ECONOMY & BUSINESS

Spain’s government pinning hopes on a vaccination passport to help kick-start ailing tourism sector

A report from the Economy Ministry, to which EL PAÍS has had access, also points to the ‘recovery of safe travel corridors’ as being a key factor to restart activity in one of the country’s main economic drivers

A health control at Barcelona's El Prat airport, in a file photo from June 2020.
A health control at Barcelona's El Prat airport, in a file photo from June 2020.

The Spanish government is pinning its hopes on 2021 being a year of recovery. That said, the administration is well aware that one of the mainstays of the country’s economy, tourism, will struggle to return to some kind of normality this year given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

To deal with this issue, the coalition government – made up of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos – is looking for formulas to speed up the return to levels of tourism that existed pre-Covid. One of the key factors being considered is the creation of a Europe-wide vaccination card that could help bring back foreign tourists. That’s according to an internal document from the Economy Ministry to which EL PAÍS has had access.

Advances in vaccination cards and the opening of borders will be of fundamental importance if activity is to recover
Economy Minister Nadia Calviño

Such a card, which would certify that the bearer has been immunized against Covid-19, will not be the only measure considered by the government, according to the department run by Economy Minister Nadia Calviño, who is also one of Spain’s deputy prime ministers.

“The recovery of safe travel corridors is a key factor,” according to the ministry. “Advances in vaccination cards and the opening of borders will be of fundamental importance if activity is to recover.”

The industry, commerce and tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, is yet to confirm that the upcoming Easter break will be lost to the pandemic in terms of tourism, but has repeatedly admitted that everything will depend on the epidemiological situation nearer to the time. In the European context, she is one of the leaders who is committed to the idea of a vaccine passport in order to ensure trips can be made safely. “We are working so that we can count on common vaccine passports within the scope of the European Commission,” she said on Monday during a visit to the city of Valladolid, in line with what is laid out in the Economy Ministry document that has been seen by this newspaper. “We are also working with the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] on initiatives to guarantee safe journeys,” she added.

Sources from Maroto’s ministry added that this position has already been put forward by Spain within the European Union, albeit without much success up to now, but that the idea has sparked debate within the bloc. “Spain is promoting a vaccination certificate and working toward this contributing to the recovery of mobility,” official spokespersons from the ministry explained. The sector, meanwhile, has recognized that very tough months still lie ahead.

The Economy Ministry document provides a summary of how the pandemic has affected the sector and points to it having been the worst hit by the pandemic, and that this will not change any time soon. “Hostelry is the most-affected sector, closing the year with a level of activity that was 41% of that at the end of 2019,” the document reads. “This is followed by related sectors, such as recreational and transportation activities, with levels of activity that are 70% and 80% of the pre-Covid situation.”

We are working so that we can count on common vaccine passports within the scope of the European Commission
Reyes Maroto, tourism minister

The regions that have been worst hit by the pandemic in economic terms are those that rely most on tourism – in particular Spain’s Balearic and Canary Islands, as well as the provinces of Madrid and Barcelona. “They have been among those most affected by the [economic] shock, suffering the biggest falls in consumption and activity,” the report reads.

A future improvement in the economic situation is subject to many unknowns, including the vaccination process, which is moving along in fits and starts in Spain. According to the report, the mass immunization of the population will bring with it notable benefits, even before herd immunity is reached, for two main reasons: it will reduce the number of deaths and the number of admissions in hospitals’ intensive care units (ICUs).

“In the first place, the reduction in the number of fatalities is key from the point of view of the expectations of the stakeholders [in the economy], given that an improvement in perceptions will allow for the recovery of demand that is still on hold,” the document reads. “In the second place, the reduction of the pressure on the healthcare system is a key step for the lifting of restrictions on movement and supply, which are limiting the utilization of productive capacity.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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