June 23, 2020 / 4:22 PM / 15 days ago

From Canary Islands, royals push to save tourism in Spain

LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) - Spain’s king and queen visited the Canary Islands on Tuesday to begin a tour intended to help rescue a tourism-dependent economy battered by the coronavirus crisis and a months-long lockdown.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain visit Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as the beginning of a tour promoting tourism after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

Locals applauded King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia in the regional capital Gran Canaria. Some shouted “Viva!” as the king bumped elbows with people to avoid shaking hands.

He and Queen Letizia met tourism sector representatives on the popular Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Their “Spain for Sure” tour will take them to every region of the country in coming days.

There were signs elsewhere of Spain’s slow re-emergence from the coronavirus confinement, with Madrid’s zoo reopening to eager, mask-wearing families and other animal lovers.

“(I came) to enjoy the animals,” primary schooler Adrian Gomez said from his vantage point by the monkey enclosure. “We really wanted to see them!”

The zoo’s operations director, Carlos de las Parras, was equally happy to see human visitors. “I was even excited to see people I already knew, regulars at the zoo, to see them...being the first ones at the door to meet the animals.”

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Spain harder than most countries, with 28,324 deaths so far and a three-month lockdown that crippled a tourism sector that accounts for 12% of the economy and employs one in eight.

Though Spain reopened its borders to European tourists on Sunday, 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.

Since Sunday, some 600-700 flights have taken place daily in all directions, state-owned airport operator Aena said, an increase on May’s 570 daily average, but still a fraction of an average of about 6,000 daily flights a year ago.

Bad news came from Huesca and Lleida provinces, where several new localised coronavirus outbreaks were detected.

Reporting by Borja Suarez; Additional reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, Belen Carreno, Joan Faus; Writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich

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