Spain: Expert explains ‘repercussions’ for British expats
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The coronavirus pandemic had a toll on Spain, particularly so on regions such as the Costa del Sol or the Costa Blanca, where businesses are highly reliant on international tourism. But with foreign visitors flocking back to their favourite Mediterranean destination, the prospect for the travel industry is one of recovery.
The Spanish Government announced more than five million international passengers reached the country during August 2021 – an increase of 172 percent compared to the same month in 2020.
The UK was the leading market. Three times as many British tourists travelled to Spain than in the same period last year.
For travel writer and host of the Big Travel Pod podcast Lisa Francesca Nand, the numbers are no surprise. She tells Express.co.uk: “Spain has always been our most popular holiday destination, ever since the 1970s when commercial travel really opened up.”
Growth continued in September, which Reyes Maroto, Spain’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism described as a confirmation that “a reactivation of international tourism is underway”.
She said: “In 2022 we could recover pre-pandemic levels.”
This recovery, Ms Nand points out, is to a large extent dependant on Britons: “Since the loosening of restrictions, I know that they really, really want to get British tourists back.
“They need to get British tourists back.
“We’re their biggest market.
“They want to do everything they can to re-attract this.
“There’s a lot of Spanish and expat businesses that are really struggling without British tourists.”
Spain’s larger cities such as Barcelona, Madrid or Valencia, she explains, had it easier as they have a population that lives there permanently. Coastal towns, meanwhile, cash in mostly from visitors.
Ms Nand says: “It’s the beach places, our traditional favourite places, that have been struggling.”
And while the beaches were crammed with sunbathers last summer, they were Spanish sunbathers, who are not the kind that brings in money.
She continues: “The beach bars — the chiringuitos — were packed with Spaniards.
“You could see that everyone was Spanish-looking. It was very unusual.
“It was wonderful, but Spanish people on holiday stereotypically don’t spend as much as British people on holiday.
“British people will be going out and eat in the bars and restaurants and stay in the hotels, whereas Spanish people will often have a family apartment to stay in.
“They take a lot of food to eat and drink down at the beach; they have their cars rather than hiring cars, and they don’t use the same facilities as the British people do.”
Speaking about shut hotels, empty car-rental shops and unemployed drivers, cleaners and servers, the travel expert adds: “It’s been very hard for Spain to cope without British tourists.
“I’m thinking they’re really hoping to get back the business that they’ve lost and trying to recruit some of the lost income.”
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Benidorm, a city on the Costa Blanca much loved by UK travellers, has seen a steady rise in British tourism since Westminster dropped pre-flight COVID-19 testing for the vaccinated in early October.
Spain’s Association of Airlines (ALA), meanwhile, confirmed around 1.9 percent more flights — domestic and international — are already scheduled for the November-March period compared to the same months in 2018-2019.
The increase in air traffic is certainly a good sign; the question, however, is whether the regions in most need of it will receive their fair share of holidaymakers in the winter season.
When asked about this, Ms Nand says: “The Spanish usually go on holiday in August, but the British will travel all year round.
“It is a popular destination for people to go during the off-peak period.
“People have those long-established links going to Spain.
“You’ve got the retired couples who have places there that they haven’t been able to stay at, or people who have grandchildren or grandparents who they haven’t been able to visit.
“It is a destination that is very much ingrained in our hearts and in our lifestyles.
“There will be a lot of people who will want to visit in the winter period to get some beautiful winter Spanish sun, which is cold for most Spaniards but feels warm and very attractive to Britons.”
British holidaymakers’ affinity with Spain, Ms Nand claims, was initially only about “the sea, the sun, the sand and the sangria”.
Later on, though, Britons’ interests expanded beyond the “typical package holidays”, with travellers valuing the country’s cultural offering. This, she stresses, is a key element to UK tourists’ eagerness to hop on a plane even when temperatures are far from beach-friendly.
Ms Maroto dubbed Spain’s high level of vaccination — around 80 percent of the population — as a driving force behind its level of attraction and, consequently, speed of recovery.
Further, unlike Italy and France, Spain does not require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants or bars.
For the vaccinated, this removes a layer of effort while on holiday. For the unvaccinated, it allows a stress-free trip without the need to take tests every few days. And as for Spain’s businesses, it puts them ahead of their biggest European industry competitors.
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