Coronavirus: Spain’s tourist industry braces for big losses at Easter

Spain’s tourist industry is braced for huge losses over the Easter period and beyond as people cancel travel plans and major events are postponed as a result of the coronavirus.

Last year, nearly 84 million people visited Spain, 18 million from the UK. Tourism is the nation’s third biggest industry, accounting for 11% of GDP. Even before the severe restrictions, including schools closures and bans on large public events, announced in the Madrid area, bookings were down.

According to the Spanish hoteliers’ confederation, reservations were already down 20-30%, in particular for holidays in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic and Canary Islands, in February compared with last year. Hotel bookings were down 24% in Madrid and 20% in Barcelona.

“The impact is really significant, especially on conferences and visitors travelling long distances,” Ramón Estalella said on behalf of the confederation. “If it’s only for a month, the impact won’t be so great, once confidence is restored. But it is impossible to predict. Every day there are new announcements from different countries and regions and government measures that change the outlook.”

A ban on trips organised by Imserso, the state body that arranges holidays and outings for the elderly, will have a huge effect on many parts of Spain, Estalella added.

The health scare is a further blow to Spain’s tourism industry, parts of which have yet to recover from the collapse of Thomas Cook last year.

Although there are no figures available, anecdotal evidence points to a sharp drop in the number of visitors from China, South Korea and Japan. In Barcelona, Chinese tourists accounted for 38% of retail spending in 2019, much of it on clothing and luxury goods.

On Thursday, Catalonia will join Madrid and parts of the Basque Country in banning sports, religious and other gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Already major events have been cancelled elsewhere in Spain. The festival of Las Fallas in Valencia, which was due to begin on Sunday and attracts tens of thousands of visitors from Spain and abroad, has been suspended indefinitely.

More than 700 neighbourhood associations spend months creating huge effigies of famous or historical figures for the festival, nominally held in honour of St Joseph. These are burned at the end of the five-day event, which is estimated to bring in about €700m (£610m) to the local economy.

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Justin McCurry

The Málaga film festival, which attracts about 150,000 people to the southern city, has also been called off. Málaga is the focus of coronavirus cases in Andalucía.

Meanwhile, numerous theatrical events have been cancelled and several rock bands are rescheduling their tours. It remains to be seen whether the Primavera Sound and Sónar music festivals, due to be held in Barcelona in June, and which attract tens of thousands of fans from all over Europe, will go ahead.

The big question mark is over Easter, only a month away, which is celebrated with huge public events in Spain, especially in Seville.

For the next two weeks, all first and second division football matches will be played behind closed doors. And, although Wednesday night’s Champions League match between Liverpool and Atlético de Madrid will be played as normal, the Spanish club has advised supporters not to travel to the game.

Barcelona says that playing its match against Naples behind closed doors next week will cost it €6m in ticket sales.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the Madrid regional president, has denied a shutdown of the region is planned. “The Madrid region has not, at any point, considered the alleged shutdown of the region,” she tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

The government has promised a series of measures, such as extending credit to small businesses, a temporary moratorium on some taxes and a shorter working week and financial compensation for those with childcare responsibilities. It has yet to announce any steps to soften the impact on the highly vulnerable tourism and hospitality sectors.



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