Sevilla

25-09-2020

Last week in this column I reported on the possibility of the Spanish government introducing a system of tourism vouchers, similar to the scheme that was adopted in Italy. These vouchers, which don’t necessarily entail physical pieces of paper, are government-funded discounts. The scheme that the Italian government dreamt up for this summer ended up being a mix of direct subsidy for the cost of accommodation plus a deduction on the next tax declaration. It only applied to Italians and to travel within Italy. An alternative scheme was one from the regional government in Sicily. This was a subsidy for accommodation and for various attractions, available to foreign tourists as well as visitors from the rest of Italy (and indeed from within Sicily).

While the Spanish government would appear to be mulling over the vouchers’ possibility, two regions - Andalusia and Valencia - have gone ahead and introduced their own. In Andalusia, the scheme will run from the first of October until the end of May. It is only open to residents of Andalusia and will only apply to Andalusia itself, which might sound somewhat restrictive but probably isn’t given the size and diversity of Andalusia and the fact that the region’s tourism does in any event have a high domestic Andalusian factor.

The arrangement is a 25% reduction on bookings up to a maximum of 300 euros (per person, I’m guessing) and for a minimum of three nights. These bookings will have to be made through travel agencies with the ‘Andalucía Segura’ seal, and only accommodation with this seal will be eligible for the discount. This has a dual purpose: one is that it generates business for travel agencies, and the other is that consumers can travel in the knowledge that there are all the Covid protocols in place and certified.

The region’s tourism minister, Juan Marín, explains that the voucher can be used up to three times over the October to May period, thereby offering incentives for more than just the one trip. There also isn’t any income qualification. It will make no difference how much (or how little) people earn; the vouchers will apply across the board. The regional government has set aside an initial budget of nine million euros to pay for it.

There has been a significant take-up by businesses in the Andalusian tourism industry - 321 hotels, 112 tourist apartment establishments and 379 travel agencies: these were the figures as of Wednesday. It has already, therefore, been declared a success, although it does obviously remain to be seen what the consumer take-up is.

While the tourism industry has been critical in that a scheme such as this wasn’t introduced earlier, it is nevertheless delighted that it has been. For the travel agencies in particular, it will offer a major boost. Amidst all the carnage this year, travel agencies may tend to be overlooked, but they have taken a huge battering just like all other tourism sectors.

It seems like a good initiative. Well done, Andalusia, albeit that its scheme looks set to be eclipsed by what the government in Valencia is lining up. Nine million euros? No, 200 million euros, and the discounts will be up to 70% and with a maximum of 600 euros. For residents of the Valencia Community, this scheme will be similar to that in Andalusia in that it is designed to help the travel agencies. Bookings will be made through them.

Hoteliers in Valencia will no doubt be pleased, especially as they were earlier this week insisting that the Spanish government gets its act together in introducing a national tourism voucher scheme. HOSBEC, the hoteliers association for Benidorm, the Costa Blanca and the Valencia Community, has been particularly critical of the government. In July, the government launched a “skeletal plan” for national tourism without “a single measure to stimulate national demand”.

So, if Andalusia and Valencia can come up with these ideas, why not the Balearics? There are, it has to be stressed, some major differences, not least the population. The Balearics almost 1.2 million plays five million in Valencia and well over eight million in Andalusia. Then there is the geographical diversity, especially in Andalusia with mountains of more than 3,000 metres and ski resorts.

But if population is a disadvantage, then perhaps a Balearic scheme might follow the Sicilian lead. I had wondered if Sicily might fall foul of competition law in offering incentives to foreign tourists, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. It might be worthy of Balearic government consideration, although right at the moment the government has greater concerns - the travel restrictions adopted by foreign governments. These restrictions bring us back to the domestic market. What about a Balearic national scheme then? Or would that smack too much of treading on Madrid’s toes, while there must also be the awareness of the infection rates in parts of the mainland.

Still, something needs to be done. Waiting for safe air corridors with the UK (for example) could prove to be a very long wait.

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