Tourists arrving to Minorca airport

Tourists arrving to Minorca airport.

07-10-2021Gemma Andreu

The brave new economic model of the circular economy appears to require politicians who are equally circular. Constantly recycling the same output, it is as if they are on a loop of repetition. Take Spain’s tourism minister, if you will. I could have sworn that just two weeks ago Reyes Maroto was going on about “the trend of recovery”, citing the benefits of the Digital Covid Certificate and quoting figures suggesting that half of Spain’s pre-Covid foreign tourists would be returning.

That’s probably because she was. But in a different setting - Palma’s Palacio de Congresos earlier this week - this was all recycled, and with the aid of more complete tourist statistics for August than had been the case a fortnight ago. The completeness, provided by the Frontur survey of foreign tourist movements and the Egatur survey of tourist spending, confirmed that her trust in achieving 50% of 2019’s foreign tourist numbers by the end of this year seems somewhat misplaced. But the figures didn’t prevent her from recycling this forecast.

Spain had managed to recover 50% of August foreign visitors. So by extension, Spain will achieve this for the whole year, an extrapolation that ignores months of restricted travel dormancy up to Easter and which suggest otherwise.

Round and round the minister goes, taking the opportunity of a circular economy conference of high-powered recyclers from politics and business to reuse the prophecies of Francina Armengol in assuring us all that this current tourism season will be lengthening.
Reuse, circular and shared - the tourism economies of Spain and the Balearics are thus aligned. The Balearics in particular, averred the minister, will be enjoying a lengthened season. This would have come to news to the 70% of island hoteliers who will have turned off the lights by the end of this month and to the as yet undefined percentage intending to follow suit by mid-November.

But the minister then rather defied her own prediction by pointing to how previously restricted British holidaymakers - leading the way for an extended season - will in October be making up for the restrictions of travel prohibition and one-time rapidly changing traffic lights. October? Reyes Maroto is aware that October forms part of the season. Is she not?

The Balearics had meanwhile knocked out a whole twenty-five per cent’s worth of all foreign tourists in August. The 1.3 million were 0.9 million short of the number in 2019, but this nigh on 60% was actually worthy of some rejoicing. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad performance and continued the summer trend of keeping the Balearics at the top of the regional foreign tourist league - a spot normally reserved for Catalonia, which with 1.08 million was more than a million off the August 2019 number of 2.3 million.

And the Balearics, despite all the restrictions and setbacks, including the unwanted negative publicity to do with Covid-infected Spanish students on the rampage, have managed to attract 25% of all foreign tourists in Spain for the whole of 2021 - 3.8 million out of 15 million. Not bad, but then ... .

While Reyes Maroto was defining performance and the recovery up to August as “solid”, the secretary general of the CEHAT national confederation of hoteliers was inclined to disagree. Ramón Estalella said that the figures were “not satisfactory at all”. The 50% of August 2019’s foreign tourists was bad enough, but it was worse still when one considers the percentage for the whole year - only 25%.

In the Balearics, it should be noted, the 3.8 million up to August contrast with 10.1 million in 2019, better in percentage terms, but 38% is a stark reminder of how much recovery is left to be made up. Which brings us not to an extended season, as there is unlikely to be one of note, but to 2022.

A Mallorca Hoteliers Federation roundtable discussion having come to the unsurprising conclusion that the 2022 season will be highly competitive, the Turespaña director in London, Manuel Butler, arrived at the same conclusion at a conference for the national tourism agency in Seville earlier this week. Saying that demand will continue to be lower in 2022 than in 2019, Butler observed that there will be “fierce competition”, given that the tourism offer in the Mediterranean is the same. A strong effort will need to be made if market share that existed before the pandemic is to be regained.

Offering his insights into the British market, Butler advocated a strategy for this market based on a “very emotional approach”. Appealing to the emotions and therefore loyalty will seemingly be required in such a competitive environment, and it was revealing that Butler should refer to a tourism offer in the Med that is the same. He is right in the sense that all destinations make their pitch based on the fact that they have sun and they have beach - and a great deal of both.

Points of difference lie with quality and levels of service. Or these are at least what the Balearics can claim to have. The difficulty is going to be the price factor. Everyone knows that the Balearics can’t compete with the likes of Turkey when it comes to price. Labour in the tourism industry may be looked upon as being cheap in the Balearics, but hotel personnel and others are paid kings’ ransoms compared with Turkey.

The competition is indeed going to be fierce

Meanwhile, the European Travel Commission (ETC), which is the umbrella body for 33 national tourism organisations, has revealed a perhaps unexpected rival to Spain. One says unexpected, despite Italy, this rival, ranking third behind France and Spain in the European list of most foreign tourists. Italy is a tourism powerhouse, albeit that figures for 2019 showed that Italy attracted almost 20 million fewer tourists than Spain.

A survey by the ETC that was conducted in July (but only now reported) asked about preferred destinations for the rest of the summer and into the autumn. Italy came top, with Spain second. A similar survey in May had placed Spain top - 11.4% preference versus 8.1% in the July survey.

Does this represent no more than a short-term switch in preference? Perhaps it does, or it may also point to rising competition from a country which isn’t normally mentioned alongside Turkey, Egypt or Greece in the Med sun and beach tourism race.

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