From Spain is different to tourism that is also different. Few sectors of activity have accompanied (and exemplified) so well the economic and social development of Spain since the middle of the last century. And few show so clearly the challenges that covid-19 brought. Spain went from breaking the record for visitor arrivals year after year over the past decade to becoming the developed economy where GDP fell the most in 2020. Since then, the word recovery has marked economic discourse, and also political discourse. But in the case of tourism, the comparison with 2019 is not easy: that year 83.5 million tourists were counted, of which 20 million arrived in July or August. “It was a super record, we were badly used to it”, sums up Ricard Santomà, Vice Dean of Tourism at IQS, belonging to the Ramon Llull University. Despite this, the sector has fantasized about the idea of surpassing the marks of four years ago. And this year it seemed possible at some point, although the latest data calls for more caution.
Although Spain has hung the full poster during this August bridge, the number of arrivals for June, the latest published, narrowly remove the possibility that Spain will attend the summer with more tourists in its history. Despite receiving 8.3 million foreigners, almost 11% more than in 2022, the figure is 5.8% below the same month four years ago. April and May did exceed the records of then, but now the annual accumulated (37.5 million in the first semester) is 1.6% below the first half of 2019 (38.5 million). This difference of just over 600,000 visitors does not seem insurmountable in the middle of the high season, especially when passenger traffic at Spanish airports exceeded 29.7 million in July, 1.2% more than in the same month of 2019. But this data is not exactly equivalent to tourists (all people who travel by plane are counted, including domestic flights) and the forecasts point in another direction: experts believe that July and August will be more similar in arrivals to June than to June. spring.
“According to our data, the results are still below 2019,” summarizes Luis Millan, Head of Research at ForwardKeys. This “tourism intelligence” firm uses the big data of the sector to predict its behavior, especially from air travel. His current forecast, with flight reservations until August 3 and other advance travel reservations, is that Spain will receive 7.4% fewer visitors in July and August than four years ago. Neither the United Kingdom (the main market for sending tourists to Spanish destinations) nor France will help improve the data. The good news is that arrivals from Germany, one of the European economies that have entered recession this year, could indeed be higher than in 2019, something that has not happened in the entire first half of the year. And there are also more and more Americans visiting Spain.
Another positive note is that, despite falling below the mark of four years ago, the comparison with Europe is favourable: arrivals to the continent will be around 15% below the pre-Covid era, according to ForwardKeys predictions. Spain’s performance will be somewhat worse than Turkey’s (-6.7%), while two other direct competitors do hope to obtain better records. In Portugal, reserves are above those of 2019 by very little (0.2%), while Greece stands out with a growth of 13.8%. These are three destinations in southern Europe that are cheaper than Spain and experts believe that it is because the price has gained weight as an argument when planning a trip. “Coming out of the pandemic, people were less sensitive to cost, but the sudden rise in inflation has caused people to think about it before traveling so much,” Santomà exemplifies.
A tourist catamaran arriving at one of the docks in Playa de Muro (Mallorca), this Tuesday.FRANCISCO UBILLA
The covid and the war in Ukraine have raised the cost of living at a rate unknown in a long time. And tourism has not been an exception. The average price per night in Spanish hotels was 135.8 euros in the first half of the year, according to the latest data from the Hotel Sector Barometer prepared by the analysis firm STR and the consulting firm Cushman & Wakefield. It is 10% more than last year and 20% more than in 2019, when the average amount was 112.8 euros. This study, which compiles figures from some 1,200 hotels with a total of 150,000 rooms, indicates that revenue per available room (known in the sector as RevPAR) stands at an average of 95.4 euros, 16% more than four years ago. This indicator increases less than prices because occupancy has been slightly lower (70.2%, compared to 72.4%).
Seen from the perspective of the tourist, this can only mean one thing: to travel you have to scratch your pocket more. And given a projection of arrivals that will probably not exceed the figures for 2019, but will not go very far either, for Spain that means receiving more income from tourism than ever before. This has been the case in the first six months of the year, in which the INE calculates tourist spending at more than 46,000 million. It is 14% more than in 2019 and just repeating the same figure in the second semester would already exceed the nearly 92,000 million spending received in what has been the best year in history for Spanish tourism so far. That other record, therefore, is within reach and is to which the sector largely clings.
In fact, in the recurring debate on the sustainability of tourism, for years many voices have asked to focus on new objectives such as seasonal adjustment (a more uniform distribution of arrivals throughout the year) or diversification (complementing the offer of the traditional sun and beach, which attracts a type of visitor who is very sensitive to price). And, on the contrary, focus less on attracting more and more people. Spain was the second most visited country in the world, behind France and ahead of the US, in 2019; and last year normality returned to situate the three tourist superpowers in those same positions. “I tell everyone who wants to listen to me: breaking volume records comes a time when it should not be the goal,” says Juan Molas, president of the Tourism Board.
Tourists in front of the Sagrada Familia basilica, this Tuesday. MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI
This organization —which brings together a hundred professionals representing companies, employers and institutions— is optimistic about the economic record. “In 2019 tourism contributed 46,600 million positive balance in the Spanish balance of payments, being the sector that made the most contribution,” recalls Molas, “and I dare to think that this year we will increase it, that it will be close to 50,000 millions”. Exceltur, the group where the large Spanish tourist companies meet, calculated in its latest balance sheet, released in mid-July, that this year the nominal GDP generated by the sector will be close to 179,000 million, 13.6% more than in 2019. Although if the inflation that has occurred since then is discounted, real GDP would be one point below since then (and, therefore, the weight of the sector in the economy as a whole).
The climate challenge
However, business organizations also warn of the multiple challenges faced by companies in the sector. Some are temporary, such as a rise in costs that eats up part of the margins, and others are of a more structural nature, like all those derived from climate change. This summer, opinions abounded about the effects of heat waves or forest fires. And the European Travel Commission (an entity that brings together 35 national organizations on the continent, such as TurEspaña) opened fire by publishing a report in July that highlighted that “Mediterranean destinations have seen the intention to travel to them drop by 10% compared to last year.” And he added: “This can be attributed to travelers seeking less crowded destinations and milder temperatures.”
Molas insists on one of the measures (50 in total) that the Tourism Board has sent to all political parties in view of the new legislature. “The tourism PERTE, which we estimate at around 12,000 million, is essential to undertake reconversions in the provision of services and attention to sustainability measures,” says the president of the organization. And in the most immediate effects, Millan, from ForwardKeys, rules out large movements of tourists: “We do not see an effect of cancellations as a result of heat waves, and in the fires in Greece we have seen a wave of cancellations to Rhodes, but It has lasted as long as the crisis lasted. Once exceeded, the demand has risen in a matter of days ”, he affirms.
In short, a summer campaign that, beyond the expectation of a record, is being normal, which is not little. This is how hoteliers like Toni Mayor, former president of the Valencian employers’ association Hosbec and owner of a chain with 11 establishments in Valencia and the Alicante coast, perceive it. “There is so much data that in the end you don’t know who to listen to,” he recounts by phone from his native Benidorm, “we are having a season with better results than last year and better than in 2019, but it will depend on the hotel, the product and destiny”. In the tourist mecca of the Costa Blanca “the feeling is of a good season in capital letters”, although the nose of the veteran hotelier points out that visitors spend in the destination with less joy than last year: “There is not so much seafood, but the sardines they go flying ”, he sentences.
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