“If in 2020 we were the preferred destination, this year we have been even more so.” This is how the Asturian Vice Minister of Tourism, Graciela Blanco, sums up elDiario.es. The Principality faced this summer with some uncertainty due to the expansion of the fifth wave in Spain and with the need to know if the success achieved in the same period of 2020 had been a mirage or a trend to stay.
Asturias, the community where the fourth wave never reached
In July and August 2020, Asturian accommodations received 697,526 visitors and registered 2,246,226 stays, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Overflowing urban beaches, long lines at its viewpoints and herds of people descending the Sella by canoe. The “Asturian tourist boom” was a bottle of oxygen for hoteliers and a concern for a health sector that had contained the second wave like no other region in Spain. Proof of this were the twenty-five days in a row without registering infections in the month of July and an incidence rate of about 50, well below the national average.
The result? Asturias became a “space of exception given the high rates of COVID”, in the words of epidemiologist Daniel López-Acuña. “This made the region have many visitors and positioned itself as a safe destination,” concludes the former director of Health Assistance in Crisis of the WHO, based in the Principality. The “call effect” of the regional government was heard by a national tourist who saw an anti-COVID shelter in Asturias, also conditioned by the difficulties in traveling abroad.
Unspoiled nature, open spaces where it seemed impossible for there to be crowds, gastronomy and competitive prices, in addition to an offer in rural tourism that had already taken off in 2019 but would be consolidated the following year. “The dispersion that exists between the accommodations in Asturias allows us to create those bubble spaces that people look for to have more security,” says Juan Carlos Menéndez, from the active tourism company Kaly Aventura, based in the Navia Valley. “The ‘call’ phenomenon, based on what happened last year, has been transferred to this year,” adds López-Acuña.
In the absence of three weeks to conclude the summer period, hoteliers, rural houses, restaurants, employers and even health authorities coincide. “We are facing another great summer.” We review the keys.
The region that best comes out of the fifth wave
“If Asturias is where it is, it is because of its determination to go ahead with the restrictive measures that, in fact, have been extended for 15 more days,” considers epidemiologist Daniel López-Acuña. The Principality is the region that emerges with the greatest force from the fifth wave of the coronavirus. “It has half the incidence of the country as a whole (305), in addition to the lowest positivity rate (6.14%, compared to 10.6% of the national average) in diagnostic tests and the lowest ICU occupancy with COVID-19 patients (7.38%). The average for the Spanish group is 20%, “says Acuña.
The Ministry of Health confirmed on Thursday 52 new cases of coronavirus detected the previous day, a day in which there were twelve admissions to the plant and none to the ICU. In addition, there were five hospital discharges in one more day without deaths from coronavirus. There are currently 56 hospitalized patients in the ward with confirmed or suspected COVID and another 21 people remain in intensive care units. The total occupancy due to COVID in Asturian hospitals is 2.34% and the cumulative incidence at 14 days stands at 86 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest in Spain.
While the fifth wave loses strength, the high rate of vaccination does not stop. On August 12, the community was the first to immunize 70% of its population. “In Asturias, 100% of what arrives before the end of the week is being put in,” commented Pablo Fernández Muñiz, Minister of Health of the Principality. “It is being vaccinated at a great rate and the objectives that are not being achieved elsewhere are being met,” concludes the Asturias health officer.
“The restrictive measures, especially in nightlife and social interactions, have benefited not only the Asturian population, but have encouraged the influx of tourists and prevented their presence from unleashing the incidence,” López-Acuña analyzes. The echo of the phenomenon of last summer’s call has been transferred to this.
“Very good summer”
While waiting for what September brings, the Principality’s Tourism Department confirms what everyone predicted. “It is being a very good summer for the sector in Asturias,” says Graciela Blanco. “We are at levels prior to the pandemic, similar to those of 2019,” says the Principality’s Deputy Minister of Tourism, referring to the hotel occupancy data from the INE’s Hotel Accommodation Survey, referring to the month of July.
“With 3.7% fewer tourists in hotels and just a 1% drop in stays, Asturias was the community that has made the most progress in July to recover the previous tourist levels”, adds Blanco, who establishes a comparison with the rest of communities. “The Region of Murcia presented a decrease of 10.3% and Galicia of 10.7% in tourists. Aragon and Cantabria, in terms of hotel stays, registered decreases of 9.8% and 12.6% respectively,” continues the Tourism spokesperson.
Regarding the occupancy rate by hotel beds for the month of July, the Principality is in fourth position with 59.1%, surpassed by the Balearic Islands (61.7%), Cantabria (61.5%) and the Valencian Community (60.6%). The Asturian municipality of Ribadesella is the one with the highest occupancy rate by places (87.9%) in all of Spain.
However, the data on overnight stays of tourists resident in Spain lead Andalusia, Catalonia and the Valencian Community, which present annual rates of variation in overnight stays of 101.0%, 101.9% and 132.7% , respectively, according to data collected by the INE.
The profile of the tourist who comes to the Principality is the same as that of the previous summer. “Spanish demand has been our great supporter, even more than in 2020 and 2019, with increases of 21% over 2020 and 7.7% over 2019, a record year in tourism data,” explains Blanco.
Both the hotel management association OTEA and the Principality expect that the occupancy figures for August will be above those of 2020. In this way, “not only the recovery, but the consolidation of Asturias as a destination for nature, gastronomy and well-being is confirmed” , concludes the Vice Minister of Tourism. Its spearhead: rural tourism.
According to a survey by the Casasrurales.net portal, tourist accommodation in the Principality registered a level of reservations for August of 98.5% of the beds, the second highest after Cantabria. From escapadarural.com match. “Asturias is undoubtedly consolidated as one of the rural destinations par excellence”, comments Olivia Fontela, Marketing Director of the reservations website. According to the survey on “Rural tourism consumption intention – Summer 2021”, published at the beginning of summer by the portal, Asturias, with 71%, would also be in second place in terms of occupancy after Navarra (72%) and for ahead of Galicia (68%). “Everything indicates that Asturias will be one of the regions that exceeds its occupation compared to the same period of 2020, which was 60%”, concludes Fontela.
“Last year was a ‘boom’, we noticed much more demand than before the pandemic,” says Luis Gabriel Suárez, owner of La Torre rural houses and member of the Asturias Rural Tourism Cluster. “As in 2019, there came a time when we could not supply the demand. This year the same thing is happening, that is why a large number of rural accommodations have been enabled in the Principality,” he concludes. “COVID made many people discover rural tourism.”
Oviedo vs Gijón
But not everything in the Principality is fields, granaries and manor houses. The two great cities of Asturias are starring this summer in an unusual duel for the urban throne in the region, normally occupied by Gijón.
In this city, the occupancy rate registered in July stood at 62.6%, according to INE data that show that, in Gijón, the average price of a hotel room was 80.8 euros, the highest in its story for this month of the year. Something that shows the pull of the city in this season of the year. “The demand for active tourism increased a lot,” they say from the municipal government. “Everything indicates that August will be equal to or greater than the same month of 2019, just before the pandemic,” they conclude.
For its part, Oviedo was positioned in July as the main urban destination in Asturias. A total of 47,929 tourists who spent 99,391 hotel nights in Oviedo territory, with an increase of 5% compared to the same period in the summer of 2019. Gijón, on the other hand, closed the month with 37,145 visits and 92,282 overnight stays, a fall of 19% in relation to 2019. From the capital of Asturias they highlight that the promotion of Oviedo as the origin of the Camino de Santiago in the Jacobean year has been key.
From the field of restoration, it has been “a good, but strange summer”, as Juan Carlos Martínez, Marketing Director of Tierra Artur cider houses, explains. Given the difficulty of predicting the influx of people and the restrictions on the hotel and leisure industry, the sector seems to be reaching levels similar to the previous year. “The reception continues to be very good among the people,” he says. The objective remains the same as a year ago: “To continue recovering as far as possible our activity and that space that the virus took away from us.”