UK quarantine means bummer summer for Spain

When Spain locked down to slow the coronavirus in March, about 25,000 British tourists were enjoying the beaches and bars of the Costa Blanca resort of Benidorm. Local officials quickly ordered hotels to shut their doors, and as the visitors packed their bags and flocked to the airport, the town’s tourism industry—its lifeblood—went into hibernation along with the rest of the country.
After the slowest start to the summer season in memory, things started to pick up modestly in June. With Spaniards and some foreigners dipping their toes in Benidorm’s waters, hotel and restaurant owners dared to think the summer might not be a complete write-off after all and began to imagine the return of some of those Brits.
Those hopes were dashed on July 25, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from Spain—leaving Benidorm and hundreds of other towns up and down the Spanish coast feeling the whiplash of this stop-start-stop summer.
“It’s about the worst thing that could have happened,” said Javier del Castillo, owner of La Cava Aragonesa, a tapas bar along one of the narrow streets of the city’s historic core. Where normally he’d have customers—mostly Brits—lined up two-deep ordering albondigas, jamon iberico, and tortilla espanola washed down with glasses of rioja, the bar is almost empty.
The recent uptick in coronavirus cases in Spain, which motivated Johnson’s order, started in Aragon and Catalonia—more than 100 miles from Benidorm. While infections have started to increase across Spain, Benidorm authorities say the city has seen just 19 cases in the past two weeks.
The quarantine order “doesn’t reflect reality because there are a lot of places in England where there are more people infected than in some Spanish regions,” said Del Castillo, who is also head of a local food service association. He expects as many as half of Benidorm’s 1,200 bars and restaurants won’t survive the year.
That’s a big problem for Spain, where tourism accounts for 12% of output and which gets about 18 million visitors a year from Britain. The Spanish economy contracted by 18.5% in the second quarter, and tourism was among the hardest-hit sectors.
What’s bad for Spain is particularly bad for Benidorm, said to be the place where package tours were invented. Some 4 million visitors a year, about 40% of them British, cram into the modernist skyscrapers that line its beaches, laid out so that many rooms have a view of the water.
The town of 70,000 has scores of cafes catering to British visitors, serving copious helpings of lager, fish and chips, and bangers and mash, with English Premier League soccer and Sky News on big screen TVs. Nightlife unspools in countless sweaty bars where young people from across Europe drink, flirt, and dance to B-list DJs.
Tourism officials are hoping the U.K. will soon ease the blanket quarantine and allow unrestricted travel from Spanish destinations with a low incidence of coronavirus. They say Johnson will face pressure from British tour operators and airlines that have also been hammered by the order. “The sooner they lift the quarantine order, the less of a disaster it will be,” said Nuria Montes, secretary general of Hosbec, a hotel and tourism association. “But we’re not going to recoup anything. What’s gone is gone.”

Categories World