OVER 33,400 British tourists in Spain stranded by the Thomas Cook collapse were flown home by Sunday – the last day of ‘Operation Matterhorn’, the UK’s biggest repatriation exercise since World War II – according to public works and transport minister José Luis Ábalos.
Congratulating his own government for their ‘rapid reaction’ to the 178-year-old tour operator’s going out of business overnight, Ábalos said Spanish authorities ‘deserved praise’ for its swift response, ‘especially as we only have a caretaker government’.
British holidaymakers stuck in Spain – mostly in Andalucía, Catalunya, the Comunidad Valenciana and the islands – were flown home between September 23 and October 6 on 177 planes chartered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Ábalos says the new bill of law covering measures to protect Spanish tourism businesses in the wake of Thomas Cook’s sudden closure will be brought to the table on Friday this week at the next Council of Ministers.
A total of 13 steps include extending the 50% Social Security contribution discounts in the sector to run from October to March inclusive, providing incentives for firms to offer permanent year-round jobs, and financial help for companies, such as hotels, who have suffered major losses due to not being paid by the British tour operator.
Reductions in and exemptions from airport tax for certain routes and carriers are on the cards to encourage more flights to Spain to fill the gap left by Thomas Cook, and extra funding to shore up and promote the tourism industry.
Tourism bosses are also heading for South Korea to try to stimulate a new national market for Spain’s holiday industry and help reduce its dependence upon the UK and Germany.
Whilst these remain healthy and Britain continues to be the largest output country for tourists travelling to Spain – despite numbers having dropped since the Brexit referendum – the ministry led by Reyes Maroto wants to diversify the country’s portfolio.
Ábalos is currently in Dubai attending the 26th annual World Roads Congress and to support Spanish businesses which have invested in the United Arab Emirates.