News ID: 279782
Published: 0959 GMT January 23, 2021

Millions of holiday plans threatened as Spain warns of possible tourism disruption

Millions of holiday plans threatened as Spain warns of possible tourism disruption
Plaza de España, in Seville, Spain

Holiday plans for millions of people could be put on hold after suggestions Spain might not be ready for a normal tourism season until the end of summer.


Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has suggested the country would be "progressively better prepared" to welcome foreign tourists once 70% of its citizens have been vaccinated against COVID-19 — a goal he estimated won't be reached until much later this year, reported.

"Only mass vaccination will open the way to normality that we want," he said, during a speech at the World Tourism Organization conference in Madrid.

"The government is working to vaccinate at the highest possible rate... to reach the end of the summer with 70%, which will allow Spain to be progressively better prepared to receive international tourists."

Adding assurances, he said Spain was the "ninth country in the world" for vaccination rates, "and one of the first in Europe".

This speech has since been interpreted by some as meaning a blanket ban on tourism until 70% of Spaniards are vaccinated — but ministers have clarified the position.

"Our priority in 2021 is to reactivate tourism activity and resume safe mobility globally as soon as possible," said Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto.

"We are working to adopt a common framework of predictable action to give confidence to tourists and we hope that at the end of spring, and especially in summer, that international travel will resume and that people will choose Spain."

Juan González-Barba, the secretary of state for the EU, added that hope was "much greater" now for the summer season, saying he hoped travel would "begin to recover, if not be comparable, to the season before the pandemic".

He did, however, highlight that COVID-19 "can surprise at any time" — although added that vaccination rates would continue to increase, especially after Easter.


How important is this for Spain?


Very. The Spanish tourism sector employs around 2.6 million people and accounts for 12% of the country's GDP.

In 2019, 10 million tourists traveled to Spain during the month of July alone. Compare this to the 2.5 million visitors in July 2020 — that's a 75% drop. The worst months in May and June, however, saw no international tourists at all.

At the time, one industry expert estimated the sector had lost an average €5 billion a week since the first virus outbreak in March. Takings in the first five months of 2020 had also been down by 62%.

"We are exposed and we are fragile," said María Frontera, the president of the Hotel Business Federation of Mallorca, as she also criticized the recent comments from Sanchez.

Frontera said the "dramatic situation" for Spain's tourism sector meant there was now a growing need for fast vaccination plans, removal of travel blocks, and good communication overall — all with the aim creating safe travel opportunities and avoiding another year of devastating blows to the industry.

She added: "It is not admissible that the president of the government himself, instead of launching a clear, forceful and calm message to contribute to tourism recovery, does not calibrate his words well in a public situation."


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