Southern Europe opens its doors to tourists. Not many are coming.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Southern Europe opens its doors to tourists. Not many are coming.
People sit outside their motorhome at a campsite in Peniscola near Castellon on July 8, 2020. JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP.

by Raphael Minder

ADEJE (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Music blared from a beachfront cafe along the normally bustling southwestern coast of Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. But several tables sat empty, a month after a COVID-19 lockdown had ended, and the doors to many resorts remained shut.

Although tourism is returning to southern Europe — stretching from Portugal to Greece — its restart has been sluggish amid new outbreaks in some countries. Bookings are down 80% in Italy despite government incentives. Ferries to the Greek islands are carrying well under half the load they once did.

While Europeans are starting to travel more within their own countries, far fewer are venturing beyond their borders, particularly the holidaymakers from Britain, Germany and other northern countries who typically journey south each year, spending billions of euros.

And visitors from outside the continent are few and far between: Just 13 countries are on the list of those considered safe by the European Union, a list that so far excludes the United States.

The drag is felt acutely in tourist destinations dependent on air travel, like the Canary Islands, hundreds of miles from mainland Spain. Airlines carried 15 million visitors to the archipelago last year, but the flight capacity this month is just 30% of what it was a year ago.

As a result, property owners in the Canary Islands have opened only about 20% of the tourism beds in the archipelago, according to Jorge Marichal, a Tenerife hotelier who is president of Cehat, the Spanish hotel confederation.

“We are doing our best to highlight the fact that we now have almost no virus problem — but of course we cannot transport the tourists here ourselves,” Marichal said.

Italy has tried to promote national tourism by issuing a holiday bonus, a 150-euro voucher per Italian for lodging, up to 500 euros per family. Dario Franceschini, the minister of culture and tourism, told Parliament this month that about 400,000 vouchers had been issued, worth 183 million euros in total.

The Italian news media painted a less enthusiastic picture. The newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that only a small fraction of Italian hotels accept the vouchers.

Greece, though suffering less from the pandemic than either Italy or Spain, has still seen scant evidence of a rebound in tourism. In the first 12 days of July, passenger traffic at the Athens airport was down 75% from a year ago and 84% at the country’s 14 regional airports.

Although all of the countries of southern Europe have emerged from lockdown, new outbreaks there and quarantine orders elsewhere have added hurdles. This month, Britain said that people coming from Portugal, among other countries, would be forced to quarantine on arrival, a move that essentially choked off British tourism there.

And Britons have traditionally been the top visitors to the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal. Britain’s move drew fire from Augusto Santos Silva, Portugal’s foreign minister, who called it “absurd.” Still, Portugal has faced a strong uptick in coronavirus cases, including in municipalities surrounding its capital, Lisbon.

Outbreaks have also occurred around major tourism hubs like Barcelona, Spain, where about 3 million residents were told Friday to stay indoors to help contain the coronavirus.

Carlos García Pastor, marketing director of Logitravel Group, a Spanish travel operator that had revenue of about 800 million euros last year, said that his company expected earnings to drop at least 50% this year.

The final result, he said, “will really depend on how many new outbreaks there are.”

This month, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were placed back under temporary lockdown by regional authorities in Catalonia and Galicia after new outbreaks. García Pastor said some clients canceled their bookings as soon as they heard about the new restrictions.

“Tourism is extremely reactive, for better or worse,” he said.

In the Canary Islands, home to more than 2 million full-time residents, officials have trumpeted their strict safety measures and their low coronavirus caseload, less than 1% of the nation’s total. The archipelago’s hotels require guests to wear a face mask in the lobby and other indoor areas, and they limit the number of people who can lounge around their swimming pools.

The protocols drew praise from Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, an agency of the United Nations, after his visit to tourism destinations in Italy and Spain this month.

That portrait of safety contrasts sharply with the picture that emerged from the Canary Islands in late January, when the archipelago recorded Spain’s first coronavirus case, a German tourist who tested positive on the island of La Gomera.

Weeks later, one of the large establishments on Tenerife, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, became the first European resort to lock down after the virus was detected among Italian guests.

But as the virus rampaged across mainland Spain, the islands quickly brought their own outbreaks under control. The archipelago has reported 162 deaths, according to the latest official Spanish data, out of 28,420 victims nationwide.

Travel within the Canary archipelago has continued, perhaps even encouraged a bit by the travel hurdles. Smaller islands like El Hierro that do not have an international airport have reported an influx of Canarians this summer.

But across the islands the doors remain shut to many of the large resorts normally filled by international package tours. At the recently reopened Adeje Palace, some guests said they had been relocated there at the last minute by their travel agents because the hotels they had booked were still closed.

“A week before leaving Germany, I wasn’t sure that this vacation could actually go ahead, but I had reached the point where I desperately needed time away from my hospital work and no longer really cared about which hotel I would stay in,” said Svetlana Arsenijevic, an anesthetist from the German city of Halle.

A Swiss tourist, Anaïs Zufferey, said that she and her sister not only had to switch hotels at the last minute, they also had to set off from Zurich a day later than planned because their initial flight was canceled.

“It’s a holiday that has required us to be very flexible,” Zufferey said.

But their journey from Tenerife’s airport to their hotel was more than comfortable; they were the only passengers on a 50-seat shuttle bus.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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