Spanish hoteliers ‘cautiously optimistic’ on market rebound

CEHAT press conference. (CEHAT)

Spanish hoteliers who have held on tight through a roller coaster market since Covid-19 hit two years ago are now “cautiously optimistic” the rough ride may be over despite the surge in the new Omicron variant. 

“If the health system stabilizes we could see a tourism boom beginning with Holy Week,” Jorge Marichal, the president of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourism Accommodations (CEHAT) told a press conference this week. 

Holy Week, which this year falls in the second week of April, is an important period for the Spanish hotel industry as both domestic and foreign guests travel to take advantage of the long spring holiday and is seen as a bellwether for the country’s vital summer high season.

The CEHAT president argued that as long as there was no new pandemic-related negative impact, “this winter the sector’s recovery towards pre-pandemic levels of hotel occupation rates should continue from both domestic and foreign guests.”

Marichal said he based his upbeat prediction on the results of a survey of the confederation’s 16,000 establishments representing 1.8 million beds carried out by consultancy PwC which showed a dramatic rise in bookings for the first quarter of this year. 

Airline, hotel and other travel industry websites were also studied to gauge the interest of potential travelers in visiting Spain for the survey. 

According to the poll, 17 per cent of all Spanish hotel rooms had been reserved in January, compared to just 3 per cent in the same month in 2021, and 13 and 11 per cent were booked for February and March this year, respectively, in comparison to 2 and 3 per cent a year ago. 

Bookings for the Canary Islands, a favorite winter getaway for northern Europeans, led the national regions with 39 per cent of available rooms reserved in January, 32 per cent in February and 25 per cent in March. 

Those percentages compare with 6 and 7 per cent in 2021. 

Andalusia (which includes the Costa del Sol resorts), Barcelona and Madrid also saw significant increases in reservations for the three-month period, according to the survey. 

“Domestic tourism is the engine of this growth in bookings and the Canary Islands continue to be the main destination,” Marichal said, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Spanish hotel sector had turned the corner from the devastating effects of the Corona virus. 

However, CEHAT Secretary General Ramon Estalella warned that while the survey showed that the level of interest by travelers in visiting Spain was at pre-Covid levels, “the new Omicron variant hobbled reservations coming in at the end of 2021 because of the fear of new restrictions and we did see cancellations.” 

Estalella added that according to the survey, Spaniards and most other nationalities were eager to travel this year but that the British were the most hesitant because of the possibility of future testing and quarantine requirements on their return home. 

“Spain has long been Britain’s beach and bookings from the United Kingdom will return to their previous levels in time, but probably not tomorrow,” he said.  

The United Kingdom is one of the leading generating markets for Spain’s tourism sector and Spain is the most popular vacation destination for British holiday makers.

But after the pandemic struck, the number of British tourists plummeted from 18 million in 2019 to just over 3 million in 2020, according to Spanish government figures.  Final figures for last year are not yet available. 

Tourism is one of Spain’s most important economic sectors, accounting for more than 12 per cent of the country’s GDP and employing 2.6 million people.  

Spain was the world’s second-most popular travel destination in 2019 when foreign visitor numbers hit 83.7 million, then plunged to 36.5 million in 2020 as the virus spread around the world.  
Spain has experienced six waves of Covid-19, triggering a series of lockdowns both at home and abroad, travel restrictions, and testing and quarantine requirements which hit the tourism industry hard. 

However, government figures released this month support the hotel industry’s predictions that the worst may be over. 

The number of foreign tourist arrivals in Spain jumped a whopping 633 per cent year-on-year to 3.3 million in November, 2021, due to the recovery helped by the launch of a European digital Covid passport and the worldwide vaccination drive, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute which tracks tourist arrivals.

The largest increases in November arrivals were from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. In the first eleven months of 2021, the number of tourist arrivals rose 54 per cent to 28.2 million over the same period in 2020.

Cayetano Soler of PwC, who carried out the survey for CEHAT, said that 2021 saw a surge in flights serving the Spanish market and that also helped the increase in visitor numbers.