Diego Sanz, a tour guide on Spain’s southeastern Mediterranean coast, received his first booking from an international group in mid-February, after more than a year.
“Here we live in paradise, and we were sure that when the covid restrictions are lifted we would have no problem more and tourists would come back to us like bees to honey and nectar,” Sanz said, sitting in a quiet cafe in late March in the port city of Alicante.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine and introduced new international travel bookings, a total sanction. During the first week of the war, airline reservations in Europe fell 23%and transatlantic bookings to European countries fell 13%, according to travel agency ForwardKeys.
Beach destination: Benidorm, Spain. Shutterstock Photos
“We’re in the middle of a big storm,” Sanz said, literally and figuratively. Outside the cafeteria window, the Costa Blanca region was experiencing one of the most violent storms in its history with 18 consecutive days of heavy downpours causing flash flooding and poor visibility on the roads.
“The sun will come back, but what will happen to the war and the economic problems? continued. “I don’t know if we will be able to make a profit this summer.”
Economy and tourism
Several European countriesincluding Spain, Greece, Italy and Croatia, which highly dependent on tourism, hopes to start the travel season early to recover from the loss caused by the pandemic. That now seems unlikely.
Alonissos Island, Greece. Photo EFE/EPA/BOUGIOTIS VANGELIS
Beyond, the worst destinations, hardest hitit is those located close to Ukraine, including Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia and Hungary, which have experienced a decrease in reserves between 30% and 50%according to ForwardKeys.
Several tour operators from these countries are beaten in efforts to help refugees fleeing Russian forces, unable to contemplate the impact war might have on their livelihoods.
Across the continent, the damage is already being felt with the increase in the cost of gasoline, supply chain issues, inflation and strikes.
Energy prices in Italy have risen in recent months, which worries hoteliers.
View of Dubrovnik and the cable car, Croatia.
Truckers in Spain have been on strike for more than 10 days, causing sporadic shortages of food and goods.
Hotels and restaurants are scrambling to find affordable substitutes for key supplies like wheat and sunflower oil, 75% to 80% of the world’s supply coming from Russia and Ukraine, according to the World Food Program United Nations.
“We try to be flexible and find substitutes for products in small quantities, for example we use olive oil instead of using sunflower oil, so as not to affect the customer experience. “, said Javier Garcia Cuenca, vice president of Magic. Hotels and resorts on the Costa Blanca. “But the problem is managing the cost, because it becomes more expensive.”
Often, Croatia is ranked among the most tourism-dependent economies in Europewith tourism activity accounting for around a fifth of the tiny nation’s gross domestic product, according to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics.
The country’s main attraction, its segment of the Adriatic coast, accounted for the largest share of the 13.8 million visitors and 84.1 million overnight stays in Croatia in 2021. This led to a 10.4% increase in GDP of year on year according to the Bureau of Statistics.
Although cancellations have been minimal in Croatia throughout this year, the country is Suffering also a drop in reservations.
Dubrovnik Boats, a private tour and charter company with a wide range of customers from the United States, was expecting a record pre-war year. But the booking rate suddenly dropped by 70%.
“For a foreigner, we are one centimeter from Ukraine on the map,” said Niksa Smojver, the owner.
A significant concern for shipping this year is rising gas prices and potential fuel shortages.
For Dubrovnik Boats, which operates a leg of the trip between Dubrovnik hotspots and Hvar, it’s about $750 more today than it was last year. Beyond that, the company has not passed on the fare increase to passengers, but it may have to.
Smojver still remembers with hope. “After the coronavirus, people are fed up and everyone wants to travel. This season could be one of the best we’ve ever had. No record, but strong,” he said.
Elsewhere in Europe, particularly in countries dependent on tourism, the picture is darker. the cancellations in Italy They dampened a growing optimistic attitude among tour guides and operators, although some expressed hope that the war will end and thus save the season.
Mondello Beach, Palermo. Photo REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
“The mood in general is depressing because everything seemed to be over and instead there was a new recession,” said Margherita Capponi, a tour guide who lives in Rome.
Bernabó Bocca, the president of the Italian hotel association Federalberghi, said he was more concerned about the energy costswhich have soared in Italy in recent months.
“Hotels are energy-intensive businesses, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he said. “The cost of energy has become a very important component, a price that the whole world pays.”
Positano, on the Amalfi Coast. Photo Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for around 14% of Italy’s GDP, according to the country’s tourism ministry, and Italy’s national tourism agency, ENIT, said that in 2019 more than 63 million foreigners visited in Italy. .
At a recent trade show, Italian Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia cited a February US traveler sentiment survey by marketing research firm MMGY Global, which said 47% of 4,500 respondents expected to see how the situation in Ukraine was developing, before making plans to visit Europe.
“It’s clear that half of Americans aren’t coming to Europe, and that’s going to be dramatic,” he said.
However, other tour operators large and small are still expressing optimism for the upcoming season, despite war and coronavirus concerns.
Last week, online travel agency Expedia announced a forecast for a strong summer in Europe, saying search interest among American travelers looking to travel to Britain, Germany and France this summer had quintupled compared to the same period in 2020.
On the Costa Blanca, members of the local hotel industry have signed contracts with agreed prices with tour operators, which should lead to fewer cancellations. The biggest challenge for hotels will be manage rising costs and adapt to supply chain issues.
Magic Costa Blanca’s Cuenca said he has yet to increase his hotel rates and expressed a cautious optimism for the summer, having booked about half of its hotel rooms for the season. “We will have to watch inflation and we may have to adjust our rates to maintain our profit margins,” he said.
Panoramic view of Benidorm, one of Spain’s famous beach destinations. Photo AFP PHOTO/ JOSE JORDAN
Last year, the hotel chain had a successful summer season that attracted the Spanish domestic market, but Cuenca was unable to open any of its hotels due to weak demand from the international market, especially tourists. Britons, who had to deal with strict and unpredictable local travel regulations.
“We won’t have as strong a year as expected,” he said. “But there is still a high demand Since people realized during the pandemic that they could die and they wouldn’t live forever, they prioritized vacations and hobbies.
Sitting in the lobby of the Port Benidorm hotel last week, Toni Mayor (president of HOSBEC, the hotel association on the Costa Blanca) said the hotel’s 89% occupancy rate, mostly from British tourists , was very encouraging. “They’re coming back,” he said.
Wendy Hartfield, a history teacher in Yorkshire, England, arrived in Benidorm last week hoping to catch some sun and play some golf, but instead spent most of her holiday reading at inside due to thunderstorms.
“I want to come back this summer, but the way things are going it can be very expensive,” Hartfield said. “We have to pay the bills at home first.”
The New York Times / Special for Clarin
Translation: Patricia Sar