Spain’s tourism sector is struggling to remain afloat in the middle of a pandemic that has the city’s occupancy rate dropping to 15%.
Madrid made headlines this week after announcing the opening of its first grand hotel in nearly 50 years. The hotel itself is a luxury Four Seasons establishment that took nearly a decade to complete. It has a “presidential suite for VIPs and their bodyguards, there is a spa, a handy branch of Hermès, and a restaurant by the three Michelin-starred chef Dani García, whose rooftop terrace appears to float high above the busy streets of the city center,” according to their website.
The hotel itself is made up of several historic buildings that have been converted into one connected space. The only thing that the hotel doesn’t have is a long guest list due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Four Seasons legally could only make 50 of the 200 rooms in the hotel available when they officially opened up at the end of September.
Carlos Lamela is the architect who’s firm spent nearly 10 years converting the seven historic bank buildings into a hotel space, luxury shopping center and even some private residences. He viewed the entire project like solving a Rubix Cube, however, the past year has made the future of tourism in Spain unclear.
“In 2019 Spain had 84 million tourists, this year, it’s about 20 million. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year. It’s a question of just holding on.”
According to the Hotel Business Association of Madrid, the occupancy rate throughout Madrid is about 15% currently. The hotels that have begun reopening after the national lockdown are only running with 20% of their full staff for safety reasons, while the rest are on furlough. A spokesperson for the association recently spoke with the media about how the semi-re-openings of Spain’s tourism sector isn’t that encouraging for the future of the industry.
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty in the sector globally when it comes to international mobility and capacity. Even though the government has extended the temporary furlough scheme until January 31st, there’s no doubt that the hotel and tourist sector will continue to bear the brunt of this economic crisis.”
Spain’s tourism sector makes up 12% of it’s total GDP. Jorge Marichal is the head of the Spanish hotel owners association and also spoke with the press about how “bleak” the situation is for the industry and explained that the government needs to be doing more to support them. Bars and restaurants have been able to reopen, despite a partial lockdown still being enforced, as a means of recovering the economy as well. However, the government in Spain is adamant on blaming the businesses themselves for Covid outbreaks despite their approval of their re-openings, according to the spokesperson.
“The government should have the guts to admit that hotels and restaurants are not the focus of Covid outbreaks. But it’s easier for them to blame us, even though we have taken all the necessary public health measures.”
Hospitality workers have also spoken out against the government’s furlough program and how difficult it was to actually receive payments. In order to receive funding from the government businesses need to commit to employing staff for six months after they reopen (whenever that may be), regardless of how well the business is doing at that point. Basically, businesses had to agree to keep on all of their employees in a post-lockdown context regardless of how much money they may or may not have.
“If we take the second tranche of furlough money for a further six months and sack someone before the six months are up we have to repay all the 12 months’ furlough money for all our staff, which seems a little disproportionate,” said Juan Carlos Arriaga, marketing director of the Sagardi chain of Basque restaurants in Spain.
Many businesses can’t afford to keep on their entire staff for obvious pandemic-related reasons, but they also aren’t allowed to fire them if they’re receiving furlough funding from the government; it’s an economic double-edged sword.
According to a poll taken by the Catalan Daily, out of 80,000 readers only a third of them claimed to support the closures of bars and restaurants and other hospitality facilities as a means of decreasing the spread of Covid-19. For now, the industry will have to continue to roll with the punches and take it day-by-day, like the rest of the world.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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