After a 13-week lockdown with some of the strictest quarantine conditions in all of Europe, Spain has opened its provincial, regional and national borders for 46 million citizens and select travelers from abroad. High time for a country which generates 13% of its gross national product through tourism.
Those making up the tourism industry are highly motivated to return to being gracious hosts and providers of coveted services. But before that will be entirely possible, major adjustments to the traditional processes are required.
Take SKYDIVE EMPURIABRAVA (SDE) as an example! Europe’s leading skydiving center is in its 35th year of continuous operation. At its facilities in the coastal resort Empuriabrava, it has registered as many as 140,000 jumps total made in a single year. Tandem skydives account regularly for more than 10,000 per annum. Annual revenue from the latter alone amounts to more than 2 million Euros.
Until 13 March 2020, SDE was a well-oiled machinery that had perfected the use it made of an all-encompassing infrastructure, which included a fleet of powerful aircraft with different passenger capacities: DeHavilland Twin Otter (23 PAX), Beechcraft Beech 99 (16 PAX) and Pilatus Porter (8 PAX). As nearly all airliners around the world, they were grounded from mid-March until now. At the same time, more than 50 members of the SDE staff had to be laid off – under the terms of a government-sponsored program (Expediente de Regulación Temporal de Empleo – ERTE) and with the commitment to eventually re-employ them.
In order to return to a semblance of normalcy, the skydiving center in Castelló d’Empúries had to come up with revised protocols that will forthwith govern operations in the different areas. Taking the staff back is certainly one of the priorities, also since the ERTE program is due to expire by the end of September. However, with the normalcy scaled down significantly by several factors not under SDE's control, the future is uncertain.
After the first four days of operations, the outlook is starting to brighten already. Most importantly, the consumers do not appear to have turned their backs on what is a rather expensive sporting and leisure activity. Almost in spite of the grim prediction made recently by the International Monetary Fund that Spain’s economy would be the worst hit of all first world countries, with fallout from the coronavirus crisis causing it to shrink by 12.8%.
In disregard of such pessimistic scenarios, experienced skydivers and newcomers alike were ready to enjoy their time in the wild blue yonder despite the new restrictions and impositions. These range from the prohibition to share equipment without drastic disinfection measures to the monitoring of the skydivers’ body temperature prior to boarding, and they address the wearing of masks as well as the basic norms of physical distancing at SDE.
Marjorie Delattre makes her first Tandem skydive after a wait of four months. Her brothers have given her a gift voucher for her birthday early this year and during the long confinement, which she spent near Perpignan, France, she has asked herself repeatedly whether she would ever get to redeem it. When the borders finally opened, she calls SDE immediately and firms up on her reservation.
Under the terms of the revised protocol for Tandems, Marjorie first has to don a jumpsuit in a bright orange color that happens to be a perfect match for her hair. This suit is the crucial additional layer of protection for her and for the Tandem pilot during the preparations, the flight to altitude and the actual skydive. It will be disposed of (by her) immediately after landing and then washed and disinfected by professionals. The same happens to the passenger harness. A heavy-duty steam cleaner is used for that.
After landing it is a more sober congratulatory gesture by the pilot than one would have seen in the pre-SARS-CoV-2 days: gloved thumbs up and a cautious shoulder-to-shoulder posing – cum mask, of course – for the photographer.
The members of the SDE staff wo have been called back (about 30%) are more than happy to see clients again – old and new – and they are keenly aware of the added responsibilities that implementing the new protocols will bring about. As hardly anything can be taken too lightly in this sport, everybody should be able to cope with a few new items on an even longer checklist – for the safety of all involved.
The governments at national, regional and local levels have generally shown good judgement throughout the past four months in guiding the country through the unprecedented crisis and they have made great efforts to help the tourism industry to get back up on its feet. The (post-SARS-CoV-2) promotional video "CRAZY TO SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN" by the Tourism Board of the Girona Provincial Council is the most recent example for such an effort. More will likely be needed soon.