Sunshine, beaches, and empty. That just about sums up 2020 in terms of Costa del Sol tourism. Other descriptions could be; catastrophic, unbelievable and devastating. At a press conference held by the provincial authority last Friday, to report on a year which makes those in the industry want to cry and forget at the same time, Luis Callejón, the president of the Aehcos Costa del Sol hoteliers association, said "I can think of many adjectives to describe the past 12 months, and none of them are good."
Outside, the rain lashed down and the wind howled, courtesy of Storm Filomena. It seemed a suitable accompaniment for such a solemn occasion. The impact of the coronavirus on tourism in Malaga province, said Francisco Salado, the head of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, has been so great that it has returned the sector to 1980s levels: "This crisis has taken the Costa del Sol back four decades."
Anyone with the slightest idea of what tourism means to the Costa in terms of the economy and employment must be asking themselves if these figures can be real. They are. There were 9.3 million fewer tourists than in 2019 (down 71.6 per cent). The loss to the economy of the province is nearly 10.35 billion euros, 17,605 direct jobs in the sector have gone and 31,000 workers have been temporarily laid off. Salado described the damage as "astronomical".
It is ruinous for the province, and it is difficult to imagine what happens next in a scenario which is constantly changing because of the pandemic. Malaga depends on tourism like Germany depends on its car industry and Norway depends on oil. The concern on the faces of those in authority was obvious, and no mask could hide it.
The uncertainty doesn't help. It looks as though, at best, 2021 will be a year of transition. It's not that Malaga is no longer attractive. It's the nature of the crisis, the invisible threat that makes people reluctant to travel. That means the problem is global and the province has suffered badly from a general fall in its source markets.
The figures regarding transport infrastructure in Malaga province were also depressing. The airport reported that 6.9 million fewer passengers arrived in 2020. Arrivals by high speed train fell by 61.1 per cent. There were 89.3 per cent fewer cruise passengers. And the effects on the labour market so far are, said Salado, "unreal" because of the anaesthetising effect of the ERTEs. If the situation doesn't improve in 2021, those temporary layoffs will become permanent.
The vaccine is being seen as vital for the Costa del Sol. Salado said recovery depended on its success and urged the government to improve controls at the airports. The most important selling point in 2021 will be tourism that is safe.