Social distancing on beaches. How can it be controlled? | miquel a. cañellas


The forecasts for the economic impact of the virus keep on coming, and they are universally grim. Specific to tourism, the Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence keeps updating its forecasts, the latest of which predicts a national loss of 124,150 million euros. This, for what it's worth, represents 81.4% of tourism GDP by comparison with 2019.

The alliance has set out how this loss will be felt by individual regions. The worst affected will be the Balearics - a loss of 13,520 million euros. In terms of regional tourism GDP, this is 95.2%. Not a total wipeout, but as near as makes little difference. By contrast, estimates Exceltur, the Canaries, for example, will suffer a 76.1% loss (12,645 million euros), Catalonia 83.8% (25,218 million), Andalusia 80.9% (20,888 million).

This forecast is a worst case insofar as Exceltur is presuming very limited summer activity with greater activity towards the end of the year, which in the case of the Balearics is of comparatively little use after October. The difference with the Canaries is clear, and of the regions for which Exceltur has provided figures, those islands will be the least badly affected region.

Given this forecast, we come back - or we should come back - to ways and means of promoting tourism and incentivising tourists. As noted last week in this column, there will be heightened price sensitivity as well as greater anxiety regarding travel. For the Balearics, therefore, the regional government has it within its powers to make a contribution in alleviating this price sensitivity, and that is the tourist tax. But what have we got this week? No suspension, just an adjustment to the system of tax assessment, which has yet to be worked out; this assessment referring to how hoteliers and others pay the tourist tax they have collected to the government.

The Balearic government's budget for this year is now pretty much redundant. The finance minister, Rosario Sánchez, will have to come up with something that reflects the realities. Where tourist tax revenue is concerned, the original figure of 128 million euros is expected to be downgraded to between 12 and 24 million, a range which is optimistic. The higher figure is 18.75% of the original estimate; the 12 million therefore 9.38%. But in simplistic terms, based on what Exceltur calculates, not even this lower amount would be achievable.

The 128 million euros works out at an average of eight euros tax per tourist (taking 16 million tourists to be the annual total). As the tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, has spoken about a very moderate August and then some pick-up in the following months, if one goes on 2019 September-October numbers, the income from the tourist tax would be in the region of 30 million. But it's impossible to believe that there will be 3.7 million tourists to generate this revenue.

The government's revised calculation for tourist tax must pin most hopes on September and October. November and December are not just low months for tourists anyway, they are also months for which the tourist tax rates are a quarter of those from May to October. Equally, tax revenue that was generated between January and March will have been modest because of those lower rates. (For the record, between January and March there were 787,000 tourists.) What can realistically be expected from September and October? Fifty per cent? Doubtful, and from what Exceltur is calculating, highly unlikely. The government's guess is as good or as bad as one anyone else's.

Controlling the beaches

Among the various tourism-related statements by Spanish government ministers, there has been the one about social distancing on beaches. But how can it be controlled? On the Costa de la Luz in Cadiz, where there are beaches several kilometres long, they have started to think about this and about how to control the capacities of beaches. This control is far from straightforward. Where there are long beaches, there are multiple access points. How can there be control?

The mayor of Conil de la Frontera, Juan Bermúdez, says that much will depend on getting safety messages across to the public. He expects that health authorities will issue guidelines (or perhaps something more formal), but the control is going to be difficult. Another mayor, Manuel Flor of Vejer de la Frontera, explains that up to 30,000 people a day can congregate on its seven kilometre beach.

In Majorca there are examples of long beaches of a similar nature to those in Cadiz. Es Trenc is one, the stretch from Puerto Alcudia to Can Picafort another. This Alcudia Bay beach is both urban and rustic and has numerous access points.

Will the beaches be controlled? How can they be controlled? Beach concessionaires will have to adapt distancing measures, which will mean that they will have to reduce capacity and not set out as many sunloungers as previously. But there are plenty of people who don't use sunloungers.

Are municipalities going to be instructed to apply limits to numbers of people on beaches? If so, who does the controlling?

No normal holidays for Germany

While there are some German owners of holiday homes wanting to be allowed in to Majorca and who have been critical of Balearic and Spanish measures to prevent them, these same owners may wish to pay heed to what the German minister for foreign affairs, Heiko Maas, has had to say. "There will be no normal vacations this summer. In the same way as we have cancelled all major events until the end of August, it is true to say that this summer there can be no normal holiday season."

He stresses that he wants borders to reopen as soon as possible, but this will have to be done with appropriate safety measures. "At present, it cannot be said in the long term when restrictions on freedom of movement may be gradually removed."

This said, the European commissioner for the internal market and industry, Thierry Breton, has said that the European Commission is working on enabling movement this summer.