Tourism closes its worst year due to the Covid

The coronavirus crisis has meant for tourism a kind of volcanic fissure, a crack of considerable dimensions in the surface from which lava flows. For the sector, the one caused by the pandemic has not stopped expelling magma and has destroyed almost everything in its path .

The numbers leave no room for doubt, with falls of over 75%: the year will close with less than 20 million foreign tourist arrivals (83.5 million the previous year), whose spending will not reach 20,000 million euros ( compared to almost 92,000 million in 2019).

The plunge in demand is unprecedented. In tourism, unlike other sectors, as mobility between countries is still highly affected, recovery remains minimal. In fact, according to official government historical records, so few foreign travelers have never arrived in half a century.

We must go back to the end of the sixties: in 1969, for example, almost 21.7 million foreign tourists visited the country, while in 1968 about 19.2 million did, according to the yearbooks of tourism statistics of Spain.

In the best of cases, it will be between the two figures, although the forecast is that it is closer to what was recorded in 1968 ( until October, the latest data available, 17.8 million travelers have arrived, the same ones that did it in the 12 months of 1967).

The bad news does not end there. Income measured with the INE satellite account formula – it takes into account everything that tourism activity contributes to the economy – will end the year at around 46,000 million euros, according to Exceltur.

That is, about 110,000 million less than a year before and at levels of 1995 , when the statistical institute began this measurement. Of course, the comparison is misleading because it does not take into account inflation during this quarter of a century and the almost 45,126 million at that time are worth much more than those of 2020.

“We have faced the worst crisis experienced by the tourism sector in our country in all its history. And this has been the case because on this occasion two elements that define the very essence of travel are affected: mobility and trust, ”explains the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto to EL PAÍS.

That is why the impact of the coronavirus has been similar in the rest of the world. In fact, Spain is in line with the fall calculated by the World Tourism Organization for all countries. “Tourism falls back to 1990 levels with a drop in arrivals of more than 70%,” he stated in his latest report.

Perhaps only in a conjunctural way – if tourism manages to return soon to the levels of prepandemic billing -, tourism GDP will register an unprecedented decline: it will go from representing 12.4% of gross domestic product in 2019 to just over 4% in 2020.

“We are the sector hardest hit by far in the Spanish economy. If strong aid does not arrive, thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of jobs will fall, ”insists José Luis Zoreda, vice president of the Exceltur tourism lobby .

The productive fabric of the sector shivers since mid-March. Initially, they hoped to save part of the summer. But the reality exploded very soon and the summer recovery was so slightthat many businesses had to lower the blind again. In principle, temporarily. Although more and more they are considering the definitive closure.

From the academy, with some differences, they agree on the urgent need for the Executive to throw a cloak on a sector that in the previous crisis was a tractor for the economy and that is now a caboose.

“It is time for the Government to help companies to survive. And you have to do it differently by region, because the level of impact varies greatly by community ”, argues Oriol Anguera-Torrell, professor and researcher of Applied Economics to tourism at the University of Barcelona.

Given this situation, they paint clubs for the near future of the sector. In addition to the uncertainty due to the pandemic – it is not yet clear when tourism will return to normal – other clouds are coming:

Brexit, the reduction in spending capacity due to the economic crisis and, in addition, the considerable increase in savings among those with better financial conditions. It all translates into a demand that will continue to be depressed for a while.

“For the next two years, at least, mobility over long distances will be reduced,” says Juan Ignacio Pulido, director of the Laboratory for Tourism Analysis and Innovation at the University of Jaén.

Those responsible for the Funcas analysis house agree on this reading. And they put figures at the possible rate of improvement: “We expect a recovery of 40% in 2021 and 80% in 2022, according to what we are seeing in other countries,” warned Raymond Torres, director of the economic situation and international analysis a few weeks ago.

Foundation. Although he qualifies: “It will continue well below a normal year, but it will mean a powerful recovery because now they are at a minimum.” The Government, for its part, is somewhat more optimistic and set a date for a reactivation spurred by the vaccine: “We have our sights set on Holy Week in 2021.

That is where we hope to start the recovery of the sector, which will begin with domestic tourism. and, little by little, by that coming from our European neighbors, to gradually incorporate tourists from distant markets ”,

In the Balearic Islands, the tourism sector was surprised by the pandemic when it was just beginning to warm up engines for a season that was expected to be a record.

The total loss of Holy Week due to confinement predicted a turbulent horizon, although the progressive opening of the country in May and the reactivation of economic sectors brought some optimism. On June 15, the first international tourists arrived in Mallorca from Germany and the sector started up in an uncertain season with only part of the hotel plant open.

In mid-August, everything went wrong again and considerable steps were taken back, especially after the announcement by the United Kingdom, the second foreign market in the Balearic Islands, to impose a quarantine on travelers returning from Spain .

This prompted an avalanche of closures, bringing the end of the summer season forward to September. The decline in activity in the Balearic Islands at the end of 2020, according to Exceltur, will be greater than 82%.

“There has not been an iota of help from the Administrations in reducing tax expenditures for companies in the sector”, censures María Frontera, president of the Mallorca Hotel Federation.

The coronavirus wave has also swept away nightlife, one of the mainstays of the industry in the region. In fact, it has been closed since March and they could not even partially open in summer.

The Balearic Association of Nightlife estimates that 63% of establishments will end up closing over the next year. “There are almost 400 workers in a very difficult situation, who usually live in winter from what they earn in summer,” said the president of the association, Jesús Sánchez, during a protest in front of one of the Employment Service offices.

José Ravira still remembers the days of 1969 when he opened what was then a small kiosk on Venus Beach, next to the historic center of Marbella. They were times of family tourism, simpler. He was barely over 20 years old and what he did not know then was that he was starting a life dedicated to the hospitality industry.

In this time he has seen everything: the “incredible” transformation of the city, the years of the jet set , the ETA attacks, Gil’s time, the Arab petrodollars in Puerto Banús. “But I never imagined that something like this year could happen,” he says.

His specialty is skewered sins, but he has only been able to offer them for three months, when he usually does it from March to December. His season would now be in the final stretch, but this time it ended in September. “There was no one to serve and we closed,” says Ravira, head of the historic Pepes Bar beach bar, who is looking doubtfully to 2021.

The case of this business is not exceptional on the Costa del Sol. Sun and beach tourism has suffered the greatest setback in its history . The closure of borders was joined by warnings for travel through Spain and the return of restrictions due to the increase in infections.

“It is being a drama,” insists Margarita del Cid, CEO of Costa del Sol Tourism, who criticizes the lack of information on the measures that the central government has been taking. “Working with uncertainty is very negative,” he stresses.

Now the vast majority of hotels are closed without knowing when they will be able to open due to the lack of demand. And the images of empty hammocks and deserted boardwalks have resulted in disastrous balance sheets.

According to Costa del Sol Tourism, the 26 million nights booked in 2019 have risen to seven in 2020. The number of travelers has also fallen above 70%, like any other indicator. And it remains to be seen how it will affect the tourism industry in 2021:

“Part of the sector is going to stay by the wayside,” warns Del Cid who, despite everything, is optimistic. “I am convinced that from the second semester of next year everything will be better,” she concludes.

In Catalonia the situation has been just as dramatic. The tourism sector, one of the pillars of the region’s economy, closes with this Christmas marked by restrictions one of the worst years in remembrance .

With the latest data available from the Catalan Institute of Statistics, corresponding to the month of October, the fall in foreign tourists stands at 78.5% so far this year. Their spending has fallen by 81.8% and hotel stays were 76.5% lower than in the same period of the previous year.

In the community as a whole there are 700,000 places between hotels, campsites and apartments. The stamp in coastal towns that live almost exclusively from tourism, such as Lloret de Mar or Salou, is marked by closed hotels and thousands of unemployed workers.

A disaster that is repeated in urban destinations, for example in Barcelona, ​​where the sector has plummeted. “It has been a horrible year. It began with the month of January, which is never good, followed by February, which was marked by the cancellation of Mobile , and has continued with restrictions due to the pandemic.

We estimate that the sector will not start to reactivate until the middle or end of next spring ”, highlights Manel Casals, director of the Barcelona Hotel Association.

There are currently 110 hotels open in the city, 25% of the 440 establishments that exist, and the occupancy of those that are operating does not exceed 15% . “Only those who have to do it out of obligation come, either for work or to come to the hospital.

The restrictive measures affect us fully and we do not have aid ”, laments Casals. The city’s hotel sector estimates that it has lost 1,400 million euros this year, 82% of the sales achieved in previous years.

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