OPINION: Spain is open for tourists but are the risks worth it?

Spain is welcoming tourists again but will they come? Graham Keeley considers the whether the efforts and the risks of reopening the borders on Sunday will be worth it.

OPINION: Spain is open for tourists but are the risks worth it?
Photo: AFP

After months of lockdown, Spain's tourism industry finally opened for business on Sunday as it ends its quarantine for international visitors from many European countries.

But how many people are going to come?

Britons are dying to hit the beaches of Spain after spending months being cooped up inside at home, according to a survey from one holiday search engine.

Spain was the favourite destination, with nine per cent of the 3,050 people questioned saying they would like to travel there, beating Italy, Greece and France.

Yet surveys are one thing, reality seems another.

Speaking to people who had booked holidays before the Covid-19 epidemic, many have had their trips cancelled even though they were due to arrive in Spain in July.

The Canary Islands tourist board told me that the British tour operator Jet2 Holidays are booking flights from mid July. Other resorts which deal with the same company, like Lloret de Mar, are also in talks with the tour operator to kick start the season.


Jet2 Holidays have not responded to my request for a comment.

Ensuring foreign tourists return to save something of the 'season' this year, is a high-stakes game for Spain, for whom the tourism sector accounts for 12% of GDP and 2.6 million jobs.

Spain for Sure, an initiative to convince tourists that the country is a safe place to visit, was launched on Thursday.

To my mind, they could have named it better – it seems like they have paid a local translation agency to use a slogan which works in Spanish but does not in English. Not a great start. Perhaps Safe Spain would have worked better. 


That aside, what really matters is how tourist destinations are going to safeguard travellers.

The pilot scheme launched this week in the Balearic Islands only for 11,000 German holidaymakers offered a glimpse of how holidaying in Spain might be.

Thermometer guns, plastic gloves at airports, hotels and restaurants plus face masks will be part of the experience.

Tourists will have to complete a questionnaire at the airport, will be given information on social distancing and mask-wearing rules and submit their contact details to authorities.


Face masks will be required in all indoor public areas at hotels. Guests must have their temperatures taken before they enter hotel restaurants. Gloves will be mandatory when people eat in a hotel buffet. Arrows will be placed on the floor in hotels to keep guests separate.

Health officials must check on tourists. Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms like a cough or a fever must be tested within 24 hours.

Those who test positive will be isolated in apartments reserved by the local authorities. A team of 150 contact tracers have been taken on.

Pardon me, but it all seems like a lot of effort – and risk – for a bit of sun or a swim in the Mediterranean.

Or does it?

If you are sitting in parts of northern Europe, possibly with an occasional spot of rain, it might seem like heaven and well worth the extra hassle.

Whatever your feelings, whenever the tourists do arrive, there will be those who work as waiters, hotel owners, tour guides etc who will be immensely relieved.

This feeling may not be shared by the locals.

Spaniards have always seemed very tolerant of the antics of some tourists.

A friend has just sent me a joke about how Britons will not return to Spain until it is a safe country – so they can enjoy balconing. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the pastime beloved by some young Britons, it involves throwing yourself off a hotel balcony into a swimming pool below, often ending your life or leaving you disabled.

Other Spaniards are less enamoured of tourists.

In Barcelona, Majorca, Valencia and other popular destinations, demonstrations were staged against the way cities became overwhelmed by tourists.

Albert Mallol, of Poblenou Stand Up, a residents' group in Barcelona, said despite the efforts of the city council to find a new model to reign in this problem, told me he believes the tourism hoards will mob his home town once again.

Foreign residents living in Spain often surprise me with their attitudes towards tourists – even those from their own countries.

Many express loathing about the excesses of tourists in resorts like Magaluf, Benidorm or Lloret de Mar.

Admittedly, sometimes things get out of control and the image they present of Brits abroad – for instance – is not a pretty one.

However, there seems a strange desire on the part of some foreigners  to shun their own countrymen or women. 

Given over 80 million tourists holidayed in Spain last year, I always think it is important to remember how important they are to this country.

As long as they are not partying in your flat, I suggest they should be allowed to have fun.



Graham Keeley is a Barcelona-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .





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The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.