Spain to spend 4.2 billion euros to help ravaged tourism sector

Madrid (AFP) –


Spain on Thursday presented an aid package worth more than 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) for the crucial tourism sector, including a campaign to promote the country as a "safe" destination after the coronavirus devastation.

The plan comes ahead of Sunday's planned re-opening of Spanish borders to travellers from European Union and Schengen countries.

Spain will also progressively open up to travel from non-EU countries from July, depending on public health developments. Toursim accounts for 12 percent of GDP.

The revival plan came with a call to Spanish citizens to holiday in their own country this year.

Most of the money is to cover government guarantees for tourism sector loans, a moratorium on mortgage payments, and a lowering of airport taxes for airlines.

It is also to finance health protocols to avoid virus contagion.

"Spain is re-opening for tourism," said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

"We are world leaders, which is why every step we take must be a safe step."

Spain is the world's second-biggest tourism destination after France with 84 million visits in 2019, but travel dried up during the pandemic which caused 27,000 deaths in Spain according to official data.

Juan Cierco, in charge of the tourism commission at Spain's chamber of commerce, called the ongoing crisis "the worst in the history of tourism", and one that could lose the sector up to 83 billion euros.

The tourism employers' organisation Exceltur meanwhile said the project was insufficient, calling for direct payments, tax cuts and Italian-style "holiday bonuses" to top it up.

"Spain mustn't skimp on means to save the sector", it said in a statement.

The government meanwhile says it has already spent 15 billion euros on helping the sector in the form of credit lines and financial help to tourism industry employees.