“We have the hotels here, open and waiting – but the customers can’t get here,” says Ramón Estalella, head of Spain’s leading hotelier association.
The sudden collapse last month of one of Europe’s biggest travel groups, Thomas Cook, ruined the holidays of 600,000 stranded tourists.
Hundreds of thousands more had trips booked when the news was announced.
But for parts of Spain’s tourist sector, Thomas Cook’s demise is also an existential threat.
The economic future of industry workers and staff at Thomas Cook’s local suppliers and subsidiaries is at stake.
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The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation has said that 1.3 million autumn and winter visitors will be unable to fly into Spanish destinations.
This will result, it says, in the shutting down of at least 500 hotels, generating losses to the tourism sector running into the hundreds of millions of euros.
Spain’s government has announced a package of measures worth €300m (£260m; $330m), including emergency credit lines and a reduction in airport fees, particularly for hubs in the Balearic and Canary islands, plus plans to spend €500m in improving tourism infrastructure.
Closed doors in the Canaries
Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago is preparing for its high season as a popular winter sun destination, but the Spanish government calculates that 400,000 Thomas Cook travellers will not be reaching the islands after all.
The first hotel on the islands to close its doors as a result of the impact on tourism was the Fuerteventura Princess, which had an exclusive deal with Thomas Cook covering 95% of its 688 rooms up to 2023. Its 160 staff are to be laid off, a fate to be shared by at least 3,400 others in the sector, according to estimates.
For Mr Estalella from Spain’s CEHAT hotelier association, an immediate response is required to fill the hole left by Thomas Cook.
“They need to do something to get airlines to pick up the slack and take more slots by slashing costs. We need to take a bigger risk. Meanwhile, it’s unfair that hotels are having to pay VAT on bills charged to Thomas Cook and its subsidiaries which they know they’ll never be paid.”
Majorca staff working in limbo
More than 700 staff at Thomas Cook’s largest subsidiary in Spain say they are the biggest victims of the travel giant’s crash, having not been paid since the summer and now finding themselves in a legal limbo.
The In Destination Incoming agency, based in Palma, Majorca, went into liquidation days after Thomas Cook ceased operations, reportedly announcing debts of a €57m.
“We have no guests in any resorts, but due to Spanish law we have to present ourselves at work every day to complete our 40 hours,” one worker from Palma told the BBC on the condition of anonymity due to what she described as “ongoing legal proceedings”.
“If we do not go, they will take it as our resignation instead of an official dismissal or redundancy, and we won’t be able to claim anything at all,” she added.
A much-loved brand with humble roots
Pep Ginard, of the CCOO services sector union in the Balearics, confirmed that staff at In Destination Incoming faced a “long and difficult process” to claim back pay and a redundancy package which, under Spanish labour laws, should be worth at least 20 days’ wages per year of service.
“We are in no man’s land and have just been left. Part of our job was dealing with deaths, rapes, assaults and serious illness. We have worked extra hours with no extra pay as Thomas Cook didn’t follow the new labour laws this year. All of this is for nothing,” the worker said.
Revamping Spain’s tourist industry
Beyond the immediate impact of the Thomas Cook crash, some Spanish tourism sector leaders say there is some soul-searching to be done regarding the future of the country’s biggest industry.
After six years of record international tourist arrivals, reaching 82.8 million in 2018, the negative impact from Thomas Cook’s collapse may lead to stagnation, with growth up to August reaching only 1.5%, according to government figures.
“There is an unsustainable level of saturation in sunshine and sand tourism, and we have to start competing on another level, in long-distance travel,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, speaking at an event in Madrid earlier this month.
Spain saw non-European arrivals grow by close to 14% in the first half of this year, but Mr Samaranch claimed that much more could be done, especially to attract visitors from China in search of cultural experiences.
According to Rafael Gallego, president of Spain’s CEAV travel agency association, the Thomas Cook debacle should jog policymakers into realising that increasingly few travellers merely sign up to a package based on a destination’s climate or vibes.
“People travelling today don’t go so much to a place, but rather to do something specific,” he told the newspaper El Mundo.
Nowadays, he argued, tourists were looking for a product. Either active holidays such as playing golf, paragliding and diving, or more leisure-based breaks involving nature, gastronomy and cultural tourism.
The country remains deeply divided over the likely impact of Brexit, but one clear winner has already emerged – politics departments at universities.
There has been a 28% surge in applications to politics courses since the debate about Europe took off in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
Applications went up by from 34,275 in 2013 to 47,445 in 2018 – according to the UCAS, which oversees admissions.
Liverpool University has trebled the size of its politics department.
That trend is largely reflected at institutions across the country and the number of students accepted on to politics courses in the five years to 2018 rose by 27% to 7,990, according to UCAS.
Liverpool University politics lecturer Jon Tonge says that other dramatic political events, such as the Scottish independence referendum and the 2015 general election, have also boosted applications.
And the fierce, often toxic, nature of the debate on social media has also captured the attention of young people, he said.
“It is a terrible thing to say, but the more unhealthy and divisive the debate is, the better it is for politics departments in terms of bums on seats,” said Prof Tonge.
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It is all a far cry from the Blair years, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dubbed the “tranquil age of politics” by Prof Tonge, when “consensus” reigned and politics courses were “not recruiting in huge numbers”.
Christopher Massey, a lecturer at Teesside University, which has just launched a BA (Hons) course in politics, agrees that Brexit has had a big impact on student numbers but Donald Trump’s presidency and protest movements such as Extinction Rebellion have also played a part.
“You cannot avoid politics now – it has even ousted celebrity culture in the news headlines, as something that shapes their lives,” he says.
‘I enjoy the drama’
Ted Hollas and Harry Souter are A-level politics students at York College and both are hoping to study the subject at university.
Ted, 17, who describes himself as “right wing, but socially liberal”, said: “I hear people saying they are so bored with Brexit but I am really interested in it. I follow every twist of it in Parliament and I enjoy the drama.
“I would like a career in politics. I want to get try to get in there and make a difference.
“I imagine its is very intimidating, and a lot of pressure, but I am not going to let that put me off.”
Harry, 18, a self-described left-winger, said: “I got interested in politics through social media.
“When Brexit and Trump being elected happened there was so much more discourse about politics. Because people have such strong opinions you end up getting into it more. It feels more important.
“I like to know what I am talking about and studying politics helps with that. It is rewarding to be able to have a discussion with somebody and explain how you feel.”
Tim Evans, professor of business and political economy at Middlesex University, says politics is a lot less predictable – and lot “messier” – than it used to be, and students do not fit neatly into categories like Leave and Remain.
“I think it’s the most exciting time to study and to teach politics since the rise of the libertarian right in the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he says.
But like other academics he is at pains to stress that Brexit is not the only game in town. Students are also looking to the global picture and issues such as climate change and artificial intelligence.
Robert Lamb, head of politics at Exeter University, says: “Our students have chosen to study politics because they are increasingly desperate to make sense of the tumultuous and bewildering times in which they live.”
Others see Brexit as a narrow, parochial issue which can put young people off politics.
“The increase in interest in studying politics should not be seen only as a result of dramatic developments in British politics around Brexit but wider shifts in global politics,” says Dibyesh Anand, Professor of International Relations and Head of the School of Social Sciences, at Westminster University.
“In fact, in our case, a very diverse student body has meant relatively tepid interest in British politics but a high interest in politics beyond Britain as well as international relations.
“To an extent, this could also illustrate a challenge British politics faces – it remains dominated by white men – and students from BME background, especially women, do not feel it is welcoming of them.”
Boris Johnson has sent a letter to European council president Donald Tusk requesting a further Brexit delay beyond 31 October.
Despite the prime minister’s insistence that he would not “negotiate” a further extension of the UK’s membership of the EU, he confirmed on Saturday evening that he had sought such a prolongation.
Shortly after 10pm London time Tusk tweeted: “The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.”
Johnson sent three letters: an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn act, an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU and a letter explaining why Downing Street did not want an extension.
An EU source said that in the call between Tusk and Johnson at 8.15pm Brussels time on Saturday the UK prime minister had confirmed that the request would be sent within hours.
Tusk will now speak to the EU27 heads of state. “This may take a few days,” the source said.
Officials in Brussels said there was little doubt that an extension request would be granted, despite the prime minister’s attempts to throw doubt on such a decision. A decision on the terms could be taken later in October to allow for events to unfold in London. A summit could be held as late as 29 October.
The EU was waiting on the government to make the first move after the Commons put Johnson under a legal obligation to seek an extension.
A spokeswoman said: “The European commission takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called Letwin amendment, meaning that the withdrawal agreement itself was not put to [the] vote today.
“It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible.”
It will be up to the heads of state and government to approve any request, a process that will be organised by Tusk.
A spokesman for Tusk declined to comment further. Ambassadors for the EU27 will meet on Sunday morning to discuss the latest developments.
Speaking in the Commons, Johnson told MPs he did not believe the EU would be minded to offer a further extension and that he would not negotiate one.
But senior EU officials said it was clear during the discussions among the leaders at a summit on Thursday that “they would grant an extension”. “Even [the French president Emmanuel] Macron in the room didn’t suggest otherwise,” the source said.
The chair of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, Norbert Röttgen, who is a senior member of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said he had “no doubt” an extension would be granted.
A consequence of the delay to the Brexit deal being approved in parliament is that the European parliament’s plans to ratify the withdrawal agreement next week have also been left in doubt.
The European parliament will only ratify the deal after the Commons has approved it. MEPs next sit on 14 November, making 30 November a potential new Brexit day if the Commons approves the deal by then.
Guy Verhofstadt, the coordinator of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said his committee would “consider the outcome of today’s vote for the Letwin amendment on Monday”.
He added: “Whatever happens next, the marches outside the parliament show just how important a close EU-UK future relationship is.”
The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, tweeted: “The EU & UK agreed a withdrawal agreement on Thursday that defends Ireland’s interests. The Commons voted today to defer a decision on whether or not to ratify that agreement.
“To date, no request for an extension has been made by the UK government. Should that happen, president Tusk will consult all 27 heads of state & govt on whether or not we will grant one. Extension can only be granted by unanimity.”
Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council legal service, told the Guardian that Brussels would not “wait and see” but that “if asked” the leaders would “say yes”.
The Commons voted on Saturday that it would not approve the Brexit deal until all related legislation was passed. MPs were concerned that the legislation would not be passed by 31 October, leaving open the possibility of the UK accidentally crashing out.
That decision triggered the Benn act which placed the prime minister under a legal obligation to request an extension unless a deal had been approved by 11pm UK time on Saturday.
The prime minister said he would not negotiate a further delay, and hinted that a request could be rejected in Brussels.
On Friday, Macron had tried to help Johnson cajole MPs into backing his deal by suggesting that he was opposed to a delay. “I am not trying to read into the future but I do not think we shall grant any further delay,” he had said.
A spokesman for the Élysée Palace said that any further delay “was not in anyone’s interest”.
But EU sources said the private comments of Merkel better represented the leaders’ position.
She had told EU leaders that a Brexit extension would be unavoidable if British MPs vote down the new deal. Merkel said leaders had a responsibility not to push the UK out without a deal.