Some hotel managers were visibly upset when we talked to them about the departure of their last clients earlier this week, after the government ordered them to close by 26 March because of the coronavirus.
Their stories about these last travellers show how attractive this region still is for tourists; barely a fortnight ago the sector was looking forward to an excellent year, but is now in lockdown.
Initial refusal to leave
The manager of one of the most emblematic hotels said it took five days to persuade an octagenarian tourist from Canada that the best thing he could do would be to go home. Not even his age or the fact that he was at high risk of Covid-19 could convince him, nor the danger of the airspace being closed or the order for all hotels to close.
This loyal client, who was spending two months in Torremolinos for the fourth consecutive winter, insisted that he was booked in until the end of April and the best thing would be for him to stay in the hotel. He didn't care that he wouldn't be able to go for a walk on the beach or around the town, he said. Finally, when relatives also put pressure on him to return, he checked out.
Around a thousand tourists were still in the hotels this week, but in most cases it was because they couldn't get a flight home. Some, however, refused to accept reality, such as a British couple who arrived at one hotel in Malaga, went to the reception area and demanded their right to stay there for the week they had booked.
When the staff told them about the lockdown and the hotels having to close, they still insisted they were in their rights to stay. And they did, although in the end they had no choice but to leave early. They went to the airport to try to get a flight home, from a holiday which nobody could understand why they hadn't cancelled.
Flouting lockdown rules
There was also a problem when some hotel guests refused to comply with the lockdown. Another hotel manager says that on the second day he had to close the cafeteria because a group of Scandinavians had sat down in there immediately after breakfast and were very drunk by midday.
The last ten guests in a hotel in Malaga city centre weren't happy, either. They were Americans who were very concerned about the difficulties they suddenly faced in getting home. President Trump had banned flights from Spain. Russian tourists occupying three bedrooms in another hotel in Malaga faced the same problem. They found themselves confined in Spain with nowhere to go.
Regular winter guests
Professionals in the sector say most of the last tourists in hotels on the Costa were regular clients who have been coming to spend the winter months here for years.
"About 70 per cent of my clients in the winter come for three to four months," said one hotel manager, but he cut the conversation short because he was overcome with emotion. We kept hearing words like "catastrophe" and "total disaster", and sentences such as "we'll have to start from scratch" in the conversations we had with those who were about to shut down and had said goodbye to their clients.
Some people even live all year round in hotels on the coast, and found themselves homeless when the order to close was announced. "I have one foreign lady who sold her house and lives here permanently," said the owner of one establishment. In her case she moved into an apartment, because she understood the difficulties the hotel sector and the destination were experiencing.
Waiting for flights
The president of the MS chain, Miguel Sánchez, said one of his hotels, the Amaragua, had 520 clients when the order to close came through, and all but 80 left straight away. The remainder were waiting for repatriation flights which were being organised by tour operators to get them out of the country before the hotels closed definitively until further notice.
Tourists were allowed to say in hotels up to 26 March at the latest and then go home, or if not possible find alternative rental or hotel accommodation in the government's approved list of those that can stay open.