The FT spoke with Gabriel Escarrer, CEO of Meliá Hotels International. Escarrer warns: ‘If we lose another summer season, – we have suffered from very little activity since October 2019 – it would be disastrous for the tourism industry.’ 500 Spanish hotels have closed their doors and this number would rapidly increase with another lost season.
The engine of the Spanish economy
The Financial Times points out the problems in the tourism sector are ‘of particular concern to Spain, the world’s second most popular tourist destination, whose economy shrank by 11% last year’. Summing up the situation is a quote from Ramón Aragonés, CEO of NH Hotel Group: ‘Tourism is the engine of Spain’.
The FT stresses ‘the pace of recovery’ is crucial. The level of infection, vaccines and politics combined will affect that pace. All the while, ‘the tourism industry continues to bleed dry’.
Scarce long-distance tourism
Escarrer says he did not think the third wave would hit Spain so hard. ‘The first quarter of 2021 will probably be very bad; the worst since the second quarter of last year.’ Both Escarrer and Aragonés hope the current restrictions will help keep infections under control and pave the way for recovery. The FT quotes Escarrer: ‘If, through vaccination, we start to see group immunity in the summer – which we will reach in the third quarter – travel behaviour will change. Europeans will stay in Europe, Americans will travel through America and Asians through Asia… I don’t foresee much long-distance tourism.’
Domestic tourism less lucrative
Aragonés thinks this summer domestic tourism will be the main attraction. This is ‘bad news for Spain’ since ‘the difference between what foreign tourists normally spend in Spain and what Spanish tourists spend abroad is more than 3% of the gross domestic product’.
That is why both top executives of the Spanish hotel chains are calling for part of the €140 billion Spain is expected to receive from the European recovery fund to be spent on revitalising the tourism industry and speeding up the vaccination campaign. They welcome measures such as the health passport that will allow countries to reopen earlier.
The problem, according to Aragonés, is that ‘if we do not have between 50% and 60% of the Spanish population vaccinated before the summer, Spain will be considered an unsafe destination.