By Nathan Allen
MADRID (Reuters) - Hotel bookings in Spain have boomed since a national state of emergency and ban on leisure travel expired last week, unleashing pent-up local demand and fuelling optimism within the COVID-battered sector despite a shortage of foreign visitors.
Reservations reached over 70% of pre-pandemic levels in the days after the emergency decree ended, according to hospitality data provider SiteMinder. Global hotel bookings, by contrast, are at around half 2019's levels.
"We continue to have positive expectations, although we must exercise some caution," said Sara Padrosa, SiteMinder's country director for Spain. "We aren't going to find ourselves in the same situation as two years ago from one day to the next."
Driving the upswing is a surge in last-minute bookings from Spaniards, who had been banned from travelling outside their home regions since October.
But with most reservations allowing flexible cancellation and generous refunds, hoteliers cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief, Padrosa said.
"What we need is for (guests) to follow through on all these bookings ... Until they arrive at the hotel we can't be 100% sure," she told Reuters.
Ramon Estalella, secretary general of Spain's CEHAT hotels federation, welcomed the return of local tourism but stressed that a full recovery would depend on the return, en masse, of international travellers.
"Let's not kid ourselves - the domestic market only covers 30% of Spanish tourist beds," he said.
Underscoring the importance of visitors from abroad, booking platform eDreams, said it expected domestic tourists to spend around 150 euros per person on travel this summer, down 46% from 2019.
Spain is rushing to define rules for safe travel, hoping to entice foreign visitors and salvage some of the crucial summer season after international arrivals crashed 80% last year.
The government expects a rebound to just over half 2019's levels this summer, but Estalella said some regions could see a recovery of up to 70% by September if a European vaccination passport scheme is rolled out on time.
Mallorca-based hotel chain Melia said bookings from German tourists over the past two weeks had surpassed 2019's levels, with demand concentrated on the Balearic and Canary Islands, which Berlin considers safe destinations.
"The big gap and the big unknown is the British market, which is the most important for Spain overall," Communications Director Maria Umbert said.
Britain allowed international travel to resume on Monday, but Spain is not on its so-called "green list", meaning returnees must isolate on arrival.
Madrid is lobbying the UK government to re-classify individual regions like the Balearic Islands and Valencia, which have a lower infection rate than Britain, as safe holiday spots.
After London allowed travel to Portugal, hotels there were inundated with enquiries from Britons.
(Reporting by Nathan Allen; Editing by Giles Elgood)