“Once again the pandemic is teaching us that we continue to work with a lot of uncertainty and more in the short term than in the long term.” At the gates of Christmas and in the middle of the sixth wave of infections by COVID-19, the tourism sector and, specifically, hoteliers, shows one of its worst faces given the forecasts for the coming weeks. The rush of omicron and the requirement of the double vaccine schedule for British tourists from the age of 12 so that they can travel to Spain have already been noted in hotel reservations, which for several months had begun to recover their breath from facing a winter market that had been entrusted to continue their road to recovery.
UK on alert for omicron explosion: Boris Johnson warns that it is not a “softer version”
In a year full of ups and downs, mainly in relation to the restrictions applied by the United Kingdom to residents traveling outside its borders – which severely affected Spain until it was finally included in the green of the disappeared British COVID traffic light-, the tourism sector is once again looking with concern beyond the English Channel. Not surprisingly, it is the main tourist source market in Spain, with 21.6% of total visitors in 2019 and a total expenditure of 17,985 million euros, according to data managed by Turespaña.
The prospects are not at all rosy for a part of the sector. While the British tour operator Jet2.com canceled, until after January 10, all its operations with Spain relating to minors between 12 and 15 years of age, the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT) sounded the alarm about the multitude of cancellations – more than 60,000, according to the employer – that are taking place in hotel reservations as a result of the requirement of the complete vaccination schedule for British children between 12 and 16 years of age. Since then – the restriction was announced at the end of November – reserves, according to CEHAT’s calculations, have dropped 60% week by week.
This is a measure that, according to hoteliers, is mainly harming holiday destinations such as the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean coast, favorite places for family tourism in winter. The ‘Fortunate Islands’, in fact, are already noticing the effect that this measure is causing on cancellations, which in the specific case of Tenerife have suffered a decrease of around 40%, according to estimates by the Hotel and Extra-Hotel Association from Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro (Ashotel).
The employers, who even talk that “we are doing the harakiri”, understands that the demand for full vaccination for English children “endangers” numerous reserves of families in view of what they consider to be their “Christmas summer period”.
A circumstance that hits the Canary archipelago at a key moment, its high season, which traditionally starts in autumn and lasts throughout the winter. Tourism entrepreneurs had their sights set on these dates as well as on the return of their main source markets – United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia – to revive the sector, with Fuerteventura and Lanzarote at the fore. The airlines and tour operators had even scheduled a 15% increase in their capacity compared to the 2019 winter season.
Regarding this, the head of Ashotel and CEHAT, Jorge Marichal, present this week at the election ceremony of the new Board of Directors of the Federation of Hotel Employers of Mallorca (FEHM), claimed not to understand “why an Austrian child from A 13-year-old can come to our country with an antigen test and a 13-year-old British person cannot with an antigen test and a dose of the vaccine; if something is clear to me, it is that the virus does not understand borders, nor laws, nor politics, “he remarked.
Along these lines, the president of the Spanish Federation of Tourist Housing and Apartment Associations (Fevitur), Tolo Gomila, comments that establishments are being particularly affected in the Canary Islands and the Costa Blanca. “It is still another stone on the road. What COVID has brought is that there is no longer any anticipation of reservations, everything is more immediate.” The entity, which is associated with some 186,000 homes for tourist use, apartments, rural houses and single-family villas, also underlines that the “protagonist” this year has been the Spanish customer, “who has traveled and paid well and He has shown great solidarity with the sector. ”
Airlines have also been affected by the measure and point out that, given the current situation, the British are acting in two ways: either by canceling their tickets or postponing their trips to upcoming dates such as Easter. “Demanding the guideline among children under 12 and 16 years old, who are now beginning to be vaccinated, is motivating that families that had planned to travel to Spain cannot come if they have a child in that age group”, which is mainly having repercussions on flights with the Canary Islands, as indicated to elDiario.es by sources from the Spanish Airlines Association (ALA).
Fortunately, they highlight, the flexibility policy that airlines -ALA brings together 85% of Spanish air traffic- have been deploying as a result of the pandemic allows “to respond to this type of circumstance.” Even so, they consider it necessary to harmonize the health requirements that are required to be able to fly and establish common criteria since, “in the end, this disparity is discouraging travel.”
Balearic Islands, less affected than the Canary Islands
In the Balearic Islands, where the British market is, behind Germany, the second in number of visitors -with 3.75 million tourists in 2019-, the prospects are completely different from those of the Canary Islands. “The news is not good and cancellations are obviously taking place, but since this happens, this is the best moment because we have time to recover until March and think about the summer,” underlines the president of the Association of Small Hotels of Mallorca , which include some 280 establishments where they accommodate family, inland and beach tourism.
Cautious, Ordinas appeals to wait for Christmas to see how travelers respond. “The Canary Islands are likely to be much more affected than us by their high season; we may not notice as much influence in cancellations. The new sales policy allows a fairly wide flexibility and there will be many people who wait until the last minute to cancel.”
In Palma, the influx of tourism is palpable when walking through its streets. However, reservations for these dates have stopped in recent days. “We came with a good rate of reservations but about two weeks ago there was a dry stop. The establishments are reporting a freeze on the part of the international markets and there are no new reservations, unlike in other hotels where the market predominates. national. It is totally stopped “, explains the president of the Hotel Association of Palma and Cala Major, Javier Vich.
The hoteliers of the Balearic capital stress, however, that in the face of the days before and after the New Year they are not registering massive cancellations as in previous waves of COVID-19. At the moment, in fact, 90% of the 72 associated establishments are open. Regarding the double vaccination required of British children, Vich points out that in Palma “it affects us less because we are not a properly family destination in winter”.
“The campaign of large reservations in the British market begins with more incidence in January and that is when we will be able to see if it may be affected,” says the vice president of the Mallorca Hotel Business Federation (FEHM), who adds that, although, it is “a chimera” to throw forecasts, “with the current trend we could close the year with 35% occupancy, which would imply a fall of between 5 and 8% compared to December 2019. Next week will be crucial for Christmas” .
The omicron attacks also keep hoteliers in suspense. From RIU they consider that the forecasts for this winter “are good”, although they acknowledge that the prospects were even better before the arrival of the new variant, which caused “a brutal halt in new reservations and numerous cancellations”.
“The anticipation of reservations had improved. European markets generally do not behave like the Spanish, which is very last minute and very seasonal, with very marked reservations at Easter, July and August, while the rest of the year is very slow and residual. On the other hand, Germans and English tend to book well in advance, because they know what they want and do not want to be without it, “explain sources from the hotel chain chaired by Carmen and Luis Riu. The company regrets that the new measures adopted, the rise in the incidence of infections and the fear generated by the appearance of omicron “brings us back to a scenario with less possibility of forecasting”, although it highlights that the forecasts for Christmas in hotels that remain open are above 80% occupancy.
Cancellation of the face-to-face activity of ITB Berlin 2022
The fear that grips the sector with the appearance of omicron was seen this Thursday, in addition, increased with a new setback: the cancellation of the face-to-face activity of the ITB Berlin 2022 as a result of the increase in infections in the international context. A fair that, in the case of the Balearic Islands, is of great importance given that Germany is the main tourist market for the archipelago, with more than 4.5 million visitors from the German country in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
“It is unflattering news,” says Ordinas, who stresses that this international event “has always been the starting gun to see how sales would go ahead of the summer season. Turning it into something virtual could influence this.”
From RIU, however, they remain hopeful: “As long as the issuing countries do not impose mobility restrictions and are measures such as carrying the COVID passport, the double guideline or presenting the PCR or the antigen test, travelers are already used to it. If there were a large number of cancellations, the borders would have to be closed or a country would have to prohibit its residents from traveling that does not have a work motivation or need. The vast majority, people continue to travel. ”