Spain’s wounded tourist industry has faced another set of blows. In the last fortnight, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has reported 39.4 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Spain, a disproportionately high figure for Europe, and the cases are rising. In response, the UK imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from Spain. This was followed by Germany’s recommendation that its citizens abstain from non-essential travel to Aragon, Catalonia, and Navarra – Spain’s most severely affected regions. In a similar vein, Norway introduced a 10-day quarantine for all arrivals from Spain, Belgium advised against/banned travel to certain Spanish regions, while France advised against travel to Catalonia.
The response of travellers to these quarantines tends to be avoidance; Ryanair and Easy Jet have reported mass cancellations of flights from Britain to Spain, as many Brits are unable to accept a 14-day quarantine upon their return. TUI (Europe’s leading travel company) and Jet2 have cancelled all British flights to mainland Spain for a minimum of 2 weeks.
The 600,000 Brits who would have visited Spain this week (PC Agency data) were vital business for both the Spanish tourist industry and airline companies. In 2019, British tourists accounted for one fifth of all Spanish visitors, but in 2020 this has dropped by 64%. The Spanish tourism industry, accounting for 12% of Spain’s gross domestic product and 13% of its employment, may crumble under the pressure.
Staycations as an alternative to Vacations
Holiday-goers, sceptical about flights cancellations, are keeping their holidays within driving distance. Jessica Griscavage (director of marketing at McCabe World Travel) admits that “clients are a little hesitant to get on an airplane right now”, although a minority population of bargain-seekers are in their element. The UK Government’s recommendation against travelling to Spain sparked a wave of staycations in the UK, and Britain’s hotels, campsites, cottages, and Haven Holiday Parks have seen a flood of domestic bookings. According to the Daily Mail, Havens bookings are up 96% from 2019, demand for Devon caravan sites has increased by 140% from 2019, and campsites and B&Bs are being heavily booked even for 2021. We’re unlikely to see the old normal again for some time – travel experts have hazarded guesses that international travel will start to recover in 12 to 18 months, but these truly are conjectures.
What will Spanish tourism look like for the next eighteenth months?
Mayor of Benidorm, Antonio Peréz is working on protocols – proper sanitation, mandatory mask-wearing, and enforcing social distancing even in clubs – to keep hotels, beaches and restaurants safe. Barcelona is using a complex combination of video sensors, barriers and apps to ensure that beaches remain socially distanced, while bars are subject to curfew and nightclubs are closed. Magaluf will see a more dramatic change, reportedly attempting to drop its notoriously boozy and sex-heavy reputation in favour of family holidays by fining operators of booze cruises.
And what of the Spanish culture that plays a role in attracting tourists? Bull fighting may no longer be on the travel itinerary, with COVID-19 threatening to act as a death knell to a sport that has been dying since 2008. Although it generates 1% of Spain’s annual GDP and employs 54,000 Spaniards (VOA data), government funding has been minimal and the bullrings have been deserted since lockdown, while the annual Pamplona Running of the Bulls festival was cancelled.
The Spanish tourism industry will continue to exist, but its face will be changed by the lasting scars of COVID-19.