CORONAVIRUS

Spain will have to do deals with other countries if overseas tourism is to restart

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday that tourists would be welcome from July, but fell short of announcing details of how that will happen

Beachgoers in Benidorm, in an image from 2019.
Beachgoers in Benidorm, in an image from 2019.Manuel Lorenzo / EL PAÍS

During the weekly televised press conference he has held since the coronavirus crisis began, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Saturday that the country would be reopening to overseas tourists in July. But he failed to add details such as the specific date that this would happen, or the requisites that will be in place before people can enter the country. He simply said that this would have to take place under “safety conditions.”

As a result, the reopening of the Spanish tourism sector – one of the key drivers of the country’s economy – will be in the hands of deals with other countries in order to facilitate mobility without putting travelers and destinations at risk of new coronavirus infections. Sources from the Spanish government hope that these deals will be done on a European level and not between states, although time is running short and it looks difficult that free movement within the European Union can be restored so soon.

Sánchez’s announcement was designed to get the message across that the country will be ready to receive tourists this summer

Sánchez’s announcement on Saturday lacked detail, but his objective was to counteract an endless stream of messages that in recent weeks have had a serious effect on the tourism sector outside of Spain. In particular, the announcement of an obligatory two-week quarantine – that is currently in effect – for any traveler arriving in Spain.

This measure was interpreted as overseas tourists not being welcome in Spain, and froze the arrangements being made by major tour operators who were preparing to restart activity in the country. Sánchez’s announcement was designed to get the message across to nations whose citizens regularly vacation in Spain that the country will be ready to receive tourists this summer.

His message was aimed at reactivating foreign demand, and also at clearing up any doubts in the sector, which accounts for more than 12% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Spain. The prime minister invited “all tourist establishments, bars and restaurants, and beach and inland destinations to start getting ready from today [i.e. Saturday] to restart their activity in the coming days.” Spokespersons from the Tourism Ministry have stated that talks with companies will be stepped up, both in Spain and abroad. “This is big news, because the sector was starting to give up on the whole summer,” they said.

If tourists are to come to Spain from July, a cross-European deal would be nigh on impossible in such a short time

But the Spanish government now has a tough diplomatic task ahead of it. In practice, if the country is to reopen and allow the arrival of travelers in just five weeks’ time, deals will have to be struck with other countries. “There are already conversations taking place, but nothing has been agreed as of yet,” sources from the administration report. “They are in an initial phase.”

If tourists are to come to Spain from July, a cross-European deal cannot be expected, given that reaching such an agreement would be nigh on impossible in such a short amount of time. Nor can mobility across the EU countries be expected by then. “Work is taking place on the possibility of creating safe tourist corridors so that the sector can recover and tourist destinations can be reactivated,” explained Transportation Ministry spokespersons.

At meetings to reach a pan-European deal, there have already been contacts between the transportation ministries from each country. They have pointed to the importance of coordinating measures, according to official sources, although they insist that no concrete decisions have been taken yet.

For its part, the tourism sector received the news with celebrations. Above all else because the government has listened to the calls from the sector and has launched a clear message of confidence. “This is the first positive sign,” said on Saturday the vice president of the Exceltur tourism association, José Luis Zoreda. As the prime minister pointed out yesterday, Spain receives more than 80 million foreign tourists every year.

The sector is calling for clear protocols for arrivals at airports and agreed measures for tourism

As is to be expected, there are some “buts” in the government’s plan. The executive does not want to open borders prematurely without implementing the necessary guarantees in order to avoid a new outbreak of the coronavirus due to the importation of infections from abroad, as has happened in China and South Korea. “We have to progress with great care with regard to ensuring that arrivals are not at risk and are coming to a safe destination, and at the same time they must not pose a risk for the local population,” said Sánchez on Saturday, adding that the government will be working on safe origins and destinations.

In this respect, the sector is calling for clear protocols for arrivals at airports and agreed measures for tourism. “We have been working on the preparation of destinations for weeks,” sources from the Tourism Ministry stated.

Exceltur, for its part, is calling for regulations that follow a certain logic, in particular for beaches, which are their main focus. “There cannot be conditions that dissuade people, and there must be a common policy, not with changes for each community,” Zoreda said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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