In Spain’s mass tourism mecca, UK Covid-19 quarantine means disappointing summer, Europe News & Top Stories
COSTA BLANCA, VALENCIA (BLOOMBERG) – When Spain closed its doors to slow the coronavirus in March, around 25,000 British tourists were enjoying the beaches and bars in the resort town of Benidorm on the Costa Blanca.
Local authorities quickly ordered hotels to close, and as visitors packed their bags and flocked to the airport, the city’s tourism industry – its lifeblood – went into hibernation with the rest of the country.
After the slowest start to the summer season in memory, things started to pick up modestly in June.
With the Spaniards and some foreigners dipping their toes in the waters of Benidorm, hotel and restaurant owners dared to think that summer might not be a total loss after all and began to imagine the return of some of these. British.
Those hopes were dashed on July 25, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from Spain – leaving Benidorm and hundreds of other cities along the Spanish coast to feel the blow. whip of this summer stop-start-stop.
“This is pretty much the worst thing that could have happened,” said Mr. Javier del Castillo, owner of La Cava Aragonesa, a tapas bar along one of the narrow streets in the city’s historic center.
Where normally he would have customers – mostly Brits – lined up to order albondigas, jamon iberico and espanola tortillas drizzled with glasses of rioja, the bar is nearly empty.
No one is allowed to stand due to social distancing restrictions, everyone must wear a mask when not eating, and the ham is covered in plastic to prevent it from being contaminated.
The city’s wide, sandy beaches would usually be towel-to-towel with sun worshipers in July.
This year, the city has demarcated squares in the sand with blue ropes, with a maximum of four people allowed per square.
Aspiring bathers should book in advance, but on a sunny afternoon it’s easy to find an empty spot.
“We must continue to fight and we must continue to provide a level of security as the pandemic continues,” said the mayor of Benidorm, Toni Perez.
The recent spike in coronavirus cases in Spain, which prompted Mr Johnson’s order, began in Aragon and Catalonia – more than 160 km from Benidorm.
As infections have started to rise across Spain, authorities in Benidorm say the city has seen just 19 cases in the past two weeks.
The quarantine order “does not reflect reality because there are a lot of places in England where there are more people infected than in some parts of Spain,” said Mr del Castillo, who is also the head of ” a local food service association.
He expects up to half of Benidorm’s 1,200 bars and restaurants will not survive the year.
This is a big problem for Spain, where tourism accounts for 12% of production and which receives around 18 million visitors per year from Great Britain.
The Spanish economy contracted by 18.5% in the second quarter, and tourism was one of the hardest hit sectors.
What’s bad for Spain is particularly bad for Benidorm, which is said to be the place where package travel was invented.
Some four million visitors a year, around 40% of them Britons, crowd into the Modernist skyscrapers that line its beaches, designed so that many rooms have water views.
On a typical summer day, dozens of flights transport visitors from European capitals to nearby Alicante airport, where they board crowded buses or trains for the hour-long journey to Benidorm.
The city of 70,000 has dozens of cafes catering to British visitors, serving hearty servings of lager, fish and chips, bangers and mash, with English Premier League football and Sky News on large televisions screen.
Nightlife takes place in countless sweaty bars where young people from all over Europe drink, flirt and dance to the sound of B-list DJs.
Since Britain announced the quarantine, hoteliers in Benidorm have seen eight cancellations for every booking.
Some hotels that had planned to open in the coming weeks will remain closed until next spring.
The average occupancy is around 40 percent – mostly domestic tourists – in open hotels.
Normally, in July, about 90 percent of beds would be reserved.
Tourism officials are hopeful Britain will ease general quarantine soon and allow unrestricted travel from Spanish destinations with low coronavirus incidence.
They say Mr Johnson will face pressure from UK tour operators and airlines who have also been hammered by the order.
“The sooner they lift the quarantine order, the less disaster it will be,” said Nuria Montes, secretary general of Hosbec, a hotel and tourism association.
“But we’re not going to get anything back. What’s gone is gone.”
The collapse of business sparked a debate among people in the city’s tourism industry – which is almost everyone.
Some say the city should seize the opportunity presented by the crisis.
A few hotels that have remained closed are renovating, and some in the industry suggest they are factoring guest concerns about the coronavirus into their redesigns.
One hotel owner is getting rid of rooms configured for more than two people, and others are rearranging their common spaces to provide more social distancing in response to the virus.
âWe have a fantastic opportunity to improve things up front, to take it to the next level,â said Mr. Javier Jimenez, director of Forst, a tourism business school based in the city.
Another side retorts that there is little need to tinker with a business model that has served Benidorm well for decades.
After this year’s disappointing summer, it is believed, a vaccine will hit the market and the city can resume operations as usual – at least for those who manage to survive the economic disaster.
“When the pandemic ends, we will return to normal life,” said Mr del Castillo.
“We’re going to start doing what we used to do again.”