Spain’s Mallorca island in the Mediterranean plans to welcome a limited number of Germans and other travelers in late June in a “pilot project” to restart tourism that has been halted due to coronavirus, Francina Armengol, the Regional President of the Balearic Islands said Thursday.
The plan would have the large German tour operator TUI fly in Germans or others from European countries or regions that, like Mallorca, have low infection rates, Armengol told CNN and other journalists on a video call.
“We are ready to do the pilot project at the end of June, so that groups can come assured of health safety,” Armengol said, speaking from Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital. “We have to learn how to live with Covid-19 and how to do that safely.”
In Germany, TUI confirmed that it sees renewed tourism in Mallorca and beyond.
“We are in constructive talks with a number of local governments where we believe there may be summer holidays,” Martin Riecken, TUI’s Head of Communications, told CNN by phone. “We don’t believe that Spain as a whole, but the Balearics, also the Canary Islands, with low infection rates, where local governments have made good progress.”
TUI, he added, is also in talks with tourist destinations in Greece, Cyprus, Croatia and Bulgaria.
The restart of tourism will depend on national governments re-opening borders and lifting 14-day mandatory quarantines for travelers, where they are in effect, Riecken said.
Spain has announced mandatory 14-day quarantines for all international travelers to Spain, starting May 15, and the rule will last through the country’s state of emergency.
The heightened travel talk comes as a concept called “green bridges” is gaining currency at the European Union and in various capitals. Its advocates, including some academics, argue that a safe way to restart tourism and devastated economies, is to move travelers on “green bridges” directly between low-infection areas.
Riecken said TUI, with 28 million travel customers annually, has heard of the term. “We are looking into specific point-to-point agreements between countries of origin and countries of destination where we deem holiday operation to be safe in times of Corona,” he said. “We expect tourism to restart gradually, country by country and destination by destination.”
Mallorca and the other three islands of the Balearics archipelago have been actively preparing for the re-opening, Armengol said.
The Balearics last year had 16 million tourists, a fourth of them from Germany. This year, due to coronavirus, they predict just 4 million to 6 million visitors. Tourism is 30 percent of local GDP and worth about €10 billion ($10.7 billion), said Iago Negueruela, the Balearics head of tourism, who also attended the video call with journalists.
“The best way to guarantee safety is for the tour operator to monitor the tourists when leaving Germany, how they arrive at the hotel, and excursions. It’s the safest way to travel, rather than individually, so we do the pilot project with companies that already have experience in this,” Negueruela said.
The Balearics would be TUI’s first destination in Spain when it resumes operations, Riecken said. Any temperature checks on travelers would be done by airport personnel, he explained, and said TUI could provide traveler contact information to local authorities “if required.”
Separately, about 200 German owners of holiday homes in Mallorca wrote to Armengol last month, her office confirmed to CNN, pressuring to be allowed back to their properties as soon as Spain’s lockdown is lifted.
Armengol said Balearics hospital ICU beds were not stretched to the limit during the height of the pandemic, like in some other parts of Spain. This summer, health workers would immediately test travelers, who show any symptoms of the virus, even very slight ones and would isolate them if they test positive.
The Balearics government is also working on a mobile phone app, whose use would be voluntary, to inform travelers if they have been in physical contact with someone who has recently tested positive for Covid-19, Armengol said.
Spain is one of the hardest hit countries by coronavirus, especially in Madrid and Barcelona. The nation’s state of emergency started March 14, to reduce infections. But the government eased confinement restrictions this week for more than half of Spain’s population, and promises a gradual re-opening.
The German carrier Lufthansa recently announced that it plans to resume flights to Mallorca and other destinations in June.
TUI, which has operated tours to Mallorca for 50 years, has its own fleet of planes that carry about 70% of its travelers, Riecken said.
Armengol said if the pilot project happens by late June, and is successful, then more tourists could arrive in July. Just as summer fully sets in.