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Monday, April 20, 2020

Mayor of Adeje hopes that tourism reaches cruising speed before the end of the year

Aerial view of hotels in Costa Adeje and the marina. Wouter Hagens / CC BY-SA

After 33 years as mayor, José Miguel Rodríguez Fraga faces the most delicate situation in his nine terms in the main tourist center of the Canary Islands

With "tourist zero" that has emptied the 58 hotels in his municipality overnight, destroyed 3,360 jobs in a month and has caused almost 13,000 employees to be affected by ERTE (furlough), the economic hurricane of the pandemic has hit with all its force on the "engine room" of the economy on the island of Tenerife. José Miguel Rodríguez Fraga cannot stop going over what will happen the day after the quarantine is lifted, aware that "if the tourism engine does not start, the island economy will go to hell." Despite everything though, he retains his optimism. “The Canaries have historically known how to respond to critical situations. It will cost us a lot, but we will get ahead,” he predicts.

-More than a month after the state of alarm was declared, we are experiencing a kind of feeling of unreality; How do you keep quarantine on a personal and family level?

"Like the rest of the families, with strangeness, trying take advantage of the time reading, organising papers, cabinets ... but, above all, thinking about how to start turning all this around the day after."

-The first Covid-19 outbreak in Tenerife occurred in a hotel in your municipality. A litmus test, which aroused the interest of half the world and isolated 900 people. How far have we come ...

“In just two months, what seemed like a catastrophe to us then has become an anecdote. Looking back, it was a wise move. It could have been terrible and we controlled the focus.”

-What goes through your head when you see images of closed hotels, beaches and empty promenades and the shutters lowered on the shops?

“A feeling of sadness, it is devastating. Accustomed to seeing these tourist areas full of life, movement and activity, it has a great impact ”.

-There is some hopeful news within the tragedy we are experiencing, tour operators such as TUI and Jet 2 have reservations for this summer, although everything will depend on the evolution of the pandemic.

“Yes, there are some tour operators with packages up and running. I am optimistic and I think we will succeed. It will cost us, we will have to review some actions, maintain absolute unity of action and work jointly with the administrations and the private sector. That is going to have to be the way.”

-You preside over the Association of Tourist Municipalities of the Canary Islands. How do you expect the revival of the sector to be?

“The hope we have is that before the end of the year we will start to reach cruising speed. In any case, it is necessary to be very prudent, the uncertainty on the public health subject is very great, because we still do not know how the virus is going to evolve ”.

-The possibility has been discussed that the Canary Islands may advance unconfinement in some islands. What do you think of that possibility?

"I do not want to be a laboratory with health, because if it turns out, great, as it happened with the hotel, but I preferred to make a mistake by closing it rather than leaving it open. We have to be very careful.”

-Last week began a round of contacts with economic and social agents. What is their message?

“We have met with Ashotel, CEST, the board of directors of the Association of Tourist Municipalities of the Canary Islands and with the spokespersons of the opposition. This week we will sit down with the representatives of small and medium-sized companies and with the unions to continue looking for solutions and we are going to ask for a meeting with the President of the Government of the Canary Islands and the Minister of Tourism. We have also requested an interview with the minister. We are all concerned, but with a positive attitude. Of course, the social emergency must be attended to and to help the families that are having the worst of it, but it is very important to create jobs and move economic activity so that the machine can get going again. ”

-And how is this to be achieved: to restart the Canary Islands economy?

"Tourism we have to recover as soon as possible. The problem is that it does not depend only on us, also on the markets of the countries of origin, which are in a similar situation to ours. We have to work hard on promotion, highlighting that we are a safe destination; that we know how to act and react. That will reposition us in the new scenario. It is also necessary to promote internal initiatives and work with national as well as international institutions. At the local level we are preparing employment plans and training needs to be reinforced. ”

-Can the Canary Islands Government, Ashotel, unions and municipalities work together?

"There is no other way. I detect that there is a will for coordinated and joint work. We are all aware that if tourism is not fixed, the economy is not fixed. ”

-What lesson do you think we will learn from this health and economic crisis?

“Many things, starting with the hierarchy of values. Two or three months ago, what was a mask? Something unimportant. Now it's a great international protagonist. I mean that on a human level we begin to give importance to small things, and that we are weaker and more vulnerable than we think. This crisis has opened our eyes to our interdependence. And economically we have to learn that situations like this are not going to be so anecdotal in the future. I trust that we will come out of this process more humanized and with a greater capacity for prevention. We heard about the pandemics and we associated them with Africa, it seemed that it was not going to affect us. We have not really known the meaning of the word globalization until now. ”

-Your municipality, which has always been among those that generate the most jobs, suffers first-hand the consequences of the drying up of tourism: more than 3,200 became unemployed in March, 12,000 people affected by an ERTE (furlough), almost 3,500 companies closed and 58 empty hotels. The outlook cannot be more devastating ...

“We have led the job creation rankings and now it is logical that we are the most affected by the fall in employment after an absolutely unthinkable 'tourist zero'. The important thing is to recover economic activity to start reversing the crisis, but that will depend on the public health situation. I am also very concerned about small and medium-sized companies. Many entrepreneurs were starting their businesses and suddenly they have had the rug pulled from under their feet. ”

-The Council has announced an employment plan as one of the shock measures it will implement. What can you tell us?

"We want to link part of that job to training, that is, jobs that not only solve a specific problem, but also think about the future. We are also preparing for the plans to come, because it will have to be this way, both for the Canary Islands government and for the central government. Generating projects and initiatives to cushion the economic crisis is a priority.”

-How do you assess the management of this unprecedented crisis by the regional and state governments?

“They are responding as they can, because this is a situation with enormous difficulties. What started out as a flu, look where it has taken us. It took us all by surprise and that is also a learning experience. Both the Canary and Spanish governments are responding as best they can. The political panorama is not so encouraging.

-What do you mean?

"That we continue stuck in the same debate as six months ago, as if this misfortune had not occurred. I hear the people of the PP making senseless opposition. Of course, they have to control the government, because we are in a democracy, but the situation and citizenship require a higher level of vision and a greater sense of state. ”

-You, like many other mayors, insist that the municipalities can make use of the municipal surpluses accumulated in recent years. Do you really think it will be achieved?

“We have already met the initial objectives of getting out of debt. That money is in the bank and what we are asking for is to be able to spend it on employment-generating policies, on attention to vulnerable groups, on promoting public works ... in short, moving the economy. And on top of that we are paying the banks to save us the money! With a million euros we solve the employment problem for 100 families in the municipality ”.

-Does this situation remind you of the 2008 crisis?

“It is of a different nature. That was an economic crisis, this is a health crisis, although with tremendous economic consequences. Let's not forget that the tourism sector responded quite well then and in fact we lived the best years of tourism in the Canary Islands. Now we are in tourist zero. The impact will be much stronger and the exit will be more complicated, because among other things, our visitor source markets are in more or less the same situation. ”

-Is there to be a Marshall Plan with the Canary Islands by the state government?

“There must be some of that and, of course, Europe also has to respond. This cannot be resolved in financial and banking terms. It is time for solidarity, but for all, and to consolidate the European project ... or to sink it. Because if Europe is not capable of responding to the current situation, it seems to me that the common project will be very difficult ”.

-Finally, what message do you send to your neighbors?

“A message of hope. The Adeje, Tenerife and Canaries have historically managed to respond to critical situations and we will also be able to leave this pandemic behind us. It will cost us a lot, but we will be up to it. The amount of solidarity that has been displayed is impressive and I am very proud to be part of this people, their behavior, their attitude, their responsibility and their ability to take on an unprecedented situation. ”

Fraga: “Nuestra esperanza es que el turismo alcance la velocidad de crucero antes de final de año”