Spain pins hopes on EU health certificate to save summer season

Companies in the Spanish tourism sector have conveyed to the government the importance of having an “EU health passport” in place well before the start of the summer season. According to their estimates, around 7.5 million travellers could be at stake this year. [EFE/ Biel Aliño]

Spain is pinning its hopes on the EU’s proposed digital health certificate and on vaccines to save the summer tourism season, after a catastrophic year for the country’s hospitality industry, commonly known as HORECA. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

Spain’s tourism and HORECA sectors are now pinning hopes on the proposed health certificate seen as a silver bullet to save the season, particularly in the Canary and the Balearic Islands, but also in the Costa del Sol, preferred destinations for tourists from the UK and Germany.

According to sources in the sector quoted by newspaper Cinco Días, many companies have started a behind-the-scenes diplomatic offensive with the Spanish government, urging the executive to press Brussels and speed-up with the implementation of the digital health pass.

The proposed pass would allow travellers to prove vaccination, a recent negative coronavirus test, or recovery from infection.

However, Spain has already been facing resistance mainly from France, which does not want to make vaccination compulsory, and Germany, which is reluctant to share its citizens’ data with the outside world.

The Spanish tourism sector estimates around 7.5 million tourist arrivals could be riding on whether the system is rolled out.

Estimates of bookings for the summer handled by mid-March by several Spanish travel agencies and hotels show a 70% drop compared to 2019, which would yield a figure of 11.3 million travellers.

The sources consulted by the Spanish financial daily said that a rapid implementation of the health certificate could boost that figure to 18.8 million travellers, though this would only amount to half the arrivals of 2019. 

A hard-hit sector

Spain welcomed 6.3 million tourists between June and September last year, down from 37.67 million travellers at peak tourist season in 2019. In January, Spain received 432,362 tourists, 89.5% fewer than in the same month the previous year, before the onset of the pandemic.

Tourism and directly or indirectly related services accounted for €155 billion or 12.4% of Spanish GDP in 2019.

Of the 900,000 workers affected by the temporary lay-off schemes (ERTE in Spanish) most work in the tourism and HORECA sectors. At the height of the crisis in March and April of last year, almost four million workers depended on ERTEs to keep their jobs. 

Those benefiting from the ERTE scheme are officially considered as employed, meaning they are not counted in the country’s unemployment figures.

Under the ERTE scheme, the Spanish state gives workers about 70% of their salary and prohibits companies from firing people. In case of fraud or redundancies, companies must return exemptions from contributions to the social security system and risk heavy penalties.

However, despite these efforts to stop the loss of jobs in the sector, increasing numbers of firms are requesting state aid. Perspectives also appear gloomy for the Easter period. Industry sources stressed on Wednesday they only expect to match 20% of their total 2019 turnover.

[Edited by Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny and Josie Le Blond]

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