Rural tourism set to lead the recovery of the industry as lockdown is eased

Cleaning and disinfecting outside the restaurant of La Garganta hotel, at El Chorro.
Cleaning and disinfecting outside the restaurant of La Garganta hotel, at El Chorro. / Ñito Salas
  • The sector has over 41,000 beds available in Malaga province and 2019 was a record year in financial terms

With European air space largely closed to commercial flights and Spain still immersed in uncertainty, it may be difficult or even impossible for people to make major journeys this summer. For rural tourism, however, the picture may be rather brighter. Inland Malaga province alone has 41,000 beds available and last year was the best ever for this type of tourism, with an economic impact that is estimated by the Costa del Sol Tourist Board to be 935 million euros.

Of course, things are very different this year. The crisis caused by the pandemic will have a major impact on foreign source markets, which provide around 55 per cent of clients during the whole year. They probably won't be coming to tourist destinations in this region now, unless there is a major change in the situation, which is highly improbable.

However, the upside of this dramatic situation is that it could lead to an increase of visitors from other parts of Spain, elsewhere in Andalucía, or even from the same area.

Last year 134,014 travellers stayed in inland accommodation in Malaga province, of whom around 60,000 were Spanish, according to tourism data. The national market increased by over 30 per cent, while there was a reduction of around ten per cent in visitors from abroad.

A report from the Loving Tourism platform following a survey carried out between 2 and 22 April, in other words at the height of the coronavirus crisis, reveals that 41.5 per cent of people in Spain say they intend to go on holiday this summer, and about 80 per cent of them plan to do so in this country.

The study also shows an increase of 19 per cent in people who have decided to use a car as their means of transport, and an increase of five per cent in the preference for rural hotels and accommodation in order to avoid crowds.

Therefore, in the present situation of absolute uncertainty, it is possible that rural tourism will become the answer this year for people who do not want to travel great distances, although this has not yet been reflected in bookings, says Sebastián Hevilla, who runs the Grupo de Desarrollo Rural Guadalhorce.

He says there are always quite a lot of local clients, especially in the gastronomic tourism segment, and they normally take weekend breaks or short stays. Those who stay longer tend to be from abroad or from other regions of Spain.

María Herrero, the co-founder of B bou Hotels, is somewhat more optimistic. "People are going to feel the need for a break; our hotels are places in which they can relax, feel free and safe," she says.

Her opinion is shared by Fernando García Bravo, director of La Garganta tourism complex in El Chorro. "We think there will be some movement," he says, although he admits that with 75 per cent of normal clients being from abroad, the prospects for the season are looking rather sombre at the moment.

María Herrero, who has two hotels in La Axarquía, stresses the importance of foreign residents on the Costa del Sol, especially for gastronomic tourism, and says they are a type of safety net for moments of crisis because of their high spending power.

"Although most of our clients come from abroad, we do have some who live in Malaga province," she says, "and after this people are going to want to go somewhere, but not too far".

Miguel Herrera, director of the Rustic Experience group in the Serranía de Ronda, confirms the importance of the market between the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar.

"These people have high spending power and they appreciate our culture and our gastronomy," he says.