Under intense pressure from a tourist industry looking into the abyss, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez announced today that Spain will open its borders to foreign tourists under “conditions of safety” in July. So things are looking up a little bit for owners of holiday-homes in Spain.
“There will be a tourist season this summer,” he promised in a press conference earlier today at La Moncloa, the President’s official residence, noting the “fundamental importance” of the industry to the Spanish economy, and its “enormous internal prestige.”
Without providing any details as to how this will all work, Sánchez suggested Spain will only be open to tourists from “safe destinations” who don’t bring the Covid-19 virus with them to Spain and create a “risk for the local population.”
The Spanish press reports the government is looking at establishing safety procedures with Germany, the UK, France, and Italy to facilitate the arrival of tourists from those destinations.
“We will guarantee that tourists will not run any risk, and will not bring us any risks,” he said. “There is no contradiction between health and business. Spanish tourism will now have two new hallmarks: environmental sustainability and health security.”
Prepare to open up “in a few days”
He issued a call to “all our tourist establishments, the bars and restaurants, those in beach destinations and those inland, that they start preparing from today to open up in a few days.”
The Spanish government was banking on local tourism to save the industry from total collapse this year, but now has moved toward opening up to foreign tourism. “Tourists abroad can also start planning their holidays in our country from today,” said Sánchez.
When the government introduced a two week quarantine on all foreign visitors starting on the 15th of May, the tourist industry association Exceltur warned it would ruin the summer holiday season this year, and drive thousands of companies out of business.
As competitor destinations in Europe like Italy, Portugal, and Greece announced concrete measures to open up to foreign tourism this summer, the Spanish tourist industry put the government under intense pressure to follow suit. Big European tour operators are selling holidays in countries where the rules are clear.
Italy has announced it is open for tourists from the 3 of June without any quarantine measures in place, and Greece is open from July 1 without quarantine. The Spanish tourist industry saw a rapid change in bookings towards the competition, and pushed the government into an urgent change of policy.
However, little detail has been provided by the Spanish government as to how this will work in practise, whilst social distancing is still in place. How will Sánchez guarantee everyone’s safety? According to Spanish press reports, the plan relies on negotiating tourism arrangements with emissary countries like the UK and Germany. Much could go wrong with this plan.
84 million tourists visited Spain in 2019, contributing 92 billion euro to the Spanish economy – some 12% of GDP, the single biggest contribution by sector. Tourism has been completely shuttered since mid-March, and income for the sector was zero in April, according to the latest official statistics.
Social distancing rules still in force make holiday-homes an obvious choice
Even if it is possible to holiday in Spain from July onwards, travel restrictions will make it difficult and expensive to get to Spain, and social distancing rules will make it difficult and expensive for tourist businesses to operate. Social distancing means that hotels and restaurants will have to stay half empty, and many of them might not be viable under these circumstances.
If I was booking a summer holiday in Spain now I would be looking at renting a holiday-home somewhere I could reach by car. A holiday home means less trouble with social distancing, and Catalonia’s Costa Brava and Empordà region are the obvious choice for the shortest drive to the Spanish Mediterranean coast. The Spanish north coast in the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias might also make sense this year.
Even if Spain is open for holidays by July, there might still be regional and provincial restrictions in place you should look into before you travel.