Hotel reception.

Hotel reception.

26-11-2017

The Spanish government's de-escalation plan has not been greeted rapturously by the tourism industry. The Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence says that it has the "laudable objective" of turning on lights in alleviating social discomfort, but it hasn't been thought through when it comes to tourism. Under the plan, hotels can reopen on a restricted basis from 11 May (although this may yet vary region by region), but for Exceltur the real issues lie with travel restrictions, airports being closed, and no uniform criteria at EU level on cross-border mobility and the levels of health security that will be required.

Exceltur has repeatedly criticised what it sees as an absence of genuine and strategic support for tourism from the government, and it isn't alone. The Cehat national confederation of hotel associations has also been critical, and - being as diplomatic as possible - it has described the de-escalation as "disappointing". Among other measures that Cehat is looking for, and this applies more broadly and not just to the hotel industry, is some guarantee regarding ERTEs. These need to be extended due to force majeure, otherwise businesses may have to go to ERE, which is redundancy, and may be forced into bankruptcy.

There may be salvation in this regard, the Balearic government working with Madrid on an ERTE that is specific to the tourism sector and which would permit the gradual reintroduction of employees as activity recovers and would also retain certain advantages of force majeure ERTE, such as not having to pay social security contributions.

At a practical level, the de-escalation plan, with its reduced hotel activity from 11 May, is not - as the Hosbec hoteliers in Benidorm have pointed out - "compatible with tourism activity". In other words, it's very difficult to apply rules of limited capacity in communal areas.

Returning to Exceltur, it believes the plan creates "more confusion and difficulties than the current situation", with tourism only able to reopen with gradual internal demand and not before the end of June. And this would almost certainly be the case. Prime Minister Sánchez has signalled a hope that a "minimum transition" will take six weeks, but it will surely take the whole of the eight weeks (the maximum), and that would mean end-June. Before end-June, there won't be flights (national ones) or movements between regions.

It's hard to see how the plan can work for hotels. If some do open in Majorca this month, where is the custom going to come from? It can only be from people living on the island.

Will Germans be travelling or not?

Former Balearic president José Ramón Bauzá has been devoting most of his state of alarm energies to producing snippets of hygiene advice rather than worrying about politics. However, pharmacist Bauzá put his politician hat on earlier this week in having a go at the German government and at the tourism commissioner specifically. The post that Thomas Bareiss occupies is akin to secretary of state, and what he had to say was that it was "improbable" that Germans will be travelling to traditional holiday destinations such as Spain, Greece and Turkey this summer. Herr Bareiss was not telling German citizens to stay at home for their holidays. He was merely pointing out that travel abroad is somewhat complicated.

This all seemed to be misinterpreted, with MEP Bauzá to the fore, demanding a retraction and apology, accusing Bareiss of indulging in "populism", a reference to the fact that the crisis has provoked some negative comment to be directed at southern European states by politicians from northern European states - the Netherlands anyway.

The comments made by Herr Bareiss were not so different to ones that the British ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliott, had made some days before, and yet the ambassador didn't create waves like the German secretary of state. Majorca's biggest tourism market may be Germany, but Spain's is the UK. Both markets are of vital importance, and Germany, despite the remarks by Bareiss, may be in a better position to supply tourism than the UK, which is why the Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, has been particularly keen to keep communications with Tui open.

An agreement that the Balearics will be Tui's first destination in Spain once operations restart was some positive news, but this agreement is only as good as government intentions regarding travel and indeed holidaymakers' willingness to travel. In light of what Bareiss had said, it was perhaps rather odd that this agreement was being given prominence only a few days later. Tui's senior directors, so we have been told, are in "constant" contact with the German government, and this may well include Herr Bareiss. Or was it the case that Tui were sending their own message to the German government?

To add a twist to all this, we had the European Commission's vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, indicating that recommendations to be published in mid-May will include the reopening of internal borders in order to help relaunch tourism. Travel restrictions, she said, "should be lifted as soon as possible, avoiding any discrimination on the basis of nationality".

The Sicily incentive

Sicily attracts something in the region of 4.5 million tourists a year. This is around 37% of the number of tourists who come to Majorca. The regional government on the island is providing the latest example of Italian thinking for reactivating tourism. There is already, for example, the idea for a "holiday bonus" - a payment to Italians to take holidays in Italy. Now comes Sicily, where 50 million euros have been allocated to finance a scheme whereby half the price of tourists' airline tickets and a third of hotel bills would be paid. These incentives will be in the form of vouchers through the Visit Sicily website. It's not clear when this will be, as it will depend on when borders reopen.

It is a bold initiative, but I'm wondering if it will be permitted. Does this not go against EU competition law? Maybe not, if a subsidy goes direct to the consumer and not to an airline.

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