Mainland Spain’s eastern region lives largely from tourism and, in certain pockets – especially in the province of Alicante – UK nationals are among the most loyal customers.
In a bid to monitor the Union’s outer borders in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, the EU is setting up a visa system whereby visitors to the continent will pay a typical fee of €12.50, US$14.00, or about £11.00, which can be transacted online with a minimum of three days’ notice.
It is not clear how this will affect British residents in EU nations travelling back and forth to visit family, or who split their time between the two countries, nor EU nationals living in the UK.
Neither is it clear whether the visa will only apply to non-EU countries – which the UK is not, as yet, but will be two years after Article 50 is triggered – or whether it relates to all nations not in the Schengen zone, meaning Britain would be affected even in the absence of Brexit.
At the moment, being an EU member but not part of the Schengen, UK visitors have to show their passport when travelling to and from Europe.
“Any barriers to movement are bad news,” warns Toni Mayor, head of Benidorm’s hotel patronage, HOSBEC.
“It’s not so much about the amount of money,” he clarifies, considering that an extra £11.00 a head on top of the price of a family holiday is unlikely to put Brits off per se, “but more about the impression it gives.”
The Valencia region is on tenterhooks about the effect of the Europe tug-of-war on its tourism industry, having already wholeheartedly rejected proposals of a euro-a-day ‘tourist tax’, fearing it will put visitors off.
“I cannot believe the EU would be so dimwitted as to do this,” complains Luis Martí, co-chairman of the regional tourism traders’ confederation.
“We’re concerned that the ‘divorce’ ends amicably, but a visa fee means creating a barrier just because you hold a passport for a different country.”
Pre-referendum, when sterling-euro exchange rates remained around their best since 2008, Valencia saw a spike in British tourist numbers.
A total of 1.2 million holidaymakers travelled to the region between January and June inclusive, a rise of some 23%.
And as yet, the plummeting exchange rates, which have lost British pensioners living in Spain as much as 20% of their income, have not seen UK tourist numbers drop to any great degree – although this may be partly because some of them will have booked their trips prior to the Brexit referendum.
Also, many families have no choice but to travel in August or the last week in July so as to avoid being fined for taking their children out of school, meaning they are already resigned to paying peak-season prices.
French tourists are the second-largest national group who visit the Comunidad Valenciana, and Brits more than double them in number, the tourist board says.
The province of Alicante, in particular the part known as the ‘Costa Blanca’ – the coastal areas around Benidorm and Torrevieja – accounts for the majority, with 3.5 million passengers travelling to or from the UK via Alicante’s El Altet airport between January and August inclusive.
For the province of Valencia, British travellers – many of whom are family and friends of permanent residents – account for the fourth-largest national group after Italians, French and Germans, with nearly 63,700 Brits flying into or out of Valencia’s Manises airport in August.
Even the province of Castellón, hitherto unknown to sun-seeking beach holidaymakers from the UK, is now seeing the start of a boom thanks to Ryanair connections running to and from London and Bristol from the newly-opened Castellón airport.
In fact, British visitors to the province of Castellón have increased this year by 60%.
With this in mind, the Valencia region is concerned that if the EU puts up obstacles that cost Brits more to travel, they may have to slash their own costs to continue to attract them.
Britain is still in the EU
Until Article 50 is triggered, the official process for leaving the European Union and the countdown to a full Brexit will not even begin, meaning that in spite of the referendum vote the UK is still a fully-paid up EU member – for now.
Anecdotal evidence cites large numbers of British holidaymakers joining the ‘Non-EU citizens’ queue at Málaga airport passport control, only to be turned back at the desk and have to queue again at the ‘EU citizens’ booth.
Travel authorities stress that all aspects of European Union citizenship continue to apply to British nationals, including passport control queues.
The UK Consulates in Spain have asked expats and tourists to report any problems to them that may be caused through confusion about Britain’s current status in Europe.