By Damon Mitchell • 23 April 2020 • 15:51
THERE are no tourists at Vila Gale’s resorts right now, and the home page of the company’s website urges visitors to #STAYHOME.
Still, Portugal’s second-largest hotel chain is busy: staff are stocking up on sanitisers, gloves, masks and thermometers, re-arranging dining tables to keep guests at least 1.5 metres apart, and drawing up a la carte menus to replace buffets.
It plans to reopen its hotels from June, joining a scramble by Europe’s tourism industry to salvage what business it can from this summer season as coronavirus lockdowns begin to ease.
“We have to endure the situation and get some revenue this summer,” said Vila Gale executive board member Goncalo Rebelo de Almeida. “I hope … that will at least allow us to pay fixed costs. And then we will bet on it returning to normal in 2021.”
Across the continent, from Portugal’s Algarve to the islands of Greece, beaches are deserted. There are no visitors at the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, Edinburgh’s August festivals have been cancelled and the Netherlands’ flower fields are closed.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 180,000 people and infected more than 2.5 million globally, has thrown the travel and tourism industry into turmoil.
International travel is expected to drop 39 per cent this year, according to consultancy Tourism Economics – equivalent to 577 million fewer journeys.
That is catastrophic for an industry that accounts for more than 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and employs some 320 million people.
The European Union’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, wants a ‘Marshall Plan’ using funds from Europe’s vast economic stimulus packages to haul hotels, restaurants, tour operators, travel agencies and cruise companies back from collapse.
The EU’s executive will come up with guidelines on how to restart travel, but getting member states in lockstep may not be easy.
Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis says it is critical that Europe adopts a common position and reopens borders soon because already businesses have folded.
“Many hotel units won’t open, and there will be unemployment,” said Theocharis, calling for long-term financial aid to an industry that represents about a quarter of Greece’s economy.
There are doubts that Mediterranean destinations can persuade northern Europeans worried about their finances and catching the virus to come south this summer. Spain and Italy, in particular, are infection hotspots.
Portugal is working hard on its image as a safe place to visit, preparing health safety certifications for hotels, which will be required to offer protective equipment and even coronavirus tests for employees and customers.
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As frontman of a rock band Damon used to court the British press, now he lives the quiet life in Spain and seeks to get to the heart of the community, scoring exclusive interviews with ex-pats about their successes and struggles during their new life in the sun.
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