By Veronica Gonzalez
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, May 28 (efe-epa).- The Canary Islands are seeking to become a benchmark in the global recovery of tourism after the coronavirus pandemic.
The Atlantic archipelago has been one of the least-affected Spanish regions in terms of Covid-19 infections but has been badly hit economically by the disruption to international travel.
The islands are a popular European holiday destination thanks to their mild year-round climate and natural beauty.
But tourism dropped to zero when the Spanish government put the country into lockdown more than two months ago to contain the spread of the virus.
The Canaries, which has the second-lowest rate of infections in Spain in relation to its population, is now aspiring to restart its main industry as soon as possible while guaranteeing the safety of visitors.
It will be the first destination in the world to receive a passenger flight under a pilot project that allows tourists to travel with a digital health passport.
Canarian tourism minister Yaiza García said the project is important because it will show that tourism is a sector at “the forefront of security”.
The mobile phone application stores travelers’ medical data, accredited by health authorities and with double encryption to guarantee their safety.
Antonio López de Ávila, co-founder of hi+Card, tells Efe it will be possible to “better manage the space on the plane and seat immune people with the social distance required by law”.
It will also allow airlines to communicate the number of people who have immunity when a plane reaches its destination, he adds.
He says the program is due to be launched in August when “the Canary Islands will be ready to receive all European tourists who have downloaded the app”.
The Spanish government announced on Saturday that international travelers will be able to visit the country from 1 July without having to undergo an isolation period.
José Luis Zoreda, vice president of the Exceltur tourism association, says the decision is an opportunity to meet foreign demand so that companies can consider reopening and recover something from the summer season.
He highlighted the importance of a proposal from the European Commission to establish travel corridors between countries with similar epidemiological situations.
Zoreda says the scheme would be “the most reliable short-term exit” in the absence of a general agreement among all European Union countries.
For now the islands’ streets are quiet, their beaches deserted and many of the hotels and restaurants shuttered, an unthinkable scene since the tourist boom of the 1960s.
Tourism is a key industry for the islands and represents 35 percent of the GDP and 40 percent of their employment.
The archipelago welcomed 15.1 million visitors last year of which 13.1 million were foreigners and more than 410,000 flights passed through its eight airports, carrying 44 million passengers.
A six-month hiatus of tourism would mean a drop of 17.5 percent in GDP and the loss of 135,270 jobs, according to the regional government.