July may be the traditional start to the tourist high season on the Costa del Sol, but this year there is nothing normal about it. Having been in complete paralysis for more than three months, the sector's survival hangs in the balance. Foreign tourists may be arriving again, but there are two major obstacles in the way: the apparent end to low-cost travel and a price war that has already begun among the area's accommodation providers.
"The restart is coming at a great cost and is moving a lot slower than expected," says president of the Costa del Sol Hotel Business Association (Aehcos), Luis Callejón Suñé. In view of the strategies being enacted by the larger hotel groups to attract, Callejón believes that it will be "inevitable" that there will be a price war this summer. "Everyone is looking for ways to cover their expenses, but you also have to be aware of how far you can go."
The first to announce discounts was the Paradores chain which opened up on the 25 June. It did so with several campaigns such as the 'Veraneadores' (holidaymakers) promotion, with rooms starting at 65 euros, and which, according to this public chain, "is proving to be a real success", with reservations for three nights at the price of two or five nights at the price of four.
Marriott International is also offering discounts and free breakfast for members; Iberostar is rewarding children under 12 for their "good behaviour during lockdown"; NH Hoteles is offering discounts of up to 25 per cent at its recently reopened luxury hotel Anantara Villa Padierna Palace in Benahavís, among other perks; Barceló and Riu are offering free medical services with stays; and online agency Destinia is offering beachside accommodation for as little 30 euros.
At local level, the chains aim to maintain their prices, but say that they are aware that specific promotions will have to be launched as demand evolves.
This price war will be compounded, Callejón has warned, by high prices for flights which are making potential tourists reluctant to book, creating "more complications".
As the president of the Association of Travel Agents of Andalucía, Sergio García, points out: "Prices are expensive, so sales are more than slow." Flights arriving on the Costa del Sol have been far from full, he says, explaining that airlines, which have suffered enormously as a result of the pandemic, have to recover losses too.
As a result, however, flights during this period are proving unaffordable for normal budgets, he says.