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Omicron COVID-19 variant threatens to deliver a Knockout blow to Spain

LA CORUNA, Spain—Spain is a sunny terrace, a beachfront hotel filled with a wealth of historic buildings and unparalleled museums. The country of thousands of selfie people lifts beer to the blue sky. The same can be said of France. Prior to epidemic, they are the two most visited destinations in the world. That said, travel involves crowds, long journeys, large reception spaces, and in general everything that increases the chances spread in the event of a pandemic.

Now, the industry has collapsed and is generating only half as much as it did a few years ago. And, as if that weren’t enough, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has just advised against traveling to most EU countries, due to the spread of coronavirus. Super mutant Omicron variant, seven cases have been identified in Spain to date. Currently, Spain, with a very low spread and about 80% of the population vaccinated, is still in the clear.

Mediterranean Europe dares to dream of a rebounding summer in 2021, and although the figures have improved, they are still far from 2019. Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Portugal Nha is eagerly waiting for the recovery of international tourism. In many cases, including in Spain, the extreme reliance on tourism has made it almost the only hope of post-pandemic economic recovery.

In a word: in 2019, tourism accounted for 12.4% of Spain’s GDP. This year, the tourism industry is accounting for half of that.

Alexandre Fratini is the owner of the Pinocchio restaurant in Benidorm, on the east coast of Spain, and a member of the board of directors of the hoteliers association, ABRECA. He explained to The Daily Beast: “Destinations like Benidorm have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, because we live entirely on tourism. “In cities like Alicante, the drop in sales is 25% while in Benidorm the drop is 85%. The lack of tourists has caused many businesses to close.”

Nuria Montes, general secretary of the Valencia HOSBEC hotel association, paints a bleak picture as she recalls what the sector has been through. “In March 2020, we started a year with almost no activity. During the summer alone, about 50% of hotels can open, but then almost all close again. From October 2020, Valencia is under lockdown, preventing tourists from entering the city until May 9, 2021. These are brutal times: 90% of the hotels it offers are closed. “

“Although the situation has gradually returned to normal,” she concludes, “about 20 to 30 percent of hotels in the Valencian Community are still closed.”

The economies of France and Italy have performed better during the pandemic. According to the balance of payments from the European Central Bank, the combined losses of both countries do not exceed what Spain lost between January and September 2020. The explanation is simple: Spain focuses on selling tourists so-called the sun and the beach model, so most visits take place in spring and summer, exactly when the biggest restrictions are in place in 2020. French and Italian visitors are somewhat more disparate throughout, This has helped them make up for the international tourism crisis.

“The next few weeks are decisive.”

Although Spain is the third country in the world with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after Italy and China, neither country is among the top 20 most visited by tourists. . Analysts agree that tourists to Spain are interested in the sun and the beach. It’s amazing how this happens, in a country with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Alhambra in Granada and the Prado Museum in Madrid. The fact that decades ago the Spaniards bet everything on that tourist card put the country in the predicament it is today.

With just 50% of their pre-pandemic revenue in 2020, Spain’s travel agencies, tour operators, hotels and catering services have had to put many of their workers on Contingency Procedures Temporarily, a permission exempts them from paying the workers wages, instead having a portion of their wages paid by the government. Italy and France have also opted for a system of partial unemployment with compensation up to 70% of workers’ previous gross wages. A significant number of these workers have re-entered the workforce, but things have not yet returned to the way they were before the pandemic and businesses that depend on tourism are still oversold.

“During the 20 months of the pandemic,” Montes told The Daily Beast, “the tourism industry has received absolutely leftover public aid. The government should expand the Temporary Employment Regulation Profile system, and activate direct aid to improve cash flow and kickstart tourism stimulus plan”.

Fratini, the restaurant owner, agrees. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have been calling for compensation for damages caused by forced closures, reduced capacity, shortened opening hours and lack of tourists. Autonomous and central governments should inject liquidity into the sector, modernizing it without resorting to loans,” he said.

It has reached the point of needing social assistance to avoid leaving thousands of families and companies in dire straits, but the fundamental problem remains unresolved. Now, we are hearing voices more critical than ever against economies that rely too heavily on tourism, particularly in Spain, which relies more on tourism than on tourism. the rest. But changing an entire economic model is not something that can be done in a few months.

Seen in context, it makes sense for these countries to bet on leisure travelers. Mediterranean tourism has grown steadily since 1995, with the exception of the 2009 financial crisis and the internal turmoil of Turkey and Egypt in 2016. No one could have foreseen that a virus would broke out, bringing everything to a standstill. The complete shutdown has unsettled workers, businesses and governments, surrounded by a trail of bankruptcy and ruin, and with a large workforce dependent on aid packages.

Although the country remains open to tourists, the new variant has many in the industry concerned that the coming weeks could bring them back to normal.

“The next few weeks are crucial to see how the new strain of bacteria will be handled if the vaccine is effective, and if it will implement further restrictive measures that could affect tourism,” said Montes. calendar”.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Data recently released by SiteMinder’s World Hotel Index shows that in 2021, Madrid and Barcelona will surpass their pre-pandemic visitor levels, ahead of other European cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Paris. Berlin.

The case of Madrid is a model. From the outset of the pandemic, its regional authorities have spearheaded a different strategy for all major European cities, choosing to impose as few restrictions as possible, leaving those decisions entirely in the hands of local governments. medical professionals without political interference. Today, it can boast of having recovered almost all of the national tourism it had before the health crisis and, as the regional government explains, the goal is now to boost tourism from America and Southeast Asia.

If there is hope, it is because, after all we’ve been through, the beaches of the Mediterranean, the Camino de Santiago, the Greek islands, Seville, Rome, and the “Romans of Portugal” Portugal” —Braga — still retains their splendor, still as radiant as ever.

Source link Omicron COVID-19 variant threatens to deliver a Knockout blow to Spain

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