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Closed hotels and deserted streets: the unrecognizable face of Spain’s tourism industry | Spain

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Benidorm's tourism sector is getting ready to reopen. Above, a maintenance worker at the Hotel Bali.
Benidorm’s tourism sector is getting ready to reopen. Above, a maintenance worker at the Hotel Bali.Mònica Torres

Last week, in the month when the summer season begins, you could walk through one of Spain’s main vacation destinations without bumping into a single tourist. All that was to be heard was the sound of the sea, or workmen fixing the street. That reflects the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic has hit the country’s tourism sector, a key industry that accounted for 12.4% of GDP in 2019 – €154 billion – as well as 2.72 million jobs, which is 12.9% of the total.

Right now, the south of Tenerife looks like a miniature model, like the set for a once-bustling party. The lack of tourists from the United Kingdom, a country that is still imposing a quarantine on travelers returning from Spain, has dealt the island a huge blow. All around the place the signs are in English, but there are no Britons here. That has the knock-on effect of meaning that there are no taxi drivers waiting on the streets, and restaurant chains that usually would have lines outside for tables are not even open. The businesses that are operating are often ending the day without a single sale.

Tourism is a chain, and in the same way as the bursting of the real estate bubble ruined a small village of 10,000 inhabitants – Villacañas, which has produced as many as 11 million doors a year – the pandemic has caused a disaster with a domino effect that is leaving companies big and small on a cliff edge.

On the Balearic Island of Ibiza, which the UK has also left off its “green list” of travel destinations, there is somewhat more movement, but the figures for reservations are still far from those of 2019. Take a walk around Sant Antoni de Portmany and you will see a succession of padlocks and closed doors at hotels and venues on the beachfront. On the Levante coast the story is the same. Toni Mayor, the head of the Hosbec business association, explains that “60% of the hotels in Benidorm remain closed because national tourism is not enough.” He adds: “Let’s say that we are in the middle of a storm, and hanging on to a child’s flotation device.”

The area of Racó de L´oix in Benidorm, now devoid of British tourists.
The area of Racó de L´oix in Benidorm, now devoid of British tourists.

Mònica Torres

From today, tourist arrivals in Spain will be able to present a negative antigen test, which are quicker and cheaper than PCRs. This is good news for the sector. But the fact that UK tourists can freely come to Spain without a test, but must quarantine on return and take two home PCR tests while doing so, is a disaster.

Fifteen months after the pandemic took hold, and the country’s tourism destinations paint an unrecognizable picture. “The pandemic has particularly affected tourism,” says Gonzalo Fuentes, who represents the sector at the CCOO labor union. “It’s practically a monoculture in places like the Canaries and the Balearics. But unlike in other crises, like [the financial meltdown of] 2008, jobs have been saved this time.” Fuentes points to the government’s ERTE furlough scheme, in contrast to the EREs of 2008 – mass layoffs executed by companies. He attributes this difference to dialogue between the government, labor unions and employer groups.

The main walkway at The Duke Shops, a shopping center in Adeje, on the island of Tenerife.
The main walkway at The Duke Shops, a shopping center in Adeje, on the island of Tenerife.Miguel Velasco Almendral

The 20 or so employers and workers consulted for this feature agree that the furloughs have been very useful, but they believe that when the scheme ends there could be mass layoffs once more. Some businesses have fought to stay open, while others have reopened recently after adapting their premises to make them more resistant to the virus.

The Canary Islands currently have a cumulative coronavirus incidence rate of 70 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days. For the Balearic Islands, the figure is 34.19. The average for Spain is 102.

Here are the stories and experiences of people from the sector.

Restaurants. The fall of the “Golden mile”

Lorenzo Reverón has been in the sector for 29 years. He began as a waiter, opened his first restaurant in Tenerife in 1992, and it went so well that he ended up having 84 establishments along with his partners. His group, Gourmetland, now counts on 23, 12 of which are on the so-called “Golden mile” (Avenida de las Américas). “It’s dead,” he complains. “It’s the worst street of all of them.” They have only been able to open six of the 23 restaurants, and they have pulled 80 staff members off furlough to operate them. They also count on a complex of 85 apartments, but the occupation level is just 10%. “Going out onto the street is devastating,” he complains.

Hotels

“I’ve gone through all of the crises,” explains José Enrique Durán, the director of Los Olivos complex in Tenerife. He’s been in the sector for 10 years, and before that was a bank executive for more than two decades. “Until the financial crisis of 2008 arrived, and there was an ERE at Caixa Catalunya and I reinvented myself,” he explains. “The coronavirus has been much worse than that was because this has affected all sectors, all over the world.”

Los Olivos has not, however, closed at any time during the pandemic – not even during last year’s lockdown, when it was attending to “tourists left behind, healthcare workers and emergency crews.”

Seventy percent of his 48 employees are still on furlough. “Without that mechanism, we would have gone bust,” Durán explains. Tita Alexandru, a 29-year-old waiter, is one of the lucky ones who is already working full time. “It’s been a very hard year,” he explains. “I was just getting by and I even thought about going back to Italy after four years in the Canary Islands, but I’ve been working for one month and 10 days full time and I’m very happy.”

Tita Alexandru, a waiter who has just gone back to work at Los Olivos hotel after being furloughed.
Tita Alexandru, a waiter who has just gone back to work at Los Olivos hotel after being furloughed. Miguel Velasco Almendral

Theme parks. The challenge of maintenance

Tenerife’s Siam Park, the best water park in the world according to TripAdvisor, opened its doors last weekend after 14 months closed. They sold 1,500 tickets a day and they were happy – although in July, before the pandemic, they could see 10,000 daily visitors.

Rafael Márquez, the technical director, has been working around the clock to ensure that all of the complex and delicate machinery is well taken care of. During the high season, there are 500 people working in the park. Some of the employees are being taken off their ERTE furlough schemes. “Before we had 10% of national tourists and 90% from abroad, but now that’s been reversed,” he explains. “Some French people are arriving, some Russians… But it’s still a trickle.”

Rafael Márquez, technical director at the Siam Park water park in Adeje, Tenerife.
Rafael Márquez, technical director at the Siam Park water park in Adeje, Tenerife.Miguel Velasco Almendral

The reopening of the park is encouraging the owners of hotels and hostels, because the park is one of the biggest attractions for families.

Changes in supply and demand in Ibiza

In Ibiza airport there is somewhat more noise and activity. On May 28, the Ushuaïa beach hotel reopened. It belongs to the Palladium group, which counts on 47 hotels in more than six countries, 12 of them on the Balearic Islands. Its marketing director, Iñaky Bau, is optimistic. “The market is getting more lively and there is a trend of reservations for September and October,” he explains. The group has 13,000 employees in total and a large proportion of those from Spain went on furlough. Of the 367 staff at Ushuaïa only 135 are yet to return full time. The current occupation is 37% and the profile of clients has changed. “We’ve gone from an average age of 25 to 40, to 40 and 55 and with higher spending capacity,” explains Charo García-Madrid, the director of accommodation. “Our public was mostly British, but now we have Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Italians…” And that’s all after a year when, as Bau explains, they have had to prepare “for thousands of scenarios, make plans, throw them in the trash and adapt to the series of changes to the coronavirus rules.” Loly Figueroa, the director of the hotel, recalls that they all burst into tears with emotion the day of the first check-in.

Regina Scardaccione, in charge of bookings at the Blue Marlin in Ibiza.
Regina Scardaccione, in charge of bookings at the Blue Marlin in Ibiza. FRANCISCO UBILLA

Regina Scardaccione is in charge of reservations at the Blue Marlin, a beach club in Ibiza’s Jondal bay and a destination for the likes of soccer stars Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. She explains that in 2020 she only worked 57 days. “Normally I live the whole year from the six months of the season, but last summer we opened in July and in September we had to close,” once the UK toughened up its travel restrictions once more. “The €1,300 I got from the ERTE all went on paying rent because here it is so expensive. We reopened on May 21, and saw something of the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope that we can hang on until October.”

During the high season, the club provides work for nearly 350 people, 200 of whom are permanent and are stationed in the restaurant, the beach service, the dance area and the bars. Mattia Olivieri, the general director of the Blue Marlin, explains that the company has had to help out some of the families because their ERTE money was not sufficient. “The British are between 60% and 70% of our clientele. Normally, in January we have 40% of July booked up. A concert day can see 2,000 people pass by here, but know we have a quarter of this.”

A worker at the Blue Marlin carrying a tray of food last Thursday.
A worker at the Blue Marlin carrying a tray of food last Thursday.FRANCISCO UBILLA

The future: quality or volume

Antoni Riera, a professor of applied economics at Balearics University, provides a piece of data to explain the damage the pandemic has caused. “International tourist spending in 2020 did not even reach the equivalent of 20 days in the summer of 2019.” Asked if he thinks that things will go back to how they were, he says that he sees this standstill as an opportunity to reflect on the model. “Covid-19 may have radically altered the concept of destinations. The density and connectivity, seen as strong points for tourism, could now be seen as weaknesses from now on. In the same way that digitalization spurred by the lockdown and home working will bring permanent changes to the way work is organized, the effects of Covid will continue to affect the tourism sector once the health crisis is over.”

Associations representing businesses and entrepreneurs in Tenerife are preparing projects that will be paid for with European Union funds, such as recovering marine reserves to attract scuba divers, or creating cycling routes and rural restaurants.

All that’s missing now are the tourists.

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Venezuela’s mining region a hotbed of sex trafficking and violence, UN says | Global development

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Struggling to get by amid Venezuela’s runaway inflation, widespread shortages and rampant unemployment, a young woman left the city of San Félix for the promise of a job deep in the forests of Bolívar state.

The offer made on Facebook promised a good salary in exchange for working in a booming mining town.

Once there, however, she quickly realised she had been deceived. Rather than cooking, cutting hair and washing clothes, she was forced by armed men into selling her body to gold miners.

A landmark UN report on human rights abuses in Venezuela’s lawless mining arc has found evidence of widespread sex trafficking and violence against vulnerable women and children in the region. Many victims are lured to the mines with promises of work, and then pressured or forced into sex work.

“The situation in Bolívar state and other mining areas is deeply troubling,” said Patricia Tappatá Valdez, an author of the fact-finding report, which was presented in Geneva this week. “Local populations, including Indigenous peoples, are caught in the violent battle between state and armed criminal groups for the control of gold.”

As Venezuela’s economy has collapsed – forcing nearly 7 million to flee the country – President Nicolás Maduro has used state forces and paramilitary groups to clamp down on dissent and tighten his grip on power.

The gold-rich mining arc, where Colombian and Venezuelan armed groups war for control of its lucrative mines, has become a hotspot for human rights abuses.

Though the mining towns of Bolívar are sites of brutal massacres and are plagued with disease, UN investigators say that rumours proliferate in towns throughout Bolívar that the mines are the route to riches.

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Once lured to the region, economically vulnerable women and girls are enslaved by criminal groups who steal their documents or threaten them with violence, rape or public shaming.

While men typically have their hands or fingers cut off for breaking the gangs’ rules, the report found that women are publicly shamed. Sex workers had their hair shaved off or were publicly stripped as a form of humiliation for trying to escape.

One witness told the mission that in September 2021 she saw at least 30 women with scars around their mouths or their ears sliced off. Labelled “the discarded ones”, their faces were cut by the gangs so they would be less attractive to clients.

“Getting into the mines is very easy for women,” another interviewee told the researchers. “The problem is to get out of there in one piece.”

The report found that the region’s bloated military forces are complicit, ignoring sex trafficking, and in some cases were responsible for the human rights violations.

Researchers collected numerous reports of soldiers not allowing women to pass checkpoints unless they performed sexual favours.

The 70 case studies in the report offer a harrowing illustration of how corruption and impunity have left the country’s most vulnerable groups – women, children and Indigenous populations – open to abuse from state forces.

In return for parcelling off land to armed gangs, Maduro’s inner circle siphons off most of the profits from drugs, gold and sex work, said Cristina Burelli, founder of the advocacy group SOS Orinoco.

“These are not autocrats, these are criminals,” she said. “These armed groups and the political and military power structures are completely enmeshed.”

The anarchic forests of the Orinoco are dangerous for NGOs and journalists to access, which meant the mission could not fully document the scale of the egregious human rights violations, Marta Valiñas, chair of the fact-finding mission told the Guardian.

The UN’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela expires on Friday and a vote on whether to extend the mandate will probably take place next week.

“There’s a high risk that the dynamics of violence are not only perpetuated but actually start becoming normalised, while at the same time impunity and the context of lawlessness ensures that the violations continue, or even worsen, leaving the populations in those regions completely unprotected,” said Valiñas.

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Russia Vetoes UNSC Draft Resolution Rejecting Referendum Results in Former Ukraine Regions

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UNITED NATIONS (Sputnik) – Russia vetoed on Friday a UN Security Council draft resolution designed to condemn Moscow for incorporating four former Ukrainian regions.

Ten members voted in favor 10, one against and four others abstained.

“The draft resolution has not been adopted owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of the Council,” French Ambassador to the UN De Riviere said at a UN Security Council meeting.

France holds the presidency of the Council for September.

Ahead of the vote, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted that in the event of the resolution being vetoed, the matter would be taken to the 193-member General Assembly.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia earlier remarked that the US-Albanian draft resolution demonstrates the West’s refusal to engage and cooperate within the Council. He called the draft a “low-grade provocation with a goal that is clear to all.”

The Friday vote came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a speech before lawmakers in Moscow on the accession of the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.

“I would like everyone, including the authorities in Kiev and their real masters in the West, to hear me and remember that the people of [the four territories] are becoming our citizens. Forever,” Putin said. “We call on the Kiev regime to immediately cease fire, cease all hostilities – the war it unleashed in 2014 and return to the negotiating table. We are ready for this,” Putin said.

The Russian president also took the opportunity to call on Ukraine to respect the choices made by voters in favor of joining the Russian Federation, adding that Moscow would use all means to protect the newly independent territories.

The Kherson, Zaporozhye and the Donbass republics will officially become part of Russia once lawmakers finalize legislation on their incorporation, and is signed by Putin.



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Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s referendums: ‘Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!’ | International

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Constantin, a 28-year-old internet installer, decided he had had enough. On Tuesday, he packed his gray Lada 110 and its roof rack with everything he feasibly could, then put his brother, his wife, his son and his daughter in the car and drove away, leaving behind his home in Ivanivka, a Russian-occupied town in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine. Tuesday was the last of five days during which Moscow had organized annexation referendums in the occupied zone and three other regions partially under the control of Russian troops to decide if those territories would become part of Russia. The Kremlin’s next step will be to impose mandatory enlistment from October 1 on men aged between 18 and 35, forcing them to fight in Russian uniform against Ukrainian forces defending their own country.

Constantin did not open the door of his home on Monday, when two armed men and a woman, a ballot box in her hand, went house to house to coerce residents into participating in the illegal vote. Neither does he intend to wear the uniform of his country’s enemy. The Kherson region has now been occupied for seven months and the ongoing war, which has resulted in insecurity, inflation and harsh living conditions, have now been brought to the doorsteps of residents suffering harassment in the face of the Kremlin’s designs. “I was scared,” Constantin admits, hours after arriving safely in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast of Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia, capital of the eponymous region, is also playing host to officials of the Kyiv government who fled their municipalities after refusing to collaborate with the Russians. Moscow’s agenda “will not change our lives or those of our troops in any way. Berdyansk will remain Ukrainian. We will fight until victory”, says Viktor Tsukanov, the ousted head of the Berdyansk City Council. The 40-year-old, who served as mayor of the city before it was taken by Russian troops in February, plays down Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric. The Russian president plans to announce on Friday – unilaterally and without official backing from beyond Moscow – that the areas currently occupied by his soldiers in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson will become part of Russia.

Nevertheless, thousands of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied zone, like Constantin and his family, are not waiting for Putin’s pronouncement. Long lines of vehicles trying to reach unoccupied soil resemble those of Russians fleeing their country to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in Ukraine after Putin ordered a partial mobilization in Russia, the country’s first since World War II. To reach Zaporizhzhia, refugees first have to navigate Vasylivka, where hundreds of vehicles are backed up. As dozens of interviewees attest, it is a kind of border hell of draconian controls where Russian troops go out of their way to make passage difficult for the population they have supposedly come to rescue from the “Nazism” of the Kyiv government. Constantin says he was forced to strip to his underpants so that the soldiers could examine his tattoos, as he has several that are clearly visible. It is the occupiers’ method of detecting patriotic or nationalistic symbolism not to their liking, and as such an excuse to make an arrest. Other men consulted by this newspaper described similar experiences.

Ina, 24, is Constantin’s wife. She deals as best she can with Danil, their four-year-old boy, while carrying little Vladislava, nine months old, in her arms. The family has arrived at a transit center set up in an abandoned factory, where they ill remain until they find a place to settle. There are several of these halfway houses in Zaporizhzhia, where refugees are organized according to their place of origin. At one point during the interview, Constantin gets up to help the rest of the volunteers unload a truck that has arrived carrying aid.

Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.
Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.

His wife recalles the hours they spent in Vasylivka with dread. They even tried to elicit sympathy from the Russian soldiers by pretending Danil had a broken leg. The worst of the four controls was the second, Ina says. There, the car was turned inside out and all of the family’s electronic devices were confiscated, even Danil’s tablet. The soldiers scanned social networks, phone contacts and Google and YouTube history, finding something they didn’t like on Ina’s cell phone. “One of the soldiers went crazy and starting shouting aggressively, telling me to get out of the car,” Ina recalls. “Please, I am a mother with two children, one with a broken leg. Let me go on,” she implored. Then came a moment that almost saw them turned back, as had happened to four of the cars that were part of their convoy of 16 vehicles. The Russians became suspicious of Artem, Constantin’s brother, because he wasn’t carrying a phone. In the view of the soldiers, that meant he had something to hide. The nightmare of fleeing through Vasylivka finally ended when they passed the last checkpoint, “which was controlled by Chechens,” says Ina with evident relief.

Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugees
Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugeesLuis de Vega

Also at the makeshift refugee center is Sergei Tatarnikov, a 36-year-old who walks leaning on an old wooden crutch with his left leg bandaged. He was wounded by shrapnel during an attack on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, which was also the the six-month anniversary of the invasion. He was evacuated from Orikhiv, a town the Russians have not yet managed to capture but which is under a permanent state of siege. “It’s a war zone,” says Tatarnikov, who estimates that only 5% of Orikhiv’s 50,000 inhabitants remain there.

In the same facility where the former inhabitants of Berdyansk are receiving help, Irina, 44, recalls how in Vasylivka the Russian troops humiliated them by mocking the use of “Slava Ukaine!” (Glory to Ukraine) that the locals would greet each other with. Another Irina, a 69-year-old nursery school teacher, watched as her neighbor opened the door during the referendum, which the international community has branded a “farce,” and was forced to drop in a ballot. She was accompanied on the bus journey by her son-in-law, Oleksei, 38, a newspaper advertising employee who lost his job because of the war and is also fleeing the Russian draft. He recounts bitterly how “many” acquaintances and former classmates are now collaborating with the occupiers.

A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone.
A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone. Luis de Vega

Night falls over the old Zaporizhzhia factory while dinner is distributed in the dining room provided by the NGO World Central Kitchen, led by the Spanish chef José Andres. Even at night the trickle of refugees arriving at the ten-storey high facility continues. Valentina, 65, a philologist with a doctorate in the Ukrainian language, managed to leave the city of Kherson by crossing the Dnieper River on a small ferry, one of few routes out after the bridge was bombed. Her group had to stop for two days in Vasylivka, where an old woman welcomed them into her home. “In Kherson most people are still with Ukraine. They are waiting for our army to arrive to liberate us”, says Valentina, a retiree who hopes that in Zaporizhzhia she will be able to recover her pension, which it is impossible to receive under the Russian occupying authorities. When she set out last Sunday, the ballot boxes of the illegal referendum were still being carried from house to house, with a military escort. “Only a few people opened the door to vote,” Valentina says, making it abundantly clear she was not one of them: “Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!”

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