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

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

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.

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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.

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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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