‘Spain can’t afford another summer like 2020’s, tourism chief

'Spain can't afford another summer like 2020's, tourism chief
A tourists sits next to a relatively empty beach in Mallorca in April 2021. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP
Despite being in the midst of its fourth wave of the coronavirus, Spain cannot afford the financial blow of another summer with limited tourism, the country’s Secretary of State for Tourism has warned.

As the crucial summer season nears, the potential setbacks for Spain’s tourism industry appear to be mounting up. 

The vaccination campaign seems to face a new hold-up every time it begins to gather speed, limiting Spain’s chances of being removed from countries’ safe travel lists by the summer.

Restrictions such as the now slightly modified ‘masks at all time in public’ rule have also put off some tourists from spending their holidays in Spain, and the rising infections as the country is now officially in its fourth wave have an influence in terms of Spain being viewed as a safe country in the epidemiological sense. 

“We have a serious problem,” Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdés said during a talk at Nebrija University in Madrid on Wednesday.

“Spain cannot afford a summer like 2020”.

“Since the consolidation of mass tourism in Spain we’ve never faced anything similar”.

During last year’s high season (July to September) the number of foreign tourists nosedived by 79 percent. 

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Tourism is a pillar of the Spanish economy, accounting for some 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 13 percent of employment.   

“With the pandemic we have learned that consensus is necessary to reach solutions,” Valdés added. 

“Tourism is the only sector capable of generating and balancing wealth. The ability we have to diversify our offer will be what will give us competitiveness”. 

Valdés went on to explain how the strategy to recover its international tourists as soon as possible will be based on environmental, social, sustainable and territorial transformation, arguing that tourism should contribute as an industry to reduce the carbon footprint as well as to distribute wealth and opportunities throughout Spain. 

“You have to confront a new way of understanding tourism,” he stated.

Tourist queue to board a ferry at Ibiza´s harbour July 2020. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

In practice, these changes will likely have to be long-term if Spain wants to make up for the 83.7 million tourists that visited the country in 2019. The alternative would be a higher-end end model which isn’t based on mass tourism and generates higher spending per tourist.

In the short-term however, the country’s tourism authorities seem set to want tourists as soon as possible. Whether the tourism model is sustainable will not be as big a priority as ensuring travel to Spain is Covid-safe this summer. 

According to Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto, the country’s vaccine passport scheme will be ready by June

Spain has also said it would set up bilateral travel agreements with third countries if the EU does not reach a consensus on travel rules to the bloc by the summer. 

It may be that Spain chooses to overhaul its tourism industry in the coming years, much to the delight of residents who have grown tired of the boozy all-inclusive model.

But the prospect of losing out on €72 billion in tourism revenue as it did in 2020 could mean that for now the country has to opt for whatever works to bring back the holidaymakers.

“We have to make sure Spain is a safe destination,” Valdés concluded.

“Trust and health guarantees have to continue after the coronavirus crisis.”

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