Spain tourism sector eyes 100-bln-euro loss over virus

Emmanuelle MICHEL
·3-min read
Tourism accounts for some 12 percent of gross domestic product and 13 percent of employment
Tourism accounts for some 12 percent of gross domestic product and 13 percent of employment

Devastated by the pandemic, Spain's all-important tourism sector is expected to incur losses of more than 100 billion euros ($120 billion) this year, an industry body warned Wednesday. 

If the dire prediction proves correct, it would take the sector's annual income back to the level it was in 1995, the Exceltur tourism association said. 

"We would go back 25 years in terms of what the Spanish tourism sector generates," Jose Luis Zoreda, the association's vice president, told a news conference, saying it would be a "dire scenario". 

Exceltur has been forced to further amend its annual predictions after regional authorities stepped up restrictions to slow the virus which has claimed some 34,000 lives and infected nearly a million people -- the highest figure in the EU.

Since early October, the Spanish capital and close to a dozen nearby towns have been subjected to a partial lockdown, and across the northeastern region of Catalonia, bars and restaurants have been closed for a fortnight. 

Including the impact of the latest restrictions -- which Exceltur estimates will cost almost 7.5 billion euros -- the sector's annual losses are seen rising to 106 billion euros by the year's end. 

After an initial three-month shutdown at the start of the pandemic, the industry then suffered a catastrophic summer with holidaymakers shunning Spain before taking a new blow from the October restrictions, with annual turnover seen plunging 70 percent on last year's figures. 

Tourism is hugely important to the Spanish economy, accounting for some 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 13 percent of employment.

Zoreda said the government had not fully understood the extent of the crisis affecting the industry, saying an "urgent rescue plan was needed.. including direct aid" along the lines of the bailouts granted to the banking sector during the financial crisis.

- 'We need to survive today' -

In June, the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a 4.2-billion-euro rescue package for the ravaged tourism sector, but the funds largely amounted to state-sponsored loan guarantees, a moratorium on mortgage payments, and lower airport taxes for airlines.

Even though Spain will be one of the main beneficiaries of the European virus rescue plan, under which it will receive around 140 billion euros, "we cannot discern any clear prioritisation of the tourism sector," Zoreda said. 

Sanchez's government has said it is planning to drive 70 percent of the funds into medium- to long-term investments in the environment and the country's digital transformation. 

For the tourism industry, the immediate challenge is "how to make it to the end of the month," he said. 

"To be able to bet on tomorrow, we need to survive today."

Exceltur has also demanded that the government extend its furlough scheme -- currently set to run until January 31 -- until the end of next year.

It has also asked that it drop the requirement for participating companies to freeze layoffs for six months after it ends. 

Spain is also expected to see its GDP slump by 12.8 percent in 2020, the IMF has warned, in what would make it the hardest-hit country among the world's advanced economies.

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