When the Spanish government put the country on lockdown in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus, tourism in the Canary Islands quickly dropped to zero. But the Atlantic archipelago hopes to rebound soon.
The islands, a popular European holiday destination, have been one of the least-affected Spanish regions in terms of COVID-19 infections but have been badly hit economically by the disruption to international travel.
Now the Canaries hope to restart their main industry, based on their mild year-round climate and natural beauty, as soon as possible while guaranteeing the safety of visitors.
They will be the first destination in the world to receive a passenger flight under a pilot project that allows tourists to travel with a digital health passport.
The islands’ tourism minister, Yaiza García, said the project is important because it will show that tourism is a sector at “the forefront of security”.
The mobile phone application stores travelers’ medical data, accredited by health authorities and with double encryption to guarantee their safety.
Antonio López de Ávila, a co-founder of hi+Card, told Efe it will be possible to “better manage the space on the plane and seat immune people with the social distance required by law”.
It will also allow airlines to communicate the number of people who have immunity when a plane reaches its destination, he adds.
He said the programme is due to be launched in August when “the Canary Islands will be ready to receive all European tourists who have downloaded the app”.
The Spanish government announced on Saturday that international travellers will be able to visit the country from 1 July without having to undergo an isolation period.
José Luis Zoreda, vice president of the Exceltur tourism association, said the decision is an opportunity to meet foreign demand so that companies can consider reopening and recover something from the summer season.
He highlighted the importance of a European Commission proposal to establish travel corridors between countries with similar epidemiological situations.
Zoreda said the scheme would be “the most reliable short-term exit” in the absence of a general agreement among all European Union countries.
For now, the islands’ streets are quiet, their beaches deserted and many of the hotels and restaurants shuttered, for the first time since the tourist boom of the 1960s.
Tourism is a key industry for the islands and represents 35% of the GDP and 40% of their employment. The archipelago welcomed 15.1 million visitors last year, including 13.1 million foreigners and more than 410,000 flights on its eight airports.
A six-month hiatus of tourism would mean a drop of 17.5 percent in GDP and the loss of 135,270 jobs, according to the regional government.
The Canary Islands saw the third-highest increase in unemployment in Spain last month, a 12% increase from March.
Julián Rodríguez, the owner of a beachfront holiday apartment in Garachico on the island of Tenerife, said he is currently losing around 500 euros a month. But he added he was “quite optimistic” since the government announced the reopening of Spain’s borders to international visitors from July.
Authorities say regional health services are prepared to manage the disease but call for continued caution.
Cristóbal Paniagua, a doctor at a Tenerife health centre, told Efe that primary care is “prepared for any negative effect of the pandemic”, while Angel Víctor Torres, president of the regional government, said they are determined to carry out tests for all visitors on arrival and departure, and implement digital monitoring during their stay on the islands.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]