After more than a year of a deadly coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry is in desperate need of good news. But instead, the new measure, which requires the mandatory use of masks in all open spaces, is seen as a surprise blow to Spain’s touring industry. Until now, government regulation has introduced masks in the open air only if it was not possible to guarantee a social distance of one and a half meters.
The decision, approved by the Spanish parliament, went virtually unnoticed even after its publication in the Official Gazette, until the Spanish newspaper El País paid attention to the news. Protective masks on beaches are expected to scare away those planning to travel to Spain, and many companies have expressed concern about the tour industry, which before the pandemic provided 12% of the country’s GDP. “We are experiencing a nightmare that threatens to destroy thousands of jobs and businesses. And now they want to turn the beaches into open-air field hospitals,” said Jose Luis Zeredu, vice president of EXCELTUR, a non-profit tour association in Spain that represents all sectors of the tourism industry.
Representatives of the industry do not agree with this measure and did not even suspect its existence before the publication of the Official State Gazette. “Easter is a lost holiday. Now it is important to prepare for summer. And for that, we must achieve a high level of trust in us by foreigners and Spaniards, “explains Zereda, who does not believe that such measures, which he considers “improvisation”, point in this direction.
However, the association not only condemned the mandatory use of masks on beaches. EXCELTUR has sharply criticized reports of parties at hotels in cities such as Madrid and a new measure that forces those crossing the land border between Spain and France to present a negative COVID-19 test result. “We ask that the state policy support tourism and be more consistent, as many of the measures taken contradict each other,” adds Zereda.
Valencia, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands also disagree
Not only EXCELTUR criticizes the mandatory wearing of masks in public places, regardless of social distance. This event was also closely monitored in the most tourism-dependent regions. Hosbec, the Benidorm Hotel Association, said the event was “exaggerated”. “The security measures taken last year to divide the beaches into zones, to ensure social distance and to monitor compliance have proved effective,” said Nuria Montes, Hosbec’s secretary general. “In 4×4 meter zones, you can communicate while maintaining distance. We do not understand why the mask should be mandatory for sunbathing,” – adds the expert.
In Valencia, the use of outdoor masks, including beaches and swimming pools, has been mandatory before, regardless of distance. The measure was introduced in February and will run until April 12. The only exception is those who bathe.
On the other hand, some regional associations are more in favor of the government’s decision. Despite the fact that this new measure is a surprise for many, the hotel industry of Mallorca excludes that the mandatory wearing of masks on the beaches deters tourists from traveling to Spain. Although the measure is not openly criticized, the industry is asking the central government to inform targeted tourism markets about such measures, for example through special information campaigns to avoid confusion.
Last year, when the islands introduced mandatory wearing of masks, the Balearic Association of Hotel Chains announced the cancellation and reduction of bookings from the UK and Germany. Meanwhile, the Mallorca Hotel Federation has supported the idea that masks are not required on beaches if a safe distance is maintained.
In Andalusia, Juan Zapata, president of the Federation of Hotels and Tourism Organizations (FAHAT), says the mandatory wearing of masks is “tolerable”. “In Andalusia, we already had to go to the beach last year in a mask, which was generally welcomed by tourists, given the seriousness of the situation,” – explains Zapata.
“What really worries hoteliers is the progress with vaccines and travel restrictions, because there is no tourism without travel,” he says. According to FAHAT, 80% of the 500,000 hotel rooms in Andalusia are currently closed, and only 10,000 rooms with 20% open are occupied.
Manuela Villafaina, president of the Malaga Beach Business Association, believes that such restrictions cause visitors discomfort; especially outdoors, where social distancing is possible. “When you go for a walk, it is logical to wear a mask, but if you are in a hammock two meters from another person, it is not logical. There are those who feel uncomfortable and prefer to stay at home, ”says Villafaina, whose organization represents 1,100 entrepreneurs of beach bars and hammock resorts.
Meanwhile, Ivan Periano, president of the Cadiz Beach Bar Association, is confident that this summer the beaches will be crowded “with or without the obligatory wearing of a mask.”
“We need to be aware of the situation in which we are in the midst of a pandemic; so I think that wearing masks will not make people stay at home. It was a very difficult year for us. Due to time and capacity restrictions, many beach bars decided not to open because they could not pay their bills. This year we do not yet know what will happen next. We make decisions every 15 days, depending on the development of the situation, “he said.