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Taxis line up for hours at Madrid airport without picking up a single client while the square outside of the Royal Palace is deserted.
With the capital of the world’s second largest tourist destination in partial lockdown since Friday night, October 2, to fight a surge in coronavirus cases, visitors have vanished and the hospitality sector is fearing the worst.
“We barely registered occupancy in our hotels due to limitations on international mobility, and now we face hard restrictions that won’t allow us to accommodate customers from other regions of Spain,” said Gabriel Garcia Alonso, the head of Madrid hotels association AEHM.
Just when tourism – a pillar of the Spanish economy which accounts for some 12% of its gross domestic product – was showing signs of picking up, “they create this confusion,” he added.
Garcia Alonso was referring to lockdown measures adopted only grudgingly by Madrid’s conservative regional leaders under pressure from Spain’s leftist central government following a days-long standoff.
Under the terms of the lockdown which came into effect Friday night in Madrid and several satellite towns, the city’s borders are closed to outsiders for non-essential visits although people are allowed to cross boundaries for work, school, doctors’ visits, or shopping.
The tourism ministry said that tourists are not allowed to spend the night in affected municipalities, but can go through them if they are in transit to go elsewhere.
“I don’t know if my boyfriend who is Italian will be able to come from Rome next week, because the rules are not clear,” said Elisa Siam, a 24-year-old who lives in Madrid and just arrived from the Italian capital.
“I don’t know when we will be able to see each other again,” she added before recalling that during the first wave of the pandemic she was separated from her boyfriend for 5 months.
Some tourists have still managed to get into the city due to lax controls, such as Mohamed Marcin who flew in from Cologne on Saturday, October 3, to visit a friend.
“I didn’t have a problem,” the 26-year-old told Agence France-Presse outside of the Royal Palace, one of the few people visiting the normally busy area.
He said he never thought of dropping the trip because he is “not afraid of the virus.”
At Madrid airport, Spain’s busiest which handled an average of around 5.5 million passengers per month before the pandemic, taxis formed a long queue waiting for clients.
There are far less flights and the few tourists who arrived were heading to other regions of Spain.
“Now you have to multiply the time you wait by 3 or 4, in 10 hours you might do 2 trips,” said Teodoro Garcia, 68, who has worked as a taxi driver for 45 years.
“I have never seen anything like it.”
In Madrid, 70% of hotels were already closed and those still open were operating at around 20% capacity, said Garcia Alonso of hotel association AEHM.
With the new restrictions which will be in force for at least 14 days, hoteliers are resigned to more “job losses and business closures,” he added.
October, which includes Spain’s national day holiday, is traditionally the best month for the tourism sector in Madrid.
Of the 7.6 million visitors who came to the Madrid region last year, 1.2 million visited in October, according to Spain’s INE statistics agency.
Between March, when Spain imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to fight the virus, and August, the region welcomed just 853,000 visitors.
“Health comes above all else, but the hotel sector is going to continue to be one of the worst affected,” said Garcia Alonso.
He called for a government moratorium on tax payments for hotels as well as credits for the tourism sector. (READ: Ibiza: Between economic distress and unprecedented calm) – Rappler.com