By Marco Trujillo
PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (Reuters) - Spain hopes foreign tourism can rebound to half its pre-pandemic levels this year, the government said on Monday, as a wave of German holidaymakers hit Mallorca's white-sand beaches after Berlin eased restrictions on returnees.
International tourism to Spain plunged 80% to 19 million visitors last year - the lowest since 1969 - as coronavirus travel restrictions took their toll on the world's second most visited country.
"Maybe the ideal goal is ... to get half of the tourists we had in 2019," Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto told an event held by Europa Press news agency.
Estimates from the Funcas think-tank show the tourism sector's contribution to Spain's economy slumped to between 4% and 5% last year from around 12% in 2019, jeopardising many businesses in regions such as the Balearic Islands.
With Spain's infection rate dwindling, Germany lifted quarantine requirements for travellers returning from the Balearics last week, prompting tens of thousands to hop on last-minute flights and drawing mixed reactions from locals.
"I am happy because we live off tourism and we have to open up, but on the other hand I am worried," said Palma de Mallorca resident Maria, who did not give her last name.
The 41-year old banker said she was concerned that visitors were not heeding restrictions, as a group of maskless German youths cavorted past her on the beach, seemingly filming a promotional video.
"When I saw so many people without masks...it scared me a little bit."
On the other side of the island at TUI's Robinson Club hotel, General Manager Tina Granola said the company aimed to guarantee a great holiday, while ensuring guests complied with strict safety regulations.
"We are extremely happy to be allowed to welcome approximately 220 guests today... Over Easter we expect a 75% occupancy rate."
Economic concerns aside, many Spaniards are frustrated that foreign tourists can fly to the islands when most people in mainland Spain remain stuck at home due to a travel ban.
In Germany, national and regional leaders meeting on Monday evening to decide the next round of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic are mulling requiring quarantine for all returning travellers. This would mean the jump in tourism to Mallorca was short-lived.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Anita Kobylinksa and Marco Trujillo; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Gareth Jones)