for it without mayonnaise, says the firm, since none of the other ingredients are of animal origin such as dairy or eggs.

The Whopper Vegetal, or meatless adaptation of the original ‘Whopper’, and the Nuggets Vegetales, or chicken nuggets without the chicken, are now on the chain’s permanent menu in its established branches, so vegetarians out with carnivorous friends who get a craving for a Burger King no longer have to just stick to chips.

Anyone who will be in Madrid in the next month will be able to spot the veggie Burger King fairly easily, since it uses the firm’s standard logo and typeface, but entirely in green and white.

Managing director of Restaurant Brands Iberia Spain and Portugal, Borja Hernández de Alba, on behalf of Burger King, says the company wants to ‘reach both those who base their diet on foods of plant origin’ and also those who are not vegetarian but ‘want to cut down the amount of meat they eat’.

All vegetarian and vegan items on the menu in Burger King’s branches are clearly marked as one or the other, as are the new varieties at the Madrid pop-up restaurant.

They all carry the internationally-recognised ‘V-Label’, which guarantees that their ingredients are entirely of vegetable or plant origin – not including extras like mayonnaise, which are listed on the menu in any case – and also proves they have not been in contact with meat of any description.

“V-Label products are cooked in the fryer that’s only otherwise used for chips,” Hernández de Alba explains, meaning they do not share frying oil with burgers or chicken.

Recent research shows that around 13% of people in Spain follow a mostly or entirely vegetarian or vegan diet – about 8% are completely vegetarian and about a quarter of these are vegan – with many describing themselves as ‘pescatarians’, who eat fish, albeit occasionally, but not meat, or ‘flexitarians’, who eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs but whose consumption of the first two is very rare.

Vegetarian and vegan options are often the first choice for meat-eaters who either want to cut down, or who are consciously seeking a healthier diet with a greater proportion of nuts, seeds, pulses, fruit and vegetables, and also for weight control.

Some care needs to be taken where the aim is the latter, though; vegetarian options frequently use cheese as a protein source, and butter, oil and other high-fat ingredients mean a consumer is no more likely to lose weight than if they ate meat and even less so than if they ate lean, grilled meat or fish, and vegan diets may be higher in saturated fats given that many food product substitutes are made with coconut oil.

But meat-eaters are often pleasantly surprised when they try vegetarian or vegan burgers, sausages and soya mince, with many preferring the texture and declaring there to be more flavour in these than in their meat equivalents.

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Animals/Pets

Safe and sound: Dogs trapped by volcano rescued as their story moves the nation

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A GROUP of Podenco hounds walled in for days by volcanic ash on the island of La Palma whose plight reached international media are safe, according to the latest happy twist in the rollercoaster drama – and photos have appeared on Twitter to prove it.

Now in caring hands and getting plenty of food and love, the dogs trapped in ponds in Todoque were photographed post-rescue by Canary Island magazine Jara y Sedal (photo: @jaraysedal_es on Twitter)

Emergency services permanently at work on the Canarian island, having been coordinating evacuations and controlling fires caused by the lava, have been keeping close watch on the dogs, whose location was considered practically impossible to reach by humans on foot.

Although they were out of the danger zone, they have lost weight due to a limited food supply – smaller drones brought them food and water once a day – and needed proper care, as well as to be placed safely away from the potentially toxic fumes, dust and smoke in the atmosphere as the Cumbre Viejo volcano continues in eruption.

A petition was launched on Change.org calling for the hounds to be rescued by drones, given that volunteers had come forward with the knowledge and skills to do so.

It did not take long – barely 24 hours, in fact – since the petition went viral before officials drafted in these unmanned aircraft to lift the dogs to safety, but before they had time to take off, the animals had vanished.

Fruitless search and mystery sign: Who are ‘The A-Team’?

A handwritten message was found nearby, signed off by ‘The A-Team’, and assuring that the hounds were now rescued and in safe hands.

The drone firm Aerocámara had travelled from Galicia in the far north-west of mainland Spain, but after two days of searching for the dogs, had to give up and return to base.

Only human footprints were found in the ash-filled ponds in the village of Todoque, said Aerocámara, and their operators pledged to remain in close contact with authorities and animal shelters so as to be ready to set off at a second’s notice if the dogs were found.

A screenshot of the sign that appeared after the dogs went missing, assuring they were well, and signed off by ‘The A-Team’

Aerocámara said they did not believe the animals would have wandered off by themselves, pointing out that dogs being given food and water daily would typically stay there waiting for their next meal, rather than straying off over hot lava.

It was only after the hounds’ disappearance reached the national media that a huge white bed-sheet with writing in red letters was found by the Todoque ponds, reading: “Stay strong, La Palma. The dogs are okay. The A-Team.”


Major animal rescue operations across La Palma

Hundreds of animals, from family pets to feral cats, have been rescued since the eruption began and are being held in shelters or cared for by emergency service workers until those who have owners can be reunited with them.

A fireman reportedly rescued a cat and kept her, naming her Laguna, after the area where he found her.

Canary Island animal welfare authorities have since revealed that ‘anonymous persons’ rescued the dogs – although it is not clear how, given that they would have had to traipse over cooling lava of between 40ºC and 60ºC – and that they have been attended to by vets.

Food and water were delivered daily to these dogs, but nobody could get to them; a petition to deploy a drone company gained a near-immediate response

They are now in established animal protection facilities and said to be in good health, other than their weight loss.

An inquiry will be launched into who owns them and why they were not reported as trapped or missing from the start, given that their presence was only detected by drone footage at the beginning of this month.

But the local hunting society claims the hounds’ owners had been working on a rescue strategy for several days and it was probably they who had saved them, and stressed that the dogs had ‘never been abandoned to their fate’.

British tourists failed in rescue attempt…and fell foul of police

In the meantime, four British men who were warned off by police after being spotted taking selfies against a backdrop of the erupting volcano spoke to a UK newspaper to explain they had been trying to rescue the dogs.

Fines and even criminal proceedings can be taken against anyone who goes beyond the cordoned-off zone and gets too close to the volcano, putting themselves and, potentially, emergency services who go to their aid, in serious danger.

Personal trainer and bodybuilder Seb Jones, 33, and his friends Andy Flavell, Tom Whaite and Zack Hurley did not get near enough to even see the dogs before the smoke and ash beat them back.

Seb told the Daily Mail that the four are animal-lovers and are especially fond of dogs, and as they are all experienced hikers and climbers, decided to give the rescue a try.

He admitted, though, that although they had been attracted by the idea of a ‘volcano hike’, they had underestimated the sheer magnitude of the damage and how hard it would be to get near.

“We’re animal-lovers and experienced hikers!” Four British tourists on a mission to rescue the dogs could not resist taking some ‘volcano selfies’, but were pulled up by police for breaking into the ‘danger zone’ (first photo, on left, by Andy Flavell on Facebook; remaining three by Seb Jones on Facebook)

The group, who had taken a ferry to La Palma from their holiday villa in Tenerife – but which was delayed for three hours, meaning they arrived as it was getting dark – said the sky was ‘blood red’ and they could hear the roaring of the volcano over the sound of their hired car.

A four-hour hike across a platform of ash a metre high, with burning ash raining down on them, trying to shelter behind the charred remains of trees, they had to give up as they could not breathe.

Back near the houses still standing, they heard the dogs whining and barking close by, but could not locate them.

Given that entering the volcano ‘exclusion zone’ is a criminal offence, and whoever rescued the Podencos would have needed to have done so, it seems unlikely they will reveal their identity publicly.

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