Hotels on the Costa say they have been only 40% full and many will have to close in the winter

Tourists in the centre of Malaga city during the worst peak season the sector has ever known. ñito salas
Tourists in the centre of Malaga city during the worst peak season the sector has ever known. ñito salas
  • The weeks of peak demand are over and the tourism sector is asking ministers for a rescue plan, "otherwise we won't make it through to the spring"

With the last peak days of August upon us, hotels on the Costa del Sol are still under half empty, with an average occupancy rate of no more than 40 per cent.

The quarantine imposed by several countries including the UK, which is the area's biggest source market, and the successive advice not to travel to Spain, have dynamited the most optimistic expectations of an occupancy rate of at least 50 per cent this summer.

The slight increase in visitors from other parts of Spain wasn't enough to stitch the wound of cancellations due to international restrictions, which have left most of the approximately 90,000 hotel beds in the province empty.

The worst is yet to come, as the Aehcos hotel association reminds us, warning that the period of grace for loan repayments and extra time to pay taxes have only put off the payment of bills.

With estimates that occupancy will not even reach 25 per cent from September, hotel owners are predicting massive closures in the autumn. In a normal year, around 20 per cent close in low season, but this time more than half the hotels in Malaga are likely to do so.

It wouldn't be profitable to stay open, says Miguel Sánchez of the Confederation of Business Owners of Andalucía (CEA), who owns the MS Hoteles chain: "The busiest period for tourism ended on Sunday and occupancy hasn't even been 40 per cent. We normally keep five hotels open and close one in winter, but in this situation we are considering closing them all," he says. "The income would not cover the costs involved in staying open".

This is why hotel owners are calling for an "urgent rescue", aware that their recovery will be slower than in other sectors, and they say it needs to be in the form of a cash injection "otherwise, we are not going to make it through to the spring". Sánchez says he is "worried" by the reaction of the authorities and is asking the government and the Junta de Andalucía to "take note of the dramatic situation" these businesses are experiencing at the moment.

The president of Aehcos, Luis Callejón, adds that the Costa and tourism "are winning horses", which need to be supported. "We can assure them that if they commit to us for a couple of years with direct help and clear incentives to boost demand, the sector will repay them many times over."

The sector is waiting to see what happens with prime minister Pedro Sánchez's promise to consider a possible extension to the furloughing measures (ERTEs) for employees of tourism companies. These end in September, but the government has opened the door to them continuing until at least the end of the year.

Scheme like the UK's called for

The hotels are also demanding measures similar to those in other countries such as the UK, where VAT on tourism and restaurant businesses has been reduced from 20 to five per cent for six months and the government is financing 50 per cent of the cost of food and drink that British people consume in restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays this month, up to a maximum discount of £10 per person.

Despite low occupancy levels, hotels say they have noticed a slight increase in spending by tourists, as the manager of the Hotel Ritual in Torremolinos, David Taboas, explains: "People are going out less so they are consuming more in the hotel, but we have still had unexpected costs such as the Covid protocols."

A cash injection is essential to pay the bills for which payment has been postponed. But so far, there is no rescue in sight for the hotel sector and its agony has only just begun.

A summer with no British, German or Italian tourists: most clients have been from elsewhere in Spain

The restrictions imposed by half of Europe on people travelling from Spain and the recommendations not to come here, blacklisted because of the way the virus has spread in recent weeks, has transformed the tourist landscape.

There have been very few British, German or Italian visitors, who in previous summers have filled hotels, bars and restaurants on the Costa del Sol. It has been Spanish tourists that have saved the bit of the day that was left of this peak season.

"About 98 per cent of our clients this summer have been Spanish," says Miguel Sánchez, who has hotels in Malaga and Cordoba.

Although the hotel owners had even offered to pay for coronavirus tests when travellers left their establishments in Spain to avoid quarantine situations such as that in the UK, cancellations by international tourists have made occupancy levels plummet to figures which have never been seen before. Many hotels dropped their prices to attract more Spanish.

The choice of transport has also changed. The lack of international tourists has badly affected Spanish airports, which in June lost seven million passengers compared with the same month last year. Malaga, the fourth busiest airport in the country, has lost over eight million so far this year even though airlines began flying again in July.