A BRIT couple have told how they were left making as little as £20 a day as the Covid pandemic pushed their beloved Benidorm bar to the brink – but now they cannot wait to welcome back the Brits.
Diane Charlesworth and Lee Martin opened their dream bar in Benidorm in February last year, she had no clue the world was about to be hit with the deadly Covid pandemic.
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Just weeks later, the former special needs teaching assistant was forced to close the doors of Winnies Café Bar as Spain went into a strict lockdown marking the start of months of turmoil.
With less than a month of being open before having to stack the tables back up again, it was rough road for Diane and Lee – sometimes taking as little as 20 euros a day if they were lucky to get any customers at all.
After a “soul-destroying year”, the positive news that Spain will reopen its borders from June has left Diane ready to welcome back Brit holidaymakers “with open arms”.
Spanish resorts have been given a lifeline as tourism minister Fernando Valdes Verelst revealed he is in talks with the UK over digital vaccination certificates -while confirming the country WILL welcome back Brits from June.
And meanwhile, there has been another hols boost as EU chiefs revealed even Brits who have not had the jab could be welcome as border rules are eased in states with low infection rates.
“It has been nearly 18 months of the pandemic so any bit of positivity is good and we will be welcoming British holidaymakers with open arms,” said the 56-year-old, who runs the bar in Avenida Murcia, known locally as the Yellow Brick Road because of the way it curves down to Benidorm’s famous Levante Beach.
“I would break my back to be open seven days a week. I want to make hay while the sun shines.
“We are so safe here because there's been so many restrictions around social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing.”
We are just trying to survive
Diane opened Winnies on February 8 last year with partner Lee, 53, before having to close on March 12 along with hundreds of other bars, restaurants and hotels in one of Spain’s most popular resorts on the sun-soaked Costa Blanca.
"We are all financially drained so I hope it does happen in June,” added the grandmother-of-four, who lived in Wakefield before moving to Spain four and a half years ago.
“My bar is currently open four days a week and three of those days I can be sat for eight hours a day with no customers, which has been soul-destroying.
“At the moment we are just trying to survive. I invested in this bar last year and opened on February 8 but had to close again on March 12, so things have been tough.
“I serve fresh food so I am buying ingredients and preparing it, but most days it comes home with me.
“I started doing Sunday roasts last week, but I had nobody come in. At the end of the day, a woman from down the street came and bought two roasts to take away and I made 20 euros.
“I was just so pleased it at least covered the cost of my vegetables.”
The massive challenges of the past year haven’t dampened Diane’s spirit though and she’s keen to do all she can to keep things going at Winnies, which is named after her beloved mother-in-law who passed away around 15 years ago following a battle with cancer.
She added: “I am still smiling because I live in a beautiful country and have a beautiful bar so I know when the borders do reopen and flights come in, we will be busy.”
Diane and partner Lee are always thinking of new ways to keep customers happy and this week launched a Bullseye event at Winnies, complete with the chance to win beer tokens.
The couple also have a full-scale barbecue which they use for dedicated BBQ and burger days, and recently celebrated St George’s Day by offering punters a free pint with their food.
“There is not a day goes by without thinking about Covid and we hope and pray every day there will be a change,” added Diane, whose son Kev runs his own restaurant in nearby Altea.
“So far there have been no Brits in Benidorm so I hope things do start happening again in June, because we had been looking at September or October before we could even see a little light shining.
“The few people who have come back who are residents, we have just been so pleased to see them.
“Cash flow is low but I will never give up – the sunshine has kept me going.”
While Spain hit highs of 34,000 daily new cases of Covid in January, the incidence has now fallen to around 8,000 new cases a day and 88 deaths across the whole country on Wednesday.
In Benidorm itself, there were just 27 positive Covid tests in the past fortnight, or around 39 per 100,000 of the population.
Diane added more clarity was needed on whether PCR tests would still be needed after borders reopen, but welcomed news of an easing of restrictions.
“It is very good news but we do need clarity on the PCR testing side, and whether that will be lifted as restrictions lift as the cost of tests is high for holidaymakers," she said.
“It's lovely if the borders are opening but it's whether people have the cash to pay for PCR tests on top of their holiday costs.
“People desperately want to come to the sunshine, so we need clarity on that.”
It comes as bar owners have pledged that Brits will have the "best summer ever" if all goes ahead and borders reopen between the UK and Spain – promising pints from as little as £1.30.
The Corner Bar owner Ashley Price said he was “elated and ecstatic to hear the news of the borders reopening”.
“Benidorm was so vibrant before the pandemic and local bar owners have held on because they know when things return, this town will be better than it's ever been before,” he told The Sun Online.
“We are two hours on a flight from the UK, you get a pint for 1.50 euros, there's the beautiful weather.
“When the holidaymakers return this metropolis will be back with a bang."
In Benidorm, a million-euro investment is giving a facelift to a 300m stretch of the iconic Calle Mallorca, lined with the town’s lively bars, nightclubs and hotels.
"June will be the start of the recovery of tourism in Spain," tourism minister Mr Verelst told a conference in Mexico last week.
"By then we will have a digital vaccination certificate in place and we will be able to reopen our borders.”
"We are having close conversations with UK authorities and we are exchanging information on Spain’s digital system and the trial happening at our airports in May."
The region has been busy preparing for an influx of holidaymakers by investing millions in upgrading hotels, apartments and services to give Brits a summer to remember after so long locked away.
While holidays abroad are yet to be given an official start date by the UK Government, it is hoped that the travel ban on trips abroad could be lifted from May 17.
Boris Johnson is still mulling over his travel 'green list' – and it's likely top holiday destinations, including Spain and Greece, won't yet be on it in the first round of changes.
The Prime Minister today said his approach to foreign travel this summer will be sensible and cautious to avoid "an influx of disease".
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