A management problem, but not a reputation problem. This is how economic agents and tourism scholars see the complex coincidence between two painful realities in the Canaries at the present time: the efforts to reset economic activity in the midst of a pandemic and a migratory crisis that places the Islands as a border region and showcase world. In the middle, a humanitarian response that has turned hotel establishments into makeshift reception centers. It is a matter that has raised discussion among the Canarian tourism agents themselves, and for which the employers’ association of the province of Las Palmas has set a deadline: December 31, a demand made public this Thursday by businessmen with determined support. of the two most important tourist municipalities in the south of Gran Canaria, San Bartolomé de Tirajana and Mogán.

To understand the magnitude of a problem, the first thing to do is measure them. Currently, some 5,500 migrants are housed in hotel facilities, according to data from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. How many tourist beds are there in Gran Canaria? 145,000 in total, according to data from the Las Palmas Federation of Hospitality and Tourism Entrepreneurs. If we relate this figure to the occupancy rates, we obtain a hotel occupancy in Gran Canaria of 5%, while 3.5% of it is dedicated to the accommodation of immigrants arriving in cayucos.

“For us, the humanitarian reception in an emergency context has been a temporary solution that should end now, and we have said so to the Government Delegation”, underlines the vice president of the Federation of Hospitality and Tourism of Gran Canaria, Tom Smulders, who insists on the advisability of this temporary reception taking place “in non-hotel establishments, not in hotels.” Two weeks ago, Servatur, the manager of the Hotel Waikiki in Playa del Inglés, left this orientation. “It is about offering a no-frills welcome, with three daily meals, decent facilities, Wi-Fi and access to international television channels,” adds Smulders, who nevertheless makes one condition clear: “Never, in any case, clients and immigrants can coincide in the same establishment ”.

The images of the Arguineguín dock have crossed the borders of the Islands to occupy covers and television minutes in the media of the Old Continent. Is this fact a problem? “No, because irregular immigration is a fact known and assumed by the European population, for the simple reason that it also exists in continental Europe,” says the director of Turespaña in Berlin, Arturo Ortiz, who is categorical about it: ” We have seen the images of the Canary Islands on German television channels, we have asked the tour operators about the impact of this fact on the image of the Canary Islands as a destination and their concern is zero ”. “In this case there are watertight compartments in the client’s brain”, says Ortiz, in reinforcement of the thesis also defended by Smulders, who these days has spoken with European journalists who cover the migration crisis in the Islands and has come across ” extensive knowledge of the Canarian reality and the migratory processes themselves. Also in Holland, Germany and the Nordic countries there are welcome to those who come from outside ”.

Be that as it may, an alarming headline has made its way in recent days: The Canary Islands will be “the new Lesbos”. Raúl Hernández is director of the Tourism Chair at the University of La Laguna and, by chance in his professional life, he lived in Lesbos. He is categorical in his diagnosis of the parallelism between the Canarian reality and that of the Greek island of the Aegean, of similar dimensions to Gran Canaria and also a tourist destination hampered by the presence in its territory of refugee camps from barbarism in Syria. “The Canary Islands are facing a management crisis in humanitarian assistance, not a tourist image problem, which could only occur in the event of a prolonged situation that is neither foreseeable nor desirable right now. The Lesbos thing has been like this for five years and it is a tragedy of enormous proportions, ”says the researcher and teacher.

Business emergencies

“The tourist establishments are not to be dedicated to immigrants, personally I think it was a mistake to welcome them, because the image we have given to our clients and neighbors has been painful,” says the general secretary of the Canarian Confederation of Entrepreneurs, José Cristóbal García, who questions the decision of some owners of establishments who chose this route to reopen their doors: “No one can think that this is how the extremely serious economic problems suffered by the Canary Islands can be solved,” he says.

The Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce of the Government of the Canary Islands, Yaiza Castilla, turns the question about the image of the Canary Islands in the midst of a serious migratory crisis in the Islands: “What would our international image be if not would we have welcomed immigrants in dignified conditions? On the contrary, the fact of having helped in the reception reinforces our image of solidarity, as long as it is a temporary event ”, he emphasizes.

The strength of a destination is gained in decades and not lost in a few days, considers the president of the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, Antonio Morales, confident in the solidity of the Islands as the first choice for the European tourist who seeks to leave behind in the pandemic. For Morales, the deterioration of the brand “would have an effect only if the reception lasted over time and caused some kind of tension. Furthermore, Europeans are already familiar with immigration ”.

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