At the Birthplace of Mass Tourism, Hotels Try to Reinvent Themselves
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Few places are as tied to mass tourism as the Spanish resort town of Benidorm. It’s often dubbed the birthplace of package tours, and on a typical summer day its broad beaches, towering hotels, and palm-lined promenades are jammed with visitors seeking sun and surf. This year it’s been more about silence and social distance.
So in mid-July, as Ramón Martínez watched the first mask-clad guests enter his 320-room Hotel Presidente after four months of lockdown, he was overwhelmed with emotion—akin to what he imagines locals felt when the first foreign tourists arrived in the 1950s. “I told the staff, ‘This is incredible,’ ” Martínez says. “It was a special moment.”
For Martínez and other hoteliers in the city, the coronavirus epidemic augurs change almost as dramatic as those early days, when Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled the country and Benidorm was little more than a village. The city today gets about 4 million visitors a year, often flying in on packed budget airliners, sunbathing towel-to-towel, and filling clubs and bars to drink, dance, and flirt into the wee hours. That’s not a business model that works during a pandemic, says Leire Bilbao, director of the city’s tourist board. “If you don’t do things right during a crisis,” she says, “when the crisis has passed, you might be a place where people don’t want to go.”
The city of 70,000—whose population swells almost sixfold in August—has taken the measures it can, marking off squares on the beach, for instance, and allowing only four people in each. Police patrol the waterfront and order anyone without a mask to put one on, pronto. Some shops have thermoscanners at the door. More than a third of hotels remain closed, and occupancy at those that are open hovers at about 40%, vs. 90% in a normal summer.
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