Reyes Maroto.

Reyes Maroto.

27-07-2020DANIEL ESPINOSA

The secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, says that “in these uncertain times, citizens around the world need strong, clear and consistent messages”.

In a message earlier this week, he added that the UNWTO has been calling for international coordination since the pandemic broke out. Recent measures and announcements, he noted, “seem to be increasingly moving away” from this coordination. “Unilateral and short-term measures will have devastating long-term consequences. Now is the time to make the political decisions which are necessary in order to close the gaps so that we can all move forward together.”

Pololikashvili suggested that there is no time for “timid leadership” and that the safe restart of tourism is possible. Was he proposing that the UNWTO provides this leadership? That’s doubtful. Its principal function is to promote and develop sustainable tourism, rather than to command the world’s tourism industry. Even so, it is a body of importance, and one from which little seems to have been heard during the crisis. One might in fact suggest that it has been irrelevant.

The UNWTO secretary general’s message followed on from what the WTTC had to say. The president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Gloria Guevera, said that “this is an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented support and leadership”. The WTTC had just fired off a letter addressed to the heads of state of the G7 countries plus Australia, South Korea and Spain: in other words, some of the world’s most important countries in terms of providing international tourists.

There needs to be, argues the WTTC, a “global Covid-19 summit to define a plan and unify measures with the aim of restoring tourism and travel. An action plan is necessary which has a positive and immediate impact for the benefit of the millions of people who depend on our sector. The World Travel and Tourism Council, its leaders and the entire global private sector are committed to working together to solve the worst crisis of our generation.”

The WTTC then went on to propose measures related to, for example, testing and tracing; strangely enough, the UNWTO called for rapid tests at airports just a few days afterwards. The letter from the World Travel and Tourism Council was signed by the heads of companies such as British Airways, Jet2, Meliá Hotels, Iberostar, Tui, American Express, Marriott... You name them, and there were major players from all over the world signing that letter.

There was an immediate response to the letter, and it came from ... the Spanish government. Prime Minister Sánchez got back to the WTTC “promptly”, offered to lead the initiative, and nominated the tourism and foreign affairs ministers, Reyes Maroto and Arancha Gónzalez, to lead the Spanish contribution. The WTTC has highlighted this response, adding that the “timely action of the international community will save the tourism sector.”

One may be doing the UNWTO a disservice, but one also feels that it could (should) have been more vocal. The private-sector WTTC is leading the way and seeking to facilitate leadership which is not “timid”. And it is instructive that there should have been such a rapid response from Spain. Apart from the fact that Spain’s tourism is being hammered, there is the fact that the Spanish government and the UNWTO, which share Madrid as their headquarters, can often seem very close. They no doubt still are, but the WTTC, based in London, offers the initiative that the UNWTO has not.

The G7-plus three summit proposal absolutely highlights the dire condition of the global travel and tourism industry. But while one hopes for international leadership and, to quote the UNWTO, “coordination”, what real chances are there for a genuine and coherent international response? We have already seen with the EU that its essence of freedom of movement and open borders can be undermined by nations’ unilateral decisions. This happened at the height of the scare and is happening again (albeit in less dramatic fashion).

The European Commission has found it necessary to remind member states of the need for “coordination” (prior to the UNWTO having called this week for coordination) and for avoiding restrictions and ineffective controls. “Proportionate, coordinated and objective” measures, based on scientific evidence, are required. But whatever the Commission might say, member states (and others) will react according to the scientific evidence as they perceive it and to their individual health situations.

We all know that international tourism and travel are vital. Governments know this. They don’t choose restrictions lightly, and they certainly can’t be condemned for policies which they believe to be appropriate.

International leadership and international initiatives, yes, but what might some of the G7 actually think? UK, Germany, France...

Meanwhile, in Benidorm ...

As hotels in Majorca lament the loss of key foreign markets, have been registering occupancy of little better than 30 to 40% and are now preparing to close, the situation in Benidorm has been rather better.

According to Hosbec, the hotel association for Benidorm, the Costa Blanca and the Valencia Community, occupancy in the province of Castellón and the rest of the Costa Blanca (Benidorm included) was up to 64% last week. This is way off what it should be, but it is certainly better than what has been registered in Majorca. The key for Benidorm has been the Spanish market. Last week, says Hosbec, 83% of all hotel demand came from national tourists. The percentage is up to 90% in other parts of the Costa Blanca.

The Spanish market is always important in Benidorm, but no more so than at present. In Majorca, the Spanish market is normally around 13% of the tourist number total; the third largest market with something like 1.5 million tourists a year. So, national tourism is not insignificant in Majorca at the best of times. But could more have been done to attract it this summer?

I don’t believe so. There have been efforts, such as tie-ups with travel agencies in various parts of Spain. There is now the co-marketing campaign with Barceló’s B the Travel Brand. There has been Rafa Nadal promoting Majorca to the Spanish.

But it was recognised back in June that the Balearics were at something of a disadvantage because of the travel. For Benidorm, people can drive, and the same applies to resorts in Andalusia, which also attract high percentages of national tourists. The Balearics have tried their hardest, but the islands can’t do much about the need to fly.

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