The coronavirus pandemic meant that summer 2020 was a write off for Marbella’s hotel industry. As Spain finally opened up for international tourism this year, many hotels were understandably cautious about summer 2021. Several countries, most notably the UK and US, imposed strict travel restrictions, and in the case of the latter, where not allowing leisure travel at all.
Article by Giles Brown
Despite all this, however, summer this year saw Marbella back to its busy best. One well established restaurateur told me that he had never seen Puerto Banus so packed in the 30 years that he has been open, and that story was repeated at the beach clubs and bars as people flocked to let their hair down after lockdown!
The official figures backed this up. Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE) reported that 51,443 foreign tourists visited Marbella in August along with 36,023 Spaniards.
The total of 87,466 tourists for August 2021 compared to the 89,179 from the same month in 2019 (before the pandemic) was welcomed by Marbella Tourism Delegate, Laura de Arce, “This is good news for the municipality, since international tourism has finally rebounded, after having been stagnant for many months.” she said.
Summer 2021 saw significant numbers of visitors from France and the Netherlands for the first times, as well as increased numbers from Germany that approached the levels of 2019. The British market showed the greatest recovery, with a total of 11,456 visitors in August, a figure only slightly lower than that recorded in 2019, when 12,467 Brits visited Marbella at the height of summer.
As the man who has overseen the expansion and revitalisation of the Marbella Club Group of Hotels, and currently General Manager of Nobu Hotel Marbella, John Thomson knows the idiosyncrasies of the Marbella hotel and hospitality industry better than anyone. With people finally allowed to travel, it came as no surprise to him that they wanted to indulge themselves in the finest that Marbella has to offer.
“It’s been one of our busiest seasons in terms of tourist numbers” he says “and an unbelievable demand for the hotel rooms and restaurant reservations. The occupation of our hotels beat all pre-pandemic records, even with all the complications that we had to face during the Covid period”.
John also noticed that the demographic of guests enjoying the Puente Romano. Marbella Club and Nobu Hotels, as well as La Plaza, the gold standard gastronomic destination, had also shifted slightly, “This year we once again welcomed many visitors from the Arab nations as well as Europeans and Scandinavians, but there were fewer Russian or American guests”.
As for the rest of the year and 2022, John is already positive “We are predicting a great 2022 as groups and weddings – that were severely disrupted by the pandemic – return and overall tourist demand is already up. So it is already better!” he smiles.
Boutique Hotels, many of which must have wondered if they could survive and see the way out of the pandemic, also reported a strong summer. Located just past the Manolo Santana Tennis Club as the road winds up to the picturesque pueblo of Istan, Jardines De La Reina Boutique Bed & Breakfast is the quirky and boho dream that became reality for Kirsten and Diego Selinger. But that dream became something of a nightmare for the couple when Covid hit.
Kirsten is brutally frank about the impact that it had “So many people were devastated financially, mentally, physically…..while many also benefitted greatly, especially financially. For us it was tough as we were both unemployed for nearly 15 months, and – due to health concerns – our family was split up.
“As we didn’t know how 2021 would pan out, we could not employ anyone, so we have both worked seven days a week with no break since the season began. It has been very tough, but we have to consider ourselves one of the lucky ones as we kept our business and our health”.
Having built up a loyal clientele before the pandemic, Kirsten and Diego finally saw visitors return in numbers this season “We were busy!” she says. “The season started off slowly, May was pretty good, June had a little slump and then July hit with full force. And we are still full now! September was our best year on record in the past 10 years. We also have more bookings for November than we have had in the past, as that it is usually a completely dead month”.
The couple also noticed a mix of normal clientele, as well as older people and families. “Many were just relieved to be able to travel again, especially the Europeans as they all had a terrible summer weather wise! To be able to get out of the grey and rain was a relief for many, and there was the added benefit that many behaved better!”
Having weathered the storm, the couple are hopeful for 2022. “We are looking for employees for next season and expect it to be very good. Fingers crossed!”