Spain Urges Tourists Back Beginning in July

May 26, 2020 Updated: May 26, 2020

MADRID/BARCELONA—Spain is urging foreign holidaymakers to return beginning in July as tourism businesses remain skeptical about salvaging the summer season in the world’s second-most-visited nation.

The country closed its borders and beaches in March to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, later imposing a two-week quarantine on May 15 for overseas visitors. But that requirement will be lifted on July 1, according to Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya.

“The worst is behind us,” she wrote in a May 25 tweet.

In July, “we will gradually open Spain to international tourists, lift the quarantine, ensure the highest standards of health safety. We look forward to 2 welcoming you!”

Introduced on May 15 with little warning, the two-week quarantine caused confusion in the tourism industry and tension with neighboring France. By lifting it, the government hopes to make up for the earlier communication breakdown and be in a stronger position to attract foreign tourists this summer.

Spain normally draws 80 million people a year, with tourism accounting for more than 12 percent of gross domestic product and an even bigger share of jobs, so the summer season is crucial to possibilities of mitigating a looming recession.

Bars and restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona were allowed to open outside spaces at half capacity beginning May 25, but many stayed closed as owners weighed the value of catering to just a few.

Some of those who did open, after gloved and masked staff cleaned terraces and placed tables far apart, were pessimistic.

“It’s complicated, we are not going to be able to save the tourist season unless (enough) foreigners come,” said Alfonso Gomez, a restaurant owner in Barcelona.

Passersby enjoying new-found freedoms were more upbeat. “It’s nice just to feel a bit of normality again after so long,” said Rosie, a writer and Barcelona resident.

Park Pleasure

Madrilenos were delighted to be allowed back into the main Retiro park.

“This is great, I was really looking forward to it. And so was my dog!” said interior designer Anna Pardo, walking her pet in the sunshine. Others jogged and chatted in the Retiro’s shaded alleys or stopped to enjoy its lake, devoid of the usual rowing boats.

While most pupils in Spain still need to study online, some schools reopened in the northern Basque region. Students’ temperature was taken as they entered wearing masks.

Spain has recorded 26,834 coronavirus deaths and 235,400 cases, but daily fatalities have dropped to fewer than 100 for the last week.

The prospect of foreign tourism in July lifted shares of tourism-related stocks, including hotel operator Melia Hotels, which closed more than 26 percent higher.

The tourism and leisure sector has received the most support from state-backed credit lines meant to help businesses. It has received 6.4 billion euros of the 38 billion euros ($41 billion) granted over recent weeks, according to data from state credit agency ICO.

Jose Carlos Ramon, head of Madrid’s restaurant association AMER, said only 1 in 4 bars and restaurants in the capital has a terrace and reopening is costly. Across Spain, only about 15 percent have reopened, he said.

The government is due to discuss on May 26 how to move on with the gradual phasing out of the lockdown.

By Ingrid Melander & Jordi Rubio