An ex-pat bar owner has revealed what Brits coming to the Costa del Sol can expect with cheap pints and on-the-spot fines.
Gary Mercer, owner of Irish bar The Blarney Stone in Torremolinos, Malaga, says businesses are doing their best to prepare for the imminent arrival of Brits insisting it is far from a ‘ghost town’ with bloated prices.
He said most drinks venues are “dropping their prices to try and attract people” – rubbishing reports of a ‘corona tax’ to help pay for staff PPE.
“I don’t see that anywhere in the Costa del Sol that prices have gone up,” he told the Mirror Online.
For updates on coronavirus, follow our live blog HERE.
People arriving back from the four countries will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days.
And beachfront traders like Mr Mercer, originally from Liverpool, are hoping for a surge that can see them through the winter.
The dad-of-two said trade is already slowly picking up saying “you hear the voices on the streets and the voices on the beach” – but warns Brits to be on their guard.
Plain clothes police officers have the power to hand out €150 on-the-spot fines for anyone who isn’t at least carrying a face mask.
“The ones that jump out at you aren’t in uniform and you’ve got no excuse,” he said.
“It’s not a police state but the police have probably 10,000 percent more power than the police in the UK.
“If you look like you’re flouncing about, not obeying the rules, they will bounce on you.”
During the height of lockdown if officers caught residents out of their homes without good reason it was a €600 fine and €1,000 if you were caught again, he said, adding: “€3 million I think they raked in in Spain over the lockdown period.”
Mr Mercer, 50, who took over the bar with his partner Maria, 47, three years ago, said it’s not compulsory to wear a mask at all times but “keep a mask in your pocket, because if they ask you and you haven’t got one it’s a €150 fine”.
“If they need a little bit of money they send the police out for little fine ventures.”
He said the reality in Spain is – like most other places – “everybody is suffering” and “there’s a lot of [businesses] that have decided not to open”, particularly those that are Spanish-owned.
“It won’t be back to normal because of the hotel capacities [running at 50 per cent].
“I look along the shops here, along the front, and they’re all for rent, all for sale.
“There’s a four-star hotel on the beach here [for sale] for €65 million.
“[But] as far as I know in Torremolinos, all of the English, Irish, Scottish, the ex-pat bars are open as normal.
“The ones that you might see closed are Spanish businesses with multiple staff, like on the beach – they call them Chiringuitos.”
Mr Mercer said the tax business owners pay to the Government per employee while operating is particularly high in Spain, but currently rental on bars has been halved and so many have opted to stay closed until trade really picks up.
His bar opened several weeks ago “on the first day that we were allowed” despite only initially restricted to 50 per cent capacity on the terrace.
Last week he made just €20 one day, compared to this time last year when he was making €1,200.
Having had to throw out six barrels put on the pumps on March 1 before Spain went into lockdown at a loss of €1,000 – Mr Mercer was selling pints at €1.50 which would normally cost up to €4.50, from stock he had left when trade re-opened in May or risk them going out of date.
“It made it look better that we were actually trying to do something, even though we knew we weren’t figuring any money, showing willing is the main thing, getting back to normal,” he said.
“As far as the beach goes, keep a mask in your pocket, there’s no lines on the beach or anything here. Everybody is aware.
“You can enter the water, you can do whatever you want, you can swim, you can rent boats, you rent jetbikes, you can still go out fishing on boats. All of the sports are there. There’s nothing you can’t do unless you haven’t got a mask and you go in a shop.”
He said the Spanish holiday trade will this year be relying more than ever on visitors in September, October and November – characteristically when retirees often go abroad.
He said while the British Government has been advising people against non-essential travel, “it’s twice the insurance” – something he feels in particular will put off older travellers who may have multiple medical needs and whose travel insurance is high anyway.
“While there’s a government advisory not to travel if it’s not essential the insurance companies are keeping that up high for them so they’re not coming.”
Asked if he thinks his business can survive, Mr Mercer said: “If we get from the middle of this month through to November.
“I do think that when we open by March 1 next year, I think it’ll just be back to normal unless we get a second wave. That is worrying,” he added.