From an unprecedented “zero tourism” period during the confinement to practically a “sold-out” situation in the hotels. After the difficulties caused by the COVID, the tourism sector in the archipelago has managed to turn around the worst crisis it has ever suffered. Never before has there been such a general shutdown as in the spring of 2020. At that time, a sense of unreality spread through the tourist areas of the Canary Islands, fuelled by a desolate landscape: hotels closed down, airport runways empty, beaches that looked like deserts, motorways with no traffic and shops and restaurants with their shutters pulled to the ground.
On the terraces, beach bars and swimming pools, the chats, the music, the shouting of children, the splashing and diving disappeared, and all that could be heard was the breeze, the murmur of the waves and the squawking of the seagulls. The sky emptied of planes and the bathing areas, promenades, streets and pavements fell silent. Everything vanished and we saw the ears of the wolf disguised as a microscopic agent.
That nightmare, which seemed to last forever, came in a perfect storm for the sector. It began to develop with the Brexit setback and then with the unexpected bankruptcy of the British tour operator Thomas Cook, until the first case of COVID-19 was detected at the end of January in a German tourist on holiday in La Gomera. The first alarm bells rang in Spain three weeks later when the first hotel in the world was placed under house arrest when the dreaded virus was detected in an Italian guest.
The unprecedented quarantine of almost a thousand tourists at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, in the south of Tenerife, put the hotel in La Caleta under the international media spotlight and led to fears of a massive cancellation of bookings. Although the episode had a happy ending after two long weeks of confinement (only six contagions and the departure with applause of the guests to the health staff and hotel employees), the pandemic was waiting just around the corner.
Three years on from the historic tourism slump, the sector has not only recovered, but is looking to the immediate future with cautious optimism. Now the war in Ukraine, where one year after the Russian invasion, no one dares to predict how the war will evolve or what the real economic dimension will be in the medium term in Europe. However, as far as the high beams of tour operators and airlines can see, there is a hopeful outlook for destinations such as the Canary Islands, which is walking, albeit with leaden feet.
Although some of the air connections with Russian, Polish and even German cities have disappeared because of the war, other links have been added with French and Italian cities, as well as new flights to the United States, Slovakia and Iceland. In the case of the domestic market, expectations for the Canary Islands this summer are promising, with flights to 25 cities and more than 3.5 million seats.
If 2022 was the year of the tourism revival, which in the case of the Islands resulted in the recovery of 96% of visitors in 2019 (14.6 million arrivals of foreigners and nationals) and a tourist expenditure of 19,000 million euros (16.5% more than the year before the pandemic), 2023 must be the year of consolidation for the sector, which is increasingly accustomed to living with uncertainty. Currently, bookings are made an average of 45 days in advance, highlighting the importance of international economic and geopolitical ups and downs.
For the time being, the Islands will strengthen their air connections with 28 markets this summer, bringing the total number of destinations between April and October to 122 and almost 2,000 weekly frequencies. Now it is time to convert seats into passengers. Ryanair is by far the leading airline in terms of passenger traffic in the Canary Islands, with 4.5 million seats a year. The reopening in summer of its bases in Tenerife South and Lanzarote will reinforce its presence, with four more planes and six new routes.
The second operator in the Canary Islands is Vueling, with 2.3 million annual arrivals. It operates mainly from the mainland market, but also operates international routes to Amsterdam, Paris, Copenhagen and Billund, Denmark. Jet2.com, which has the tour operator Jet2 Holidays, is the leading airline in the archipelago from the British market. It has scheduled 40 routes to the Islands from a dozen airports in the UK with Tenerife South, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, and is considering extending its connections to Tenerife North. Another British company, EasyJet, with the tour operator EasyJet Holidays, operates 39 routes to the Canary Islands from six European countries. Its summer schedule will increase by 74% compared to 2019, the year before the pandemic.
TUI has 82 routes between Tenerife Sur, La Palma, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, operated by five airlines that travel to seven countries. For its part, Iberia Exprés has increased its capacity by 16% compared to 2019 from Madrid to the Archipelago, while Air Europa, which has lost connections to some points on the Peninsula, will fly again this summer from Barcelona to Tenerife and Lanzarote after five years without doing so. In addition, the Mallorca-based company has announced its intention to extend its range of action from Spain to the Nordic countries. As for Lufthansa, the German airline, which has a very seasonal schedule with more weight in winter than in summer, flies to the Canary Islands from Frankfurt and Munich, routes that will soon be covered by EW Discover, the group’s new brand for holiday traffic.