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Corona und Tourismus: Interview mit Stefan Brill

Corona and tourism: The United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts an 80% drop in travel compared to the previous year. No industry has been hit as hard by the virus as tourism.

Now at least intra-European tourism has been given a new lease of life, how customers will accept the offers remains to be seen. We talked to Stefan Brill, one of the founders of the worldwide operating Pure Surfcamps and with him about governmental aid packages, new hygiene rules for reopening, the biggest challenge during the lock-down and why it is safer in France and Portugal than in Bavaria at the moment.

First time confronted with Corona

By ISPO 2020 at the latest, Corona or Covid-19 was already known to many. Did you have any idea of what is coming your way in the travel industry?

We’ve been watching it for a while now and were curious to see what’s coming, but I don’t think anyone expected it to come like this. I don’t think there has ever been a complete standstill of the worldwide tourism. This has been so crazy, from one moment to the next complete standstill and shocked rigidity for everyone. The telephone batteries were running hot, but nobody had a plan.

Did you know that 6.9% of jobs in industrialized countries are directly (and indirectly much more) connected to tourism?

Yes, in Germany alone that’s about 3 million jobs, in our European neighbouring countries even more! If you include the indirect jobs, it is an incredible part. In Portugal, tourism, hotels and restaurants account for more than 20% of GDP – that’s really a lot. This is why it was so important for the EU to lift the travel warning for the Schengen area. Luckily they realised this in time and did so.

Corona hits tourism with full force on Friday the 13th

What was the biggest challenge especially for you as a travel company?

The whole thing came overnight, so to speak. From Friday the 13.3. on we had a complete collapse of sales of 100%. From one day to the next from normal operation to a complete standstill. So zero turnover with the same operating costs. In addition, there was also the reversal of the customers and the return of customers from e.g. Morocco.

THAT WAS PRETTY BLATANT.

You suddenly have more work, because all the customers are calling and asking questions that you can’t answer, plus cancellations and so on. That was really crazy. It took some time and then we only dealt with calculation models, what we have to do to survive the whole thing.

Every day a new situation, a new press release or some bad news from the press. That was crass, the future completely uncertain. We had no idea how, when or if it would continue, what would happen to the company, etc. Starting in April, we had put about 20 of 26 permanent employees in our Munich office on short-time work. The same in the office in Sagres. Currently still some, but slowly it’s starting again.

Keyword Corona-Hilfe: Did you feel sufficiently supported by the state?

So in general you have to say that the state in Germany has already acted well and quickly. There are some things to criticize, but I think that’s normal (there’s always something to complain about). It doesn’t matter if it’s short-time work allowance, a loan or the emergency aid. A lot has happened and also quite fast if you consider the volume.

Sure, the small touristic middle class wasn’t really helped very much, but we got through the crisis quite well with what we got so far. I can’t hear all the complaining anymore either. In other countries things have been different. I keep hearing people complaining about the Lufthansa or TUI rescue, but you should now think very carefully about what happens to tourism when the biggest airlines are no longer or only half of them are left. That is about the same as if you take the pacemaker out of tourism. That guests can travel to countries is the basic requirement for tourism.

That’s why we can exist as a German GmbH, the small guesthouse in Portugal and everything else that is attached to it: the caretaker, the cook, the cleaning staff, the guy who cleans the pool, the shuttle service, the surf school, the local surf shop and much more. If we don’t have any more flights, then there is no more tourism possible. This is a catastrophe for the whole “tourist food chain”!

You will open the doors of your French camps again on 27.6.2020. What about your camps in Morocco, Spain and Portugal? What are you doing in terms of hygiene?

We opened in Portugal at the beginning of June and France at the end of this month. In Portugal we have had our homes in Sagres, Caparica & Ericeira certified as “Clean & Safe”. As I said before, they are already up and running. You can see the concept on the website. The most important thing is that we all pay attention to hygiene & distance. Wearing a mask is mandatory indoors.

In Portugal every room has its own bathroom anyway, food is now served and there are no more buffets. Of course, all employees who come into contact with food wear gloves and masks. We clean all rooms once a day. There are special standards for the surf school. New as a service from us is now that everyone can choose if he wants to get a rental wetsuit or his own, which he takes home afterwards.

Corona Hygiene Rules France

In France, the same applies to food. In addition, there are certain operating hours for the Miniramp & Boulder Wall, where guests must register in advance. Generally we have reduced the capacity in France by up to 50% and those who know our camp area know that there is enough space! We will see how it works and act accordingly. But I think that there is nothing better than a holiday in a surf camp. You are outside the whole day in the fresh air, you have a lot of space and in the water with your surfboard you have enough distance to others. The beach in Moliets is huge and you can easily get there by car.

Covid-19 has already become everyday life and until there is a vaccine we will all have to follow certain rules. How do you see the future of surf tourism?

It’s hard to say! I think that we will have an even greater demand for middle distance destinations in the next few years. In general you don’t have to worry so much about medical care in case of an emergency and you always get home somehow.

People will consider whether they would rather just fly to Morocco or Portugal than to Bali or the Philippines. If you are stuck there, you have a problem.

Usually most summer bookings are made in the spring of the same year. The big wave of bookings did not happen this year due to the pandemic. Can the season still be saved now?

Yeah, let’s see. I don’t think we’ll make up for what we lost, but that’s not our point. We are happy to be able to offer our guests something good and high quality again and we are making the best of it.

I think this year will be a very emotional summer, because we and our guests will appreciate what we are doing. Travelling & Surfing is a special privilege and since it had become a normality for many of us, we didn’t appreciate it that much anymore. We are looking forward to every single guest and every day at the beach.

I am leaving for France tomorrow and I am looking forward to it like a little child! We will be raising our camps to a completely new standard this year and are looking forward to everyone who comes. Sure, there will be restrictions and we will probably not offer trips to rockfood or San Sebastian to celebrate, but this will allow us to focus even more on surfing. Since last year we also have our own outdoor fitness studio, daily yoga sessions and a boulder wall, so there’s plenty to do and the guests are guaranteed not to be bored!

Oliver Lackmann, head of Tui Fly, recently said that people can get infected in Germany the same way as in Spain, so he sees no reason to continue cancelling flights. A legitimate view of the situation?

I take absolutely the same view as Mr Lackmann. We currently have far more cases of corona here in Bavaria than, for example, in the Algarve in Portugal or Aquitaine in France. If you ask me where I’d rather be in summer: In an open-air swimming pool or by the lake in Munich, Düsseldorf or Hamburg or on the huge Atlantic beach of Moliets Plage, then I don’t have to think long. The answer is simple!

By the way, I will spend the summer with my wife and our 3 kids in Moliets in our family surf camp. We will also use the childcare facilities and go surfing. Afterwards we will go to the beach and there is something for everyone and there is guaranteed to be enough space for social distancing. My business partner Christian will be with his family in our new family surf camp in Biscarosse.

Were you as a big surf camp at an advantage over smaller camps during the crisis?

No, I don’t think so. Smaller providers do have an advantage in such situations. If you run a surf camp, then you can simply push everything to “on hold”. But if you have 30-40 permanent employees in Europe, several offices and so on, the costs just keep running and you can’t stop it that fast.

The amount of the monthly fixed costs plays a major role in this respect. Sure, we have really good employees in the office and there are a lot of good ideas and you find a way. It’s hard to say, but I believe that after the crisis all European surf camps & surf houses that are good will win permanently and the international market will need at least 1-2 years until it really starts again.

What would you advise people who are unsure about booking a trip at the moment and what should they pay attention to?

Everyone should think carefully about what they want! If someone has planned a tropical holiday under palm trees and doesn’t want to do it now, then they should think about whether there is a compromise. Maybe he can find good waves somewhere else and boardshort surfing is possible in Europe in summer.

Make sure that the organizer has published his hygienic measures and turn on your head when you are on site. Then it will fit.I WOULD STRONGLY RECOMMEND TAKING OUT A PREMIUM TRAVEL CANCELLATION INSURANCE. You should always do that.

As I said before, I’m travelling again and I’m also taking children and family with me, but everyone has to know that for themselves!

Despite all the negative sides, have you been able to gain anything positive from the situation?

A lot happens in the lockdown period. We have been looking at ourselves as a travel surf brand and have decided to change something in the future. We want to focus 100% on our own products in the future.

This means that we will sell the partner camps through a new sales brand and at Pure we will only sell our own products in France, Portugal, Morocco, etc. – so to speak healthy downsizing and even more focus on quality and sustainability.

We want to invest even more in these products and make everything even more sustainable and further improve the overall quality and service. In most houses we already have, for example, upcycled designer furniture made of driftwood, photovoltaics for hot water, filter systems for drinking water, plastic avoidance concepts, etc. In the future we want to expand all this even further.

There will also be some new things: The surf villa in Ericeira, a luxury surf house in Hossegor /Cabreton, a hostel in Seignosse Estagnots, a boutique surf hotel in Morocco and much more – let us surprise you!

Corona und Tourismus
Kleiner Vorgeschmack gefällig: diese Villa macht auf jeden Fall Lust auf Meer! Luxus Surfhaus in Hossegor

We have also learned – and this is the most important thing – to master a real crisis and that when it comes down to it, we can trust our team 100%.

The commitment and will of every single employee to keep Puresurfcamps alive has shown us that the company is much more than just a livelihood for each individual.

The balancing act between short-time work, home office and salary waiver was successfully implemented without complaints. Only in this way have we remained fully capable of acting. We are very grateful and proud of the team and together we will achieve a lot more. And hopefully we will soon be enjoying the waves together again. THANK YOU here again from Christian and me.