By Marco Trujillo
PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Beach-craving British tourists flocked to the Spanish island of Mallorca on Wednesday after London added the Balearic archipelago to its "green travel list", boosting hopes for a better tourist season after a disastrous 2020.
Tourists stepping outside Palma de Mallorca's airport expressed relief and gratitude to be back in the sunshine, with some saying they were lucky to have bought tickets early as prices soared in the past week.
The lifting of restrictions by Britain means holidaymakers will not have to quarantine for 10 days on return from the islands, as they still have to with the rest of Spain and most other countries.
The quarantine rule had scared away many, but not all.
"I booked two weeks ago and was prepared to quarantine for 10 days afterwards. We were just very lucky," said Georgia Dover, 20.
A spokesperson for Spain's Melia hotel chain said that in the 24 hours after Britain put the islands on the green list, bookings soared to the equivalent registered during 10 days in pre-pandemic 2019.
Underscoring the importance of the British market to Spain's top destinations, authorities on the Canary Islands, which are not on the green list, recently slashed their forecast for annual tourist arrivals to 5 million from 8 million.
Infection concerns have returned to the fore as Spain's 14-day infection rate rose over the past week https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/spain to 117 per 100,000 people - its highest since early June - led by cases among teenagers and young adults who have not been vaccinated.
Mallorcan authorities are investigating an outbreak among some 600 Spanish students celebrating the end of term.
A judge ruled on Wednesday that most of the group, who have been in enforced quarantine on the island since the weekend, could go free after testing negative, while 68 people who tested positive must remain isolated.
Rising cases in Britain https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/united-kingdom prompted Spain on Monday to demand a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination from British tourists - the same requirements as for European Union travellers - after having let them in freely for a month.
The government forecasts tourist arrivals will reach 45% of their pre-pandemic levels this summer and about 54% this year. That is a steep improvement from 10% in April.
Data from airport operator Aena showed flight reservations to the Balearic Islands over the next 12 months had reached 80% of their normal levels, compared with just 46% across Spain as a whole.
(Reporting by Marco Trujillo;Additional reporting by Belen Carreno, Emma Pinedo, Andrei Khalip, Inti Landauro; Editing by Nathan Allen, Lisa Shumaker and Alison Williams)