"I hope they come back soon, for the economy and the good it does for the elderly"

Toñi and Luis, 77 and 78 years old, “together since 1957”, this year were waiting for two trips in Lanzarote and Peñíscola that were canceled by the pandemic. They were his two destinations chosen last season in the trips for retirees of the Imserso, with which they make several trips throughout the year in Spain. In the absence of the official announcement, everything seems to indicate that the Government will not resume the social tourism program for pensioners in 2020. “I hope they recover the trips as soon as possible, they are very necessary because for us, the elderly, it is a good 'escape' so to speak, and the economy also needs it, "says Toñi López Muñoz.

The tourist association estimates losses of more than 98,000 million after the latest restrictions in other countries

The tourist association estimates losses of more than 98,000 million after the latest restrictions in other countries

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At the height of the outbreaks, Toñi recognizes that the virus is always "a little scary", but also considers that the Imserso trips are one more element that must be incorporated into the so-called "new normal", in which the population goes to have to live with the pandemic through control and prevention. "We are 77 and 78 years old, we are at the age to make these trips, in a while we may not be able to do them anymore," he said. Soledad Gato Velasco, 82, a mountaineer turned into a hiker due to age, underlines the social and well-being function that these trips fulfill for many elderly people: "It is important for health, people are forced to move outside their environment, otherwise, their heads have to be moving. We come out of the monotony of every day, it is very healthy mentally and also culturally. "

The suspension of Imserso trips March 10 was one of the Executive's first measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Spain, along with the ban on flights with Italy, which at that time was the main focus of the pandemic in Europe. The social tourism program for pensioners benefits especially the elderly, a population at high risk from the virus.

The trips that were already underway were interrupted and those that had been contracted were canceled, in what has meant the first cancellation of the famous Imserso program in its history since it was created in 1985. Then, only with 16,000 seats, while it currently covers 900,000 people. The trips fundamentally fulfill two functions: to facilitate to the elderly people to travel at lower prices and to guarantee activity to the tourism sector in lower seasons.

“For many people from small towns, which is not my case, it opens up a way of knowing and traveling. I have met many people who had never gone to an airport or mounted on a plane until they did so with the Imserso ”, highlights Soledad Gato, also a faithful user of the social travel program. “I have been getting to know them all with the Imserso, all of the Canary Islands. El Hierro on my own, but I moved from Tenerife, where I went with the Imserso ”, explains the retiree, who highlights the importance of the program as a way to“ break with the monotony of everyday life, an opportunity to learn and access the culture of the country, to understand the things you see on television ”.

No return expected before 2021

The usual crown jewel of economic activity in summer, tourism, has suffered this year due to the drastic decrease in the arrival of foreign visitors, especially with the quarantines that have been approved by several countries of origin in recent weeks. In addition, in the sector it is not expected that retirees will come last September to feed national destinations, as was the case before the coronavirus. Hoteliers already assume that this autumn they will not receive the arrival of pensioners and they ask that this type of subsidized trips be extended to other customer profiles to boost tourism during the low season.

The Vice Presidency of Social Rights, on which the Imserso depends, has not yet officially ruled on when the social tourism program for pensioners will resume. But the organization of trips in a normal situation requires months and should already have started so that the contracts were closed in September and the trips began in October, according to the usual calendar. Sources from the Vice Presidency explain to this medium that "the last week of August or the first of September" the Imserso will report on the return of the trips, but "everything indicates" that it will not be this 2020, given the times and the current boom of sprouts.

Begoña Núñez is clear that she would "sign up now, like crazy", if the government reopened the program, which has given her the opportunity to travel several times a year with her husband, Francisco González de Tena. "We want to travel again, this void is going to make a dent, the Imserso should be a school of concordance and socialization," says the retiree, a sociologist by profession, who believes that "the virus has come to stay" for several years, Therefore, he considers it necessary to recover this activity little by little, with new hygiene and safety measures. "The pandemic has meant a paradigm shift, that is, we have to think about things differently, but we older people still want to know, curiosity does not fade with age," says Francisco González.

Without the program, many will not travel

The Imserso is an impulse to travel more, to consume more, than Mª Raquel Ruiz Aguado, 77, and all the users of the travel program consulted would do individually. If with the subsidized program they go on two or three trips or getaways each year, most recognize that without the "facilities" and "comfort" that the Imserso offers, they would not travel as much. "By staying alone and retired, living with a pension, I would have done much less if the Imserso did not exist," she says. Before the pandemic, hoteliers had long questioned and requested the reform of the travel program, because it was not profitable for companies due to its reduced prices.

Mª Raquel Ruiz highlights the push to travel that the Imserso supposes to many people beyond the economic question. "It is a delight that a guide takes you to the places because sometimes an airport, a station becomes a world for you. Your hearing may not work so well anymore, your sight has its own ... It is very nice to be well.

The pensioner warns that "if this is going to be the case for a few years, as it seems," there will be people who do not want to participate in the program for fear of contagion, but she considers that many others will be interested. "I think we have to be much more careful for one, two or three years, but I am going to try to normalize my life as much as possible," says Ruiz Aguado. "After how we've been, 30 years working, spreading ourselves a bit doesn't hurt," he adds.


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