President of the provincial government Francisco Salado (left) speaks at the forum moderated by SUR Editor-in-Chief Manuel Castillo.
President of the provincial government Francisco Salado (left) speaks at the forum moderated by SUR Editor-in-Chief Manuel Castillo. / SALVADOR SALAS

The Costa del Sol tourism industry looks forward to its recovery

  • At an event in Malaga designed to replace the annual SUR World Travel Market dinner in London, professionals and authorities concluded that the area would continue to attract international tourists and that safe travel corridors and screening are vital

Tourism may be the industry that has suffered most from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but it is also set to be the key sector in the recovery of the Spanish economy and the creation of employment.

In Malaga province and on the Costa del Sol more than 117,000 families and 16,000 businesses depend on the tourism industry which represents 15% of the local GDP.

Their survival in the industry that will lever Spain into positive figures, however, needs some input from the authorities: The creation of safe travel corridors for tourism coming by sea or air; extending the government’s ERTE furloughing scheme until 30 June 2021 at least; reducing IVA (value added tax) on the industry to 7% as other European countries have done; extending the grace period on repayment of loans granted by the ICO credit institute; reducing airport taxes for airlines; and launching promotion campaigns for the Costa del Sol, were some of the demands relayed by industry representatives at Wednesday’s Tourism and Covid forum organised by SUR and sponsored by Unicaja Banco.

The event, held in Malaga, was designed to replace the traditional dinner SUR and SUR in English host every year in London to mark the World Travel Market, the industry’s major trade fair which this year has gone entirely virtual.

“We’ve organised the forum to keep up momentum and raise the voice of tourism as we want to contribute with debate and context,” said SUR Editor-in-Chief, Manuel Castillo, who moderated the event.

Speaking at the forum were the Spanish Minister for Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, who attended via video conference; as did the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno; Executive Director of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Manuel Butler; and Director General of Turespaña, MiguelSanz.

Present at the event, held at the Hotel Miramar in Malaga, was the president of the Diputación (provincial government) and the Costa del Sol tourism authority, Francisco Salado, as well as Mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre, and professionals from the industry.

Safe travel corridor

Cabinet minister Reyes Maroto announced that the government was working on a safe travel corridor for Andalucía which is due to be approved shortly, Covid-19 incidence figures permitting.

The measure, already in place in the Canary and Balearic islands, would connect the Costa del Sol with the most important countries of origin of its international visitors, such as the UK and Germany, which currently have restrictions on movement and quarantine measures in place.

Maroto explained that the safe corridors would include Covid-19 screening both at travellers’ points of origin and destination. The regional government had previously offered to pay for rapid tests on arrival and departure, an offer regional president Juanma Moreno reiterated in Malaga on Wednesday.

“As soon as we flatten the curve of infection, the tourists will come back,” said Maroto.

Pedro Luis Gómez, Ramón de Izequilla, Tim Hemmings, Juan Molas, Margarita del Cid and MiguelSanz by video link.

Pedro Luis Gómez, Ramón de Izequilla, Tim Hemmings, Juan Molas, Margarita del Cid and MiguelSanz by video link. / Salvador Salas

The minister also confirmed that the government planned to extend the grace period for loan repayments and extend the ERTE scheme “for as long as necessary”.

18 million tourists lost

The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, stressed that the current situation is complicated for the industry, stating that a third of all the companies applying to join the staff furloughing scheme in the region were related to tourism. The pandemic could cause losses worth 14 billion euros inAndalucía, he said, with visitor numbers falling by 18 million.

The region is doing what it can to help maintain and lift the industry, the president explained, pointing out that this week’s draft regional budget for 2021 earmarks 100 million euros for tourism, 17 million more than this year.

The provincial government president, Francisco Salado, who is also the head of Turismo Costa del Sol, called for central government to drop IVA to 7% for tourism products.

As well as revealing new “green” tourism projects, he expressed the need to promote residential tourism, stressing the advantage of remote working from somewhere as attractive as the Costa del Sol.

The need to reduce value added tax for the tourism industry was also brought up at a round table discussion focusing on Covid and international tourism. After the worst summer in history, the industry in Spain as a whole is expected to reach the end of the year chalking up losses of 135 billion euros.

Brits will be back

The UK’s decision to impose a two-week quarantine on travellers from Spain came as a major blow in July, just as the industry was hoping to salvage something from the summer.

The Brits will be back, though, was the message delivered by Deputy British Ambassador to Spain Tim Hemmings, who took part in the debate moderated by the SUR Director of Publications, Pedro Luis Gómez.

For Hemmings there is no question about whether British tourists will return as Spanish holidays “form part of our normality”. The question is “when and how”, he added.

There is a great demand for travel among the British, he said, although they want to leave their country “safely, without fear and as soon as possible”.

The president of the Mesa del Turismo, a national association for tourism businesses, Juan Molas, called for more precise action from central government as “tourism is a matter of State”.

“This has been like a novel in instalments,” he said, describing the events of this year, and announced that a major event was being planned for Malaga in March or April - depending on the King’s agenda - to analyse the situation and boost the Spain brand.

The president of Turespaña, the Spanish government’s tourism company, Miguel Sanz, encouraged the industry to “fight for every visitor” as each percentage point “represents jobs”.

Mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre.

Mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre. / S. Salas

He predicted that the flow of international visitors would not resume until there is an effective vaccine for Covid-19 and that tourist numbers would not start to pick up until the second half of 2021.

“Until then it’s unlikely that visitors will return, but we can work to stabilise the situation,” he said.

The creation of safe travel corridors with countries of origin and Covid-19 screening before each journey were among the ways in which that stability can be achieved, according to Sanz.

“It’s a method that is as effective as quarantine, but does not cause financial losses,” he added.

CEO of Turismo Costa del Sol Margarita del Cid said that while the current figures were “devastating”, she was confident that economic activity and the flow of travellers “will reactivate as soon as there are health guarantees”.

The forecasts offered by the participants in the round table discussion were repeated by the executive director of UNWTO, Manuel Butler. Although he predicted that the recovery of the sector would not be seen until the second half of next year, he sent out a message of optimism, saying the Spain would still be a world leader in the industry.

“People clearly still want to travel and that won’t change,” he said, adding that the industry must not wait for a vaccine before trying to restore normality. “Safe corridors can play a very important role,” he said.

In agreement with this was Mayor of Malaga Francisco de la Torre, who defended the use of mass testing to create a “safe tourist zone”.