Ahead of the Spanish government's announcement of its grand plan for tourism, the industry has been expressing a depth of feeling that has exposed, more than ever, what has existed for years - almost total contempt for a political lack of appreciation of tourism.
The repeated demands for there to be a minister with sole dedication to tourism sitting around the cabinet table have always fallen on deaf ears. The crisis has intensified these demands because of an industry perception that the government and the political class simply don't get it where tourism is concerned, an ignorance that has particular ramifications for regional economies where reliance on tourism is greater than with others - the Balearics being the clearest example.
It is always easy to counter tourism industry demands and allusions to impending and terminal doom by citing low pay, worker exploitation, vast personal fortunes, offshore accounts, investment in foreign lands and so on and so forth. Don't feel sorry for the tourism moguls; they could simply put their hands in their pockets and all would be well. Perhaps they should spread their fortunes, but this won't rescue an entire industry, while it serves very little purpose to be right now criticising the low value added of tourism labour (as the consumer affairs minister has been) when the nature of employment isn't the issue - it is employment, full stop.
The government has of course been couching its grand plan in terms of future vision. Consequently, there are the platitudes, repeated over and over, about sustainability, an altered socioeconomic model, quality, resort modernisation, seasonality, digitalisation and innovation, etc., etc. There's no harm in there being a future vision, but it isn't one that has suddenly come into view because of coronavirus, and nor can the government possibly lay claim to having had this vision. Most of it has been industry-driven, while the likes of resort modernisation or intelligent destinations are precisely the type of thing that governments should have been paying far greater attention to.
All industries have their claims to be made, of course they do, but not all industries are of the scale of tourism in terms of direct and indirect employment. There's the entire supply chain to worry about as well as maintaining receptionist and chambermaid jobs. Is there tourism industry self-interest? Of course there is, but it is a self-interest that embraces all the people who themselves rely on the industry. Tourism has been shown to be a remarkably resilient industry in the past in confronting crises, but this crisis is of a very different order to ones of an economic and geopolitical character. Tourism has taken an enormous hit, one from which recovery is far less assured than previously.
The politicians do at least appreciate that there has been this hit, but when the industry, trade and tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, offers an observation such as the one she did the other day, the tourism industry cannot accept it. "If there is a sector which has been protected from the first moment, it is tourism," she said. In the lead-up to Thursday's announcement, there was, for example, the president of the Cehat national confederation of hotels, Jorge Marichal, saying "we are tired of screaming" for measures. Marichal has emerged as a very strong voice during the crisis. He hasn't held back in criticising the government for its tardiness in even getting round to announcing a plan. Other European governments have come up with theirs, but Spain - number two on the planet in terms of foreign tourists - had not.
Marichal insisted earlier this week that it is "unjust that the tourism sector in this country is always treated in the way that it is". His has not been a lone voice. On Tuesday, the Hosbec hoteliers association in Benidorm and the Costa Blanca stated that the "government has abandoned tourism to its fate at its most difficult moment". There are many others who have been saying the same thing.
Whatever visionary ideas the government might have, it is the immediate which is prime concern. It is difficult to think of a previous occasion when business associations and unions have been on the same page to the extent that they currently are. The unions will always call for better pay, better conditions, permanent rather than temporary contracts, but they are acutely aware that none of this matters if jobs end up going west in huge numbers. The priority for EU funds that will be finding their way to Spain is ERTE, for which the government is at present finding it difficult to reach an accord with employers and unions. The government wants an extension to end-September with certain strings attached re the social security bonuses. The employers and union want an extension to end-December, preferably with no strings attached.
Tourism promotion and incentives, Covid security, liquidity, jobs. These are the immediate requirements. The future can wait. As one industry source has put it: "What we don't want is to commit suicide."
A deal for the Canaries, but not for the Balearics
It doesn't appear to do any harm to have a left-leaning nationalist party represented in Congress when it comes to extracting a specific plan for tourism, especially if the government may be looking to this party for support in other respects.
Is this a conclusion to be drawn from Congress having backed the proposal from Nueva Canaria for a plan that is specific to the Canaries? Not necessarily, as the Partido Popular sided with PSOE and Podemos in backing the proposal. But the intervention by Pedro Quevedo of Nueva Canaria will not have gone unnoticed in the Balearic Islands, which do not have this type of party representation in Congress but which have been calling for there to be specific plan as well.
For the regionalist/nationalist parties in the Balearics as well as for Francina Armengol's PSOE, they might wonder at the lone party voice in Congress which called for there to be a joint plan - one for the Balearics and the Canaries. This was Vox, who are hardly known for being great defenders of regionalism, let alone insular nationalism.
Ibiza wants British test tourists
The value of the tourism test pilot plan in the Balearics has been drawn into question by the Spanish government's decision to open the borders from Sunday. What was meant to have been a test lasting just over a fortnight has in effect become a week's exercise. Despite this, President Armengol has insisted that the plan has placed the Balearics "at the centre of the world", while in Ibiza, the Council of Ibiza wants the plan to be extended. It shouldn't just be for German tourists, it should be for British tourists as well, and the president of the Council, Vicent Marí, has called on Armengol to try and arrange this.
The UK is the "most important" market for Ibiza, Marí noted on Wednesday in making the case for this British plan. It is indeed important, but there is just one snag with his suggestion for this plan. No prizes for knowing what this snag is.
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