Teeth clenched, Spanish tourism rides the “Covid roller coaster”
Madrid: Prospects for Spain’s tourism sector darken, with European bookings slowing in the face of surging Covid cases, but industry figures hope the summer won’t look like the disaster of 2020.
Tourism association Exceltur said this week it had seen a sudden slowdown in bookings after the French and German governments urged their citizens to avoid Spain, which has seen a recent spike in infections.
“Reservations have gone well but have slowed, especially from France,” Jorge Marichal, head of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT), told Spanish public channel RTVE.
“The situation changes very quickly and within hours. The whole summer will be the same – a roller coaster ride in which we will have to make decisions as we go.”
The season started on a positive note: Reservations at beachfront hotels – which in April and May were 80% lower than in 2019 – improved in June, meaning the figure was only 60% lower than the same period two years ago, Exceltur said.
In early July, the government reaffirmed its goal of attracting 45 million visitors this year, about half of the number in 2019.
Before the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020, Spain was the second most popular tourist destination in the world after France, and the sector accounted for around 12% of the economy.
But the situation quickly deteriorated following a massive outbreak among students celebrating in the Balearic Islands that quickly spread across the country.
On July 8, France warned its nationals against traveling to Spain or Portugal on vacation due to a spike in Covid-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Delta variant.
The move sparked outrage in the Pyrenees, though France’s top diplomat later changed the warning, saying only that vaccination was essential before traveling to Spain.
Germany also said all of Spain was a risk area last week, including its two popular archipelagos – the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.
The Balearic Islands were also demoted by Britain this week on its ‘orange’ travel list, removing them from the green list where they had been placed at the end of June.
The move means that from Monday all unvaccinated UK travelers will have to self-quarantine for 10 days after returning from the islands.
“Any announcement from the authorities in our main visitor markets has an immediate impact,” Cadena Cope Maria Frontera, head of the Balearic Islands hotel federation, told radio.
Before the pandemic, the largest groups of visitors to the islands were British, French and German nationals.
But even though new bookings have slowed, few travelers have canceled their reservations outright, she said.
“At the moment, we are getting more bookings than cancellations.”
The same scenario is playing out on the Costa Brava in northeastern Spain where the French represent almost half of foreign tourists.
While warnings have slowed bookings, “bookings keep coming in,” said Judit Lloberol, head of the Costa Brava Hotel Association.
“There have been a few cancellations, but it’s not too dramatic.”
Visitors were very cautious, she said, largely booking “last minute” with hotel occupancy rates as low as 65-70% on weekdays, at a time of year when they would normally be “overbooked”.
But on the southern Costa del Sol, a hotspot for British holidaymakers, bookings have jumped in recent days after
London has lifted quarantine requirements for all vaccinated returning travelers, said Javier Hernandez of the region’s hotel association.
He said hotel occupancy rates are expected to average around 60% in July and August, barring last-minute surprises.
The economic devastation caused by the pandemic nevertheless remains visible with nearly one in four hotels on the Costa del Sol not opening at all, and nearly one in five in the Balearic Islands, according to industry figures.