June 23, 2020 / 1:17 PM / 2 months ago

From Canary Islands, Spanish royals push to save tourism

* King and queen begin “Spain for Sure” tour to help economy

* Tourism accounts for 12% of GDP but badly hit by COVID-19

* Madrid zoo reopens, PM hosts more media at news conferences

By Clara-Laeila Laudette

MADRID, June 23 (Reuters) - Spain’s king and queen visited a Canary Islands beach on Tuesday on the first leg of a tour intended to help rescue the tourism-dependent economy, battered by the coronavirus crisis.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia also visited a museum for local author Benito Perez Galdos, greeted supporters and were to meet with tourism sector representatives on the popular Spanish archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa.

COVID-19 hit Spain worse than most, with 28,324 deaths so far and a three-month lockdown that pulverised its tourism sector, which accounts for 12% of the economy and one in eight jobs.

In the islands’ capital, Gran Canaria, locals greeted the royal couple with applause and shouts of “Viva”, as Felipe bumped elbows with people to avoid shaking hands. Their “Spain for Sure” tour will take them to every Spanish region in coming days.

Spain opened its borders to tourists on Sunday, but the summer season is only tentatively resuming.

Just 35 hotels were operating on Tuesday in Mallorca, a mere 5% of the Mediterranean island’s total, with only 15% of hotels set to open there in early July, according to a local hotel association.

Beyond tourism, Spain was also slowly reawakening elsewhere.

The prime minister’s office allowed more journalists into in-person news conferences, and Madrid’s zoo reopened, as some theatres and concert halls already have.

Since Spain’s state of emergency ended on Sunday and European borders reopened, some 600-700 flights have taken place daily in all directions, state-owned airport operator Aena said, an increase on the 570 daily average in May.

There is, however, little chance of stopping Spain registering its worst economic performance on record in 2020, with the central bank forecasting a contraction between 9% and 11.6%.

And there was bad news in Huesca province, where three counties regressed to a stricter lockdown after several new coronavirus outbreaks were detected, some involving seasonal migrant fruit pickers. In nearby Lleida, local media reported a new cluster in a nursing home. (Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, Belen Carreno, Joan Faus, Jesus Aguado; Writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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