Southern European countries are in the unenviable position of having to restrict foreign tourism or risk the rapid spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, as economists warn of another disappointing season either way. Tourism-dependent countries such as Spain have pushed back against German chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for a coordinated EU response for travellers from countries with high levels of the variant first detected in India.

But economists say they must still balance welcoming tourists from countries such as the UK and Russia, where the variant has spread, against the risk of the variant taking off in their own countries. “The trade-off is in evidence already, with the likes of Greece and Spain saying they are open to everyone, while the cost-benefit equation is clearly viewed very differently in northern European countries,” said Jessica Hinds, economist at Capital Economics.

This week, Spain, Portugal, and Malta tightened restrictions somewhat for UK tourists. Earlier this month, Italy required UK travelers to quarantine for five days. But following a drop of up to 80 percent in foreign tourism revenues last year, such countries are seeking to regain lost ground.

Inbound tourism accounted for 10 percent of gross domestic product in Portugal and Greece and almost 6 per cent in Spain in the year before the pandemic, according to the OECD.

Illustrating their desire to attract tourists, Spain and Portugal in May lifted most testing and quarantine restrictions on arrivals from countries such as the UK. Greece did the same for vaccinated arrivals from 53 countries, including

Russia. Since then, both the UK and Russia have had sharply rising Delta