In all the tourist spots in southern Europe, the only thing the sector can do is prepare and keep hope.
Vaccines against the coronavirus are given, but it will be months before the vaccination allows people to travel by plane, on cruise ships or have fun in the crowded bars along the beach. This means that companies are very “unaware” of what the summer season will be this year.
2021 is expected to be better than 2020, but that’s a low limit. On the Greek island of Santorini, only three cruise ships arrived last year, compared to around 600 in 2019. European Commission data released Thursday revealed that non-resident holiday rates in Italy, Spain and Greece have fallen. at least 70%. In 2020, the European Commission has warned the industry to prepare for another year of calm.
The European Commission emphasized that “tourist flows in general should not fully recover, in 2021, to pre-crisis levels.” In Italy, tourism will not be able to keep up with the broader economic recovery, as visitors “only gradually return with less uncertainty”.
For those in the sector, that is already evident at the beginning of this year. Paolo Mancha, who runs the Felix hotel chain in Sardinia, says that summer bookings are generally 30% full at the moment due to people’s stress on long winter nights. However, the order books are almost blank.
It’s a tough situation for homeowners, who still have to cover maintenance and rental costs without a guaranteed income.
“We have to be prepared, we don’t know if we can open it,” said Manolis Karamulegos, owner of Meltime Hotels and Resorts in Santorini and president of the local hotel association. We cannot leave the preparations to the last minute ”.
Tourism is essential for many southern European countries and represents 21% of the economy in Greece and 17% in Portugal. It is often the main employer in regions where other sectors are absent, providing basic income for families and supporting local economies.
Expectations are expected to improve as vaccines advance as pent-up demand is expected to translate into more automatic vacation bookings. However, vaccine-resistant coronavirus variants on the continent could end the party.
Even if there were an increase in last minute bookings, the benefits would not be felt evenly. The European Commission says it will give preference to domestic or short-haul destinations, such as Greece and Portugal.
But, while the European Union’s slow and controversial vaccination campaign is underway, governments are looking for any opportunity to help tourism.
Greece wants the European Union to create a certificate so that the vaccine can travel freely. It has already made a deal with Israel, the country with the fastest vaccination rate, according to the Bloomberg vaccination tracker.
Some hotels in southern Europe are experiencing stronger domestic demand, which will offset some, but not all, of the lower revenues. In Portugal, Grupo Pestana CEO José Theotonio said residents booked rooms in January as constant fear of travel bans and quarantines alienated foreign visitors.
Although vaccines should end these drastic measures, it is unclear when. And governments have often been erratic in imposing restrictions, causing concern to businesses and their potential customers.
“We need precise indications from the government, in terms of security guidelines and protocols, to plan for the future,” confirms hotel owner Paolo Mancha, who is also president of the Federalberghi Sardegna Hotel Association. “For tourism, the lack of clarity is as harmful as the Coronavirus itself.”