Seville’s pandemic-hit tourism sector is hoping to get a shot in the arm from UEFA’s last-minute decision to name the southern Spanish city as a host for Euro 2020 matches.
While thousands of football fans are set to flock to the city later this month, hotels, restaurants and bars warn the event won’t be enough to make up for the collapse in business brought on by the health crisis.
“It is a first-class showcase,” said Antonio Munoz, the city councillor in charge of tourism.
“It is a draw to recover the appeal this city has always had to attract tourism.”
European football governing body UEFA in April picked Seville to replace Bilbao in northern Spain as a host city for the rescheduled football tournament.
Bilbao was dropped because it was unable to guarantee organisers it could host fans in the stadium for matches due to the strict virus measures in place in the region.
Seville’s 64,000-seat La Cartuja stadium is set to host all three of Spain’s Group E games against Sweden, Poland and Slovakia, plus a last-16 match during the second half of June.
Capacity at the venue will be limited to around 25 percent, or 16,000 people.
Seville city hall expects the matches will draw around 70,000 visitors, providing a direct economic impact of 61 million euros ($75 million) in business.
Antonio Luque, the head of the Seville Hospitality Association, said tourists will be greeted “with open arms” but the money they will spend will pale in comparison to the income the sector has lost.
Beyond the Euro, 2021 will be “complicated”, added Luque, who does not expect hospitality sector revenues to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.
– ‘It’s dead’ –
Seville, with its sunny weather, flamenco dancing and historical landmarks such as its gothic Cathedral, is Spain’s third most visited city.
The tourism sector accounts for 18 percent of the city’s economic output.
But the hospitality sector’s revenues plunged to 640 million euros in 2020 from 1.6 billion the previous year, as the pandemic put the brakes on travel around the world.
This drop in business led about one in five businesses to close their doors, according to the hospitality association.
The fall in visitor numbers can be felt in the narrow streets of Seville’s old Jewish quarter, the Santa Cruz neighbourhood.
“Here half of the businesses have closed. It’s dead,” Maria Menendez, who runs a tea shop in the neighbourhood, said as she pointed to a boarded-up shop across the street.
“The Euro is a boost that will last three days,” she added.
A few steps from Seville’s famous cathedral, chef Rafael Sanchez has recently reopened his tapas restaurant, Las Columnas, after a 15-month closure due to the pandemic.
With nostalgia he recalls the European, American and Asian tourists who ate at his venue in the past.
“I hope they will all come at once, and that we can return to normality,” said Sanchez.
– ‘Lost year’ –
Just over half of Seville’s hotels are currently open but city hall expects that by mid-June 70 percent of hotel beds will be available.
The local hotel association was optimistic about the future, but declined to give a forecast for reservations which will depend on the recovery of flights to the city.
Seville airport currently operates 67 routes, two-thirds of the pre-pandemic amount.
“What matters is that Ryanair flights resume,” said Diego Zanoletti, an Italian who runs a bicycle rental shop.
Like other business owners, he believes the Euro is “a positive thing but it remains a one-off event which will not make up for our lost year or what we will lose in 2021”.