Is now the time to scrap Spain’s ‘booze tourism’ model?

Spanish hoteliers and frustrated residents see the Covid-19 break as the perfect chance to replace the country’s boozy all-inclusive holiday packages with a more attractive and sustainable tourism model. But is it already too late?

Is now the time to scrap Spain's 'booze tourism' model?
Young British holidaymakers in Magaluf on the Spanish island of Majorca. Photo: AFP

As Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that come July foreign arrivals to Spain would no longer have to spend 14 days in quarantine, his message to tourists was clear: “We’re waiting for you”.

The news appears to have been met with excitement by the British tabloids, the Daily Mail running the story with the headline: “Back to Benidorm in JULY!”.

However, Spanish hotel and tourism groups don’t appear to be quite as enthusiastic about the return of hundreds of thousands if not millions of foreign visitors on cheap package deals, despite the fact that Spain’s all-important tourism industry has lost at least €20 billion as a result of its lockdown.

“We now have the opportunity to change the all-inclusive model,” Giuseppe Russo of Puerto Banús’s Business Association in Marbella told regional daily Málaga Hoy.

According to the group, the country’s tourism brand should return to seasonality and focus on higher-spending national tourists rather than on crowds of foreign visitors binge drinking and eating on the cheap. 

“The current model is all about stag-dos and hen parties, uncontrolled drunkenness and it attracts a type of person who is a safety hazard”, Russo argued, adding that in August it’s hard to find space to walk along the port’s promenade.

“This is discrediting Puerto de Banús’s brand and its reputation.

“A business model overhaul is an unavoidable step that will have to be designed with new parameters, technologies and capital.

“We want people to come to have a single drink and pay more for it. We don’t want groups of naked or topless ladies and men to come and get drunk anymore.”

Despite this desire for meaningful change- even in the face of two-and-a-half months of crippling economic losses – British package holiday providers appear to have already jumped on the chance to return to the old status quo.

Since Sánchez’s announcement, a number of companies have started offering cheap holiday packages in alcohol-fuelled hotspots such as Magaluf in Majorca, Benidorm and Las Americas in Tenerife.

In the case of Magaluf, the Balearic regional government passed a decree in January which banned most forms of alcohol-fuelled tourism on the Mediterranean islands, from booze cruises to free bars and vending machines which sell alcohol.

Based on what is included in their deals, British tour operators looking to restart business as usual in Spain in July appear to be overlooking this piece of legislation.

Spanish hotel and catering businesses with a link to this type of tourism now find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Do they accept a return to the unpopular old model as a more fireproof return to economic recovery or do they instead pursue a new type of quality tourism which could help restore their towns’ reputations?

Economically-speaking, tourism was Spain’s most important sector accounting for almost 15 percent of the country’s GDP and providing 2.8 million people with work before the Covid-19 outbreak.

With the most positive forecast suggesting Spain won’t recover the jobs lost during the lockdown until 2025, is now the right time for a partial overhaul of its cheap tourism model? 

Member comments

  1. Please carry on and get rid of this , I,m English love Spain (tho not the eu), i cant understand why my fellow countrymen/women need to carry on like this,

  2. Mass tourism is about cheap booze and binge drinking in the sunshine. To change the model the Costas would have to offer something different. It’s not clear what. If you want culture the city of Malaga has bags of it but limited tourist capacity. The jewel cities of Andalucia, certainly, but what about the Costas? It’s either culture or booze in the sun. The fact is, you can’t change a brand unless there is a basis for the change. Spain is complex and varied. If you want the masses, put them in all inclusive holiday worlds and dont let them out of there.

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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.