(Adds detail, background)
MADRID, May 24 (Reuters) – The number of nights booked by tourists in Spanish hotels surged to 4.05 million in April from zero a year earlier when a strict coronavirus lockdown paralysed the travel sector and forced most to stay at home, official data showed on Monday.
But despite the jump, the bookings were still 85% below April 2019’s levels, the National Statistics Institute data showed, underscoring the scale of the blow dealt by the pandemic.
Overall reservations for the first four months of the year were 71% below the equivalent period last year, as the first restrictions on travel were not introduced until mid-March 2020.
Preliminary data from booking platforms suggest reservations gathered pace in May after a national state of emergency expired, allowing more Spaniards to travel domestically.
According to the INE, local tourists accounted for nearly 70% of total bookings in April, while Germans, who are free to travel to destinations in the Balearic Islands, made up the largest group of foreign travellers.
Hoping to entice more international travellers and galvanise a recovery in the sector, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced last week that fully vaccinated people from any country will be able to enter Spain from June 7.
He forecast arrivals could reach 30%-40% of their pre-pandemic levels this summer and up to 70% by the year-end. (Reporting by Inti Landauro and Nathan Allen; Editing by Ingrid Melander)