Earlier this week, Spain’s tourism minister Reyes Maroto spoke about employment data for the tourism sector. There had been four per cent year-on-year growth in August. Tourism employed 2.3 million people, just over twelve per cent of the nation’s workforce. The August data were positive.
“They show that the recovery trend in tourism employment was consolidated in August through higher growth, in relative terms, than for other sectors.”
The minister also had words about foreign air travel. Some five million travellers had arrived at Spain’s airports in August.
Tools which reinforce Spain’s reputation as a safe destination, the Digital Covid Certificate most notably, “have allowed more than five million international air passengers to come to Spain”. Five million - 172% more than August last year but under half the number in 2019.
Maroto was going on figures from the national tourism agency Turespaña. The numbers that the National Statistics Institute will present for the Frontur survey of foreign tourist movements in August will not be available until the start of October. If these verify Turespaña’s, the total number of foreign tourists between January and August will have been 15 million; there were 9.8 million to the end of July.
Four months left of the year, and the minister will be desperate to see that this 15 million grows by at least 25 million. For 2021, she had forecast 50% of 2019’s total of 83.7 million. No wonder that she felt that the Johnson government travel policy decision was “a step in the right direction”. It will in fact have to be a giant step. 25 million tourists between September and December?
The minister, one fancies, was putting on a brave face in highlighting employment and air travel numbers. A brave face to try and deflect attention away from what else she has been saying. Some might argue that she had the brassneck to even show her face after the statements about La Palma.
Her wonderful show of tourism sector optimism in the face of figures that tell a different story - 15 million, only 15 million - was matched by the wonderful show of the volcanic eruption that she had described. Yes, we could understand her point about a tourism being attracted to La Palma, rather in the style that volcanic Iceland attracts visitors, but we couldn’t understand the apparent insensitivity.
The brave face that she put on in discussing the statistics was one with a degree of contrition. “The most important thing now is to give peace of mind to tourists who are affected.” To tourists, she might have added property owners. A wonderful show is not so wonderful when tonnes of lava are sliding towards your home.
Tourists probably will opt to go to La Palma in order to witness the wonders of a volcanic landscape. But how many will be doing so over the coming months? High season in the Canaries is looming, and the fear is that the island’s tourism will be wiped out - perhaps until Christmas, as it depends on how long the eruptions last. A wonderful show, but holidaymakers are rearranging to go elsewhere.
Sra. Maroto is gaining an unfortunate reputation on account of some of her observations. To the La Palma show, we must add one from last week. In defending her tourism management, she stated that in other countries she is seen as a tourism leader. There’s modesty for you, while reference to “other countries” suggested that this is not how she is perceived in her own.
Unless something extraordinary happens, this leadership is not translating into the forecast number of foreign tourists, the 40 million having been confidently predicted by the minister in March and repeated in July, soon after the Digital Covid Certificate had been fully rolled out. The problem, however, and as the Mesa del Turismo of leading names in the tourism industry has pointed out, is that the certificate hasn’t been uniformly adopted in a standardised fashion. Where the Mesa is concerned, the certificate has not been the roaring success that had been hoped, especially by Reyes Maroto.
In order to meet the forecast target, the minister has been reliant on foreign governments. In this regard, the latest announcement by the Johnson government has come too late. The Partido Popular opposition in the Balearics has said that President Armengol cannot take credit for any tourism success this year. Decisions by other governments have determined success or failure.
Sadly for Armengol and Maroto, the PP are dead right, with these decisions also having covered tests. A number of sources from the island’s tourism industry have remarked to me that the core segment in high summer - the family tourism market - was greatly reduced. And surveys back this up. The cost of tests has had a big effect.
One sympathises up to a point because tourism season destiny has been in the hands of others. A wonderful show of tourists, even at 50% of 2019’s total, is receiving less fulsome plaudits because of the realities of travel policies. The truth is that tourism leaders such as Reyes Maroto have been led. Greater humility and a non-committal approach to forecasting might therefore have been more appropriate; just like sensitivity for a burning La Palma.
The “insult” of the tourist tax
The Hosbec hoteliers association in Valencia has reacted with horror to a proposal to include a tourist tax in the regional government’s 2022 budget. This proposal has come from Monica Oltra, the government’s vice-president and a member of Compromis, a left-wing, green and nationalist coalition, which is in power with the PSOE socialists.
Hosbec has, among other things, described the proposal as an insult to the tourism sector at a time when it is struggling to overcome the devastating impact of the pandemic. The association says that the sector is stunned by a “political wild card” to pay for everything.
Four years ago, a tax was proposed to help pay for public health. Now, Compromis want one to pay for the emancipation of young people through social housing developments.
This “purpose” for a tourist tax has nothing whatsoever to do with tourism, just as it has nothing to do with tourism in the Balearics. But as we know, Bel Busquets of Més (politically not a million miles away from Compromis) insisted on social housing being a tourist tax beneficiary when she was Balearic tourism minister.
Hosbec notes that when the previous proposal was made - a tourist tax for public health - it was kicked into touch. The association trusts that the same will happen with this latest idea. Valencia’s PSOE president, Ximo Puig, has never appeared to be partial to a tourist tax, while Valencia’s tourism secretary, Francesc Colomer (also PSOE), has on various occasions said that he is dead against a tax.
If there must be tourist taxes, then their purposes must be meaningful. The Balearic purposes, all six of them, were never wholly meaningful and meantime the tax seems to have become a means of raising revenue for general purposes. Hosbec is right in being opposed to the Oltra proposal.