Wednesday may be the deadline by which all of Spain’s hotels and tourist lodgings must shut down, but most closed their doors two weeks ago when the coronavirus epidemic began emptying out rooms and reservation schedules.
“A tsunami has arrived,” Ramón Estalella of the Confederation of Spanish Hotels said on 12 March. “A meteorite has fallen on us and we have to see how we survive.”
The next few weeks and months will determine how deep the virus’s impact will be in a country that depends on tourism for 11% of its GDP, and which was shaken by the collapse of Thomas Cook last year.
Even before the lockdown came into force on 14 March, Barcelona’s 10,000 bars and hotels were already feeling the pinch.
First the World Mobile Congress was cancelled, depriving the city of the estimated €500m (£460m) that the delegates would usually spend. During the four-day event it is virtually impossible to get a bed or a restaurant reservation.
Then, as fears about the coronavirus grew, tourism from Asia dried up, hitting both the hospitality and retail sectors.
Elsewhere in Spain, the pandemic has led to the cancellation of the famous Holy Week parades across Andalucía and the abandoning of the festival of Las Fallas in Valencia.
Estalella says that while the Spanish hotel sector has weathered terrorism, economic downturns and the odd natural disaster in the past, it – and the world – are now facing the biggest crisis since the second world war.
“We’ve never had something that has brought the world to a standstill and seen people confined to their homes,” he told the Guardian. “It’s something totally new and totally different.”
A fortnight ago, the Spanish government approved a range of measures to support the tourism sector, which include a €400m, state-guaranteed credit line for the transport, tourism and hospitality industries, and allowing people more flexibility when it comes to paying taxes.
Overall, it has promised a €200bn package to keep the economy going as some of Spain’s biggest employers implement temporary layoffs of workers.
“We’ll keep working to guarantee workers’ security and the protection of the most vulnerable and we won’t leave anyone behind,” the government said in a statement. “We’re fighting the virus on the health front but also socially and economically.”
Estalella says that both the EU and Spain need to come up with precise measures to make sure that businesses can stay afloat and workers can keep their jobs.
But he acknowledged that three concurrent crises still need to run their course.
“One is the health crisis, which will finish when it finishes – and the sooner the better,” he said.
“The second is a crisis of movement – it’ll take a long time for airlines to start laying on planes again because there won’t be much demand.
“The third, and the most important, is a crisis of confidence – it’s about people being confident about going out again together and meeting up and going away for the summer and discovering new countries. That’s the crisis that will take the longest time to fix.”
In the meantime, hoteliers and restaurant owners are trying to figure out how to keep workers and suppliers happy, while cleaning and waiting staff are wondering what will happen to them.
One restaurateur who owns several restaurants in Barcelona, but preferred not to be named, said her staff would all receive temporary redundancy notices and their wages would be paid by the state.
“However, there’s a new clause that says if someone is made temporarily redundant you have to take them back for a minimum of six months, even though we have no idea how many staff we’re going to need,” she said.
“We’ve already had to borrow €400,000 to cover our costs but no one knows how long it’s going to take to recover. We need more government intervention – especially lower taxes.”
She added that it is not just waiters and bartenders and others who are directly employed by the sector, but suppliers as well.
“I doubt if many suppliers will get paid this month,” she said.
With all hotels forced to close, and many already sequestered as temporary hospitals, hundreds of thousands of hotel workers also face redundancy.
“Chambermaids who are employed directly by the hotels will be served with temporary redundancy notices, though this hasn’t been confirmed,” said Eulalia García, a lawyer who represents Las Kellys, a pressure group established by hotel cleaners to campaign against the outsourcing of their jobs.
“For those whose jobs have been outsourced it’s not clear, because it isn’t clear what the legal framework is and what sort of protection they have.
“We are seeing cases where chambermaids who were employed directly by the hotel for 15 years, and are now employed by an agency established by the hotel itself, have been summoned to a meeting and told that they will get temporary redundancy so long as they sign a document. But the document is totally blank.”
This article was written by Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Sam Jones in Madrid from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.