Currently closed, the Hotel Balmoral towers over the troubled stretch of bars in Benalmádena Costa / T. BRYANT

The decline of Benalmádena's golden strip

Tourism crisis. The winter closure of local hotels and the lack of tourists over the festive season has had devasting effects on this former British hotspot

TONY BRYANT

As with holiday destinations and resorts around the rest of the world, the Costa del Sol has recently suffered the worst crisis in tourism history. Although experts predict that the industry will recover this year (as they did last year), if the pandemic and the restrictions enforced to combat it continue for much longer, this recovery will come far too late for some.

In areas that rely on British tourism for revenue, the last two years have been fatal. As towns like Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Marbella begin to see a return to some sort of normality, other areas like Benalmádena Costa seem to be slipping off the tourist map. Although Arroyo de la Miel, the heart of Benalmádena, seems virtually unaffected by almost two years of the pandemic, the future of Benalmádena Costa seems to be hanging on a thread.

Some of the bars and restaurants along Avenida Antonio Machado - the main, coastal road from Plaza Sol y Mar (or 24-Hour Square) to Avenida de las Palmeras (or Palm Tree Avenue) - have been closed since March 2020, and many will never reopen under the same ownership. Those that are open have struggled to keep afloat; there has been a severe lack of tourists returning to the area, especially over the Christmas period, when many owners hoped to recuperate some revenue to make up for an unsettled summer season.

The area once known as the golden stretch - between the 'windmill' and 'sails' roundabouts - has been the worst affected section along this part of Benalmádena's coastline.

While some of the bars and restaurants on this strip have never reopened, others have opened their doors only to be forced to shut them again due to a lack of the regular long-stay visitors, whose anticipated arrival in the area over the festive period never happened.

If one turned the clock back a few years, this strip of bars would be the busiest in town, attracting thousands of British tourists during high season, and hundreds of 'swallows' during the winter.

Former hotspot

Even the arrival of a large burger chain restaurant did not have the feared impact on daytime business. At that time, six of the eight establishments were British-owned, all with standard menus offering a "full English breakfast" and the "best roast on the coast", and there were plenty of customers to fill them all.

Today, only three of these bars are British, yet there was still insufficient trade to keep them afloat over Christmas.

One of the bars was opened in 2001 and is still owned by the same proprietor. A source close to SUR in English explained that, even with 20 years of experience under his belt, the owner closed the bar just after Christmas with no immediate plans to reopen it.

Impact of closed hotels

Cath, the manager of the only bar that is currently open on the strip, blames part of the problem on the hotels shutting for the winter.

Medplaya Hotel Balmoral and Hotel Las Arenas, both located a few metres from the bars, closed at the end of the summer season. This had a devastating impact; the bars in this area rely on customers from these two hotels.

Although Cath is hopeful that things will pick up in the future, she feels that the bars will never again see a time when "people would be queuing to get a table".

"Obviously, the closure of the hotels has had a big effect on this area. I have been working on this strip for more than 20 years, and I have never seen it this quiet. There just weren't enough British tourists here, so most of the bars just closed. It's a shame, because this strip used to be buzzing," Cath said.

As with the Hotel Balmoral, the owners of the bars on this strip have not given any indication of when, or if, they will reopen. Some businesses have been put up for sale, although the chance of attracting a buyer seems unlikely at the moment.

John Hughes, a British tourist staying in Arroyo de la Miel, declared that he had never seen Benalmádena Costa in "such a sad state". John has been visiting the area since 1994 and had returned for the first time since the crisis began.

"It is so terrible to see many of my favourite bars all closed up. I have heard that some owners have gone bust, and I am sure this is true. I think it is a foregone conclusion that the British tourists will eventually return, but I don't think that many bar owners will be able to hold out," John said.

Andy and Sarah Moon were also upset by what they saw.

"We've been coming here for years over the festive season, but this year we had trouble booking a hotel because the one we usually stay at is closed. However, the biggest disappointment is that the place is like a ghost town. Most of the bars are shut, and the ones that are open have nobody in them," Sarah said.