Spain has opened its borders to EU and Schengen visitors this week, and authorities are hoping enough tourists come to help boost the economy during the rest of the summer season.
The Mediterranean country would normal expect 80 million visitors each year, with 12% of Spain’s GDP coming from tourism. This year however, the coronavirus crisis has decimated tourist numbers.
During the last three months of lockdown more than 28,300 people have died from coronavirus-related symptoms in Spain and strict measures were put in place to contain the pandemic. People were virtually confined to their homes for weeks at a time, flights were canceled, businesses that rely on tourism shuttered, and resort towns that would be increasingly busy throughout spring remained deserted.
The Costa del Sol region in the south of the country is a magnet for Finns in particular. Tens of thousands of people live there or visit for the sun, sea and sand of summer, or the mild winters.
With a thriving year-round Finnish community of established businesses and startups, bars, restaurants, a Finnish newspaper and radio station, Finnish doctors and a church, the town of Fuengirola is known as ‘Little Finland’ for good reason.
The town’s mayor says she’s hoping the Finnish tourists come back.
“We know that there’s a special connection between us and the Finns, that they’ve been coming here for many years and we want to see them continue to be a part of our wider family” says Mayor Ana Mula.
Like other tourist towns on Spain’s southern Costa del Sol, Fuengirola felt the sharp economic pain of the sudden lockdown in March.
“The impact of the virus on the economy of Fuengirola has been the same as the impact on any other town. It’s a difficult situation for all the businesses, for all the employees the impact has been immense. But little by little we are returning to normal life” Mayor Mula tells News Now Finland.
Although many businesses close down over the winter months in the Costa del Sol towns when tourist numbers are lower, they would all expect to be open now as the peak summer season approaches.
Measures in place to welcome tourists
Spain’s national plan to re-open the country’s borders – and allow domestic travel again – began however under a cloud on Monday as 11 new coronavirus outbreak clusters were discovered.
The new cases were detected in the northern region of Aragon, in the capital Madrid, in Catalonia, the Canary Islands and Murcia – but nothing so far in Andalusia where Fuengirola is located – although there have been more than 1,300 in the region to date.
So with coronavirus cases still cropping up, was this the right time to open Spain again? Mayor Mula, from the centre right Partido Popular, says they’ve worked hard to overcome the crisis “and for our part we are ready for the new normal.”
“When the authorities at national government level took this decision, I understood that Spain is in a secure position and we can offer to our tourists truly secure conditions to visit us, to visit any one of the provinces or municipalities” she says.
Fuengirola has hired 56 extra staff for the summer to help monitor tourists in this ‘new normal.’ Among their duties the workers, wearing luminous green t-shirts, and face masks, will ensure visitors respect social distancing rules on Fuengirola’s beaches.
“For our part what we are doing in the municipality of Fuengirola is taking extreme safety precautions, putting in place all the measures that are necessary. But what I think is important to emphasize is that it all depends very much on individual responsibility, on each and every one of us – those of us who live here in Fuengirola but also those who are visiting us” says Mayor Ana Mula.
“And of course we can offer the quality of our beaches which are allowed to be filled, with social distancing measures.”