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The extreme hotel hygiene awaiting tourists in Spain

It’s breakfast time, which means I need to get my temperature checked, put on my face mask, smother my hands in alcohol disinfectant and wear a pair of plastic gloves.

That’s all before I have coffee.

Welcome to the Riu Concordia — part of a hotel chain headquartered in the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca.

It’s been specially chosen to greet some of the nearly 11,000 German visitors heading here as part of a pilot program to test coronavirus precautions and reopen Spain’s tourism economy.

RIU Hotels has invested in a slew of new protocols.

In our lobby, a thermal camera scans guests when they walk in through the sliding doors: Keep it cool and you get the green light to enter.

But if your temperature gets too high, reception gets a discreet red alert.

“The world is going to see us as an example. A positive example,” hotel director Sergio Navarro told CNN.

“We feel very brave to show the world our product. And people are doing a fantastic effort so far, guests are responding so well.”

Still, when an alarm goes off in the middle of my coffee, I wonder briefly if the thermal camera has caught someone sneaking in with a fever. Just a fire alarm test, as it turns out.

Hyper hygiene

The staff are relentlessly cheerful. When I tell my waiter I’m breakfasting alone, he congratulates me for choosing “the safest option.”

My cutlery is safety sealed and there are signs all around reminding me to stay two meters apart from other guests.

Navigating the breakfast buffet is tricky though. I need to follow the red arrows on the floor to avoid colliding into others.

Predictably, I go the wrong way in an attempt to get to the fresh fruit.

A smiling attendant kindly guides me back towards the tempting croissants and pastries I had only narrowly escaped on the first round, but only after giving me another squirt of gel disinfectant.

All the guests around me are German. The hotel has been booked by tour operator TUI, the world’s number one tour business.

“Destination Experience Representatives” with turquoise shirts and the smiling TUI logo mill around the lobby and pool as more reassurance for guests.

The precautions and extra care are understandable — tourism has plummeted during the pandemic and there’s a lot to prove for tour operators and hotels.

“Our first flights from Germany to Mallorca have been sold out within 36 hours and our guests enjoyed the warm welcome,” TUI said in a statement to CNN.

“We are very pleased to be the first operator to fly holidaymakers to Mallorca again.”

On my way out of the breakfast area, I trip over the mops of no less than two aproned cleaning ladies furiously disinfecting the floors.

One of them proceeds to polish the potted palms in the lobby with alcohol spray.

All this hyper hygiene has not put a damper on the holiday vibes though.

A group of laughing young men heads to the beach toting pink and yellow inflatable beds past the disinfectant stations in the lobby.

In fact, the biggest impediment to holiday fun seems to be the sheer number of media crews desperate to tell a good news story, CNN included. A clutch of German media traveling alongside some holidaymakers has been documenting every step of their vacations.

‘It’s a little bit complicated’

“It’s a little bit complicated how it all works,” concedes one tourist, Rene Fuessem, as he tries to remember how many times he’d had his temperature checked.

That hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm for Mallorca.

While basking by the hotel pool, Fuessem says he especially likes the friendly staff and buffet service. All the guaranteed space makes it more enjoyable.

“The beach for example,” he says. “Before the beaches were full. The shops were full. Now? Nobody is there.”

Plenty of space to roll out the beach towel is nice.

But there’s also something sad about seeing bars and clubs boarded up, their terrace chairs stacked inside.

A boardwalk that would normally be thumping with music is eerily quiet.

Across from the glittering blue of our hotel pool, we can see another shuttered hotel with brown sludge collecting inside its emptied out swimming pool.

At the boardwalk, one shop owner selling beachwear sweeps away the miniature dunes of sand that have collected at the store’s doors during the lockdown.

He doesn’t expect to sell anything, he says. “I’m just bored of sitting at home.”

No-one knows how much of the economy can recover by reopening the islands to tourism again.

But the pilot program is a start.

As I watch a yellowy pink sunset along the long curve of Palma beach, I realize I’m starting to feel a kind of kinship with these brave test pilots of coronavirus tourism: It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it.

CNN

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