CORONAVIRUS

Screens between tables and sanitary welcome kits: How Spain’s tourism industry is preparing for life after lockdown

One luxury hotel in Madrid plans to test guests for Covid-19, while restaurant owners in the southern province of Cádiz say they do not know whether they can survive the fallout from the crisis

A sketch of possible layout changes to one of the restaurants of VP Plaza España Design in Madrid.
A sketch of possible layout changes to one of the restaurants of VP Plaza España Design in Madrid.

Sipping on a gin tonic while enjoying the views of Madrid will be possible this summer at Ginkgo Sky Bar within the “new normality” of life post-coronavirus lockdown. Every patron will exist in their own bubble of hygiene: wearing gloves, a face mask, and separated from other patrons by a screen. If someone wants to go up to see the sunset, they will need to ask staff for permission and follow a safe route marked out on the floor of the rooftop bar, which is part of the five-star hotel Plaza España Design, of the VP hotel chain.

These plans are just one example of how the Spanish tourism industry is trying to reinvent itself in the face of the coronavirus crisis, which is expected to cause losses of up to €92.5 billion this year. VP Hotels believes that the key to attracting tourists will be strict hygiene measures. “We want to be the safest hotel in all of Spain,” says Javier Pérez Jiménez, the managing director of the VP chain.

There is still no information about the measures hotels and restaurants in Spain will have to apply when they are allowed to reopen, nor is it known when they will be back in business. Despite this, Pérez Jiménez thinks that meeting the legal minimum of hygiene standards will not be enough for a luxury hotel such as Plaza España Design. He has been planning how to reorganize common spaces in the hotel to minimize contact with other people, and has contacted personal protective equipment companies about buying supplies.

Pérez Jiménez believes hotels will need to go the extra mile when it comes to safety, and does not care if he is being “paranoid.” The strict measures are especially important for Plaza España Design, given that the average hotel guest is over 50, an age group that is more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Madrid Hotel Business Association is also working on a proposal for a “Covid Free Hotel” certificate to provide to establishments that meet its requirements.

When guests arrive at Plaza España Design, they will need to undergo a rapid test to check whether they have coronavirus, explains Pérez Jiménez. For this to happen, the managing director is talking to several clinics, which would occupy one of the rooms on the ground floor. The test may even be carried out in an ambulance outside the hotel, says Pérez Jiménez.

If a guest is healthy, they will go to reception and receive a welcome kit with personal protection equipment: gloves, face mask and hand sanitizer gel. Hotel rooms will be subject to the strictest hygiene measures. Even the television remote control will be covered in plastic, and almost every corner of the room will have dispensers with disinfectant, explains Pérez Jiménez. The breakfast buffet will disappear and be replaced with a picnic basket with fruit and yogurt that guests will collect by keeping to a marked-out route. Cloths will no longer be used to wipe down tables in the hotel restaurants. In the future, waiters will have to use steam cleaners.

Pérez Jiménez estimates that the seating capacity of the Ginkgo Sky Bar and Restaurant and Botania Restaurant, which hold 800 and 250 people respectively, will be cut by a third and by half. Unlike other summers, it is unlikely that there will be long lines of people waiting to go up to the rooftop bar. Reservations will also be compulsory.

It’s an ambitious and expensive plan, says Pérez Jiménez. Indeed only a few hotel giants in Spain have the resources to reinvent themselves as clean spaces. It is expected that only the largest chains, without too much debt, will survive the fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The managing director believes the VP chain will resist until September thanks to business tourism and events.

One of the advantages of Plaza España Design, adds Pérez Jiménez, is that the bathrooms in the restaurants open automatically, meaning no door handle has to be touched. “In the common areas, you only touch the button for the elevator and inside [the elevator] you will find an alcohol dispenser,” says Pérez Jiménez. “We are going to put dispensers [in the building] as though it were the end of the world. But it will not be the end. This is just a break.”

Future of bars and restaurants

The owners of bars, restaurants and beach bars, known in Spain as chiringuitos, are less optimistic about the future. For now most have ruled out radical changes to their businesses, but some have invested in protective screens.

“The uncertainty of not knowing how or when they are going to let us open is very restrictive,” says Gildo Hidalgo, the owner of the restaurants Doña Calma Gastrobar and Veranillo de Santa Ana in Barrameda, in the southern province of Cádiz. “The reduction in seating capacity is also something we have considered, we will also have to invest money to buy screens to separate one table from another,” he explains. “It’s really messed up. I feel really sorry for our workers, because if before we had eight employees for 70 diners, and now they only let 20 in… well, you see what I mean.”

“The prohibitions have us on tenterhooks,” says restaurant owner Guillermo García Muñoz, in reference to the Spanish government’s lockdown measures. García is the owner of the bar Doña Cló, the beach bar Vida Mía and the club La Barbería. “I’ve given up on reopening the club. It’s a business that’s only profitable if it’s full. The situation with the beach bar is different because I own the property and if I don’t open it I don’t incur any losses. The bar I can sustain because the owner of the property is not charging me rent,” he explains.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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