Spain promises safety as it tries to win back tourists and their money

MADRID (Reuters) – All Spanish beaches reopened on Monday with the exception of Barcelona, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao will unlock its doors for the first time in months as Spain took steps to revive a tourist industry brought to a halt by the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto speaks during a news conference in a hotel in Havana, Cuba, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Spain’s revenues from tourism about halved in the four months to April and no tourists travelled to Spain at all that month because of a strict lockdown that began in mid-March.

The government said on Monday it was working hard to guarantee tourists the best health conditions as it embarks on a campaign to try and convince them to come back from July.

“It’s not a question of being the first in reopening but to reopen knowing we guarantee the health not only of residents but also of visitors,” Industry and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto told Telecinco TV.

Tourism accounts for one in eight jobs in Spain, the world’s second most visited country after France, and contributes more than 12% of Spanish GDP.

A few beaches had already gradually reopened and from Monday, all from the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean to the northern Basque Coast were opened to leisure activities except in the Barcelona city area, where the coronavirus has not yet been sufficiently tamed.

However, people will still not be able to travel freely throughout Spain for a few more weeks.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao on Monday will this afternoon become the first major Spanish museum to reopen its doors, with visitors obliged to keep 2 meters apart and rooms to be disinfected continuously.

Madrid’s landmark museums El Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia are set to reopen on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said last week that Spain would welcome tourists from abroad gradually to areas that have exited all lockdown measures. It plans to lift a two-week quarantine for arriving tourists in July.

The government will start discussing measures with its European partners in the Schengen Area of free movement but will also talk with others to try and open up tourism. It was not clear yet what the position would be for the United States and Britain, two major sources of visitors.

In the first four months of 2020, Spain received only 10.58 million tourists, half the visitors seen a year ago, and they spent 11.7 billion euros, also about half of year-ago levels, official data showed on Monday.

Spain had recorded seven years of record tourist arrivals until 2019, when it had more than 80 million visitors drawn by its beaches, historic cities and festivals. But it has also been one of the world’s worst-hit countries by the pandemic.

In another sign of recovery, Spanish factory activity began to resume in May after grinding to its slowest pace in almost 12 years in April.

Reporting by Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo, Writing by Emma Pinedo and Ingrid Melander, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan