The safe destination defence was thus being produced once more. | E.C.

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Reyes Maroto shares the fate of all Spain’s tourism ministers. The consequence of not being a minister solely dedicated to tourism - she has trade and industry as well - and of not being someone with a tourism background (pretty much unheard-of), Maroto is an easy target for a media that is prone to never be convinced by the nation’s tourism ministers.

While this may be somewhat unfair, there are times when the minister doesn’t perhaps help herself. Such as when she makes forecasts. In this regard, though, she is like all ministers. Where would they be without predicting what may or may not happen? The forecasts can be based on pretty solid evidence or they can be more fanciful. Maybe there had been good reason to believe that Spain’s foreign tourism in 2021 would reach 50% of 2019’s level, as the minister had forecast, but it was not fulfilled.

It is of course understandable that a minister would wish to be as positive as possible. For tourism, there are any number of stakeholders hanging on every possible shred of positivity. In recent times, though, it hasn’t been straightforward. A minister could not have known when a next phase of pandemic might bite and make her wish that she had never offered a forecast. It’s not as if a minister can now be one hundred per cent certain that there won’t yet be another twist of pandemic ill-fortune. But the signs in this respect are optimistic, and so it had been reasonable enough to predict good things for tourism in 2022.

Then along came war, while rising prices, evident for several months, have risen further. To crisis level, some sectors argue - the hauliers, for instance. Against this background, Reyes Maroto, whose visit to Mallorca earlier this week was one for an industrial occasion more than a touristic one, nevertheless offered some thoughts about the season. It would have been strange indeed for a tourism minister in a region with high tourism dependence to have been silent on what matters most to Mallorca and the Balearics. And so “a good season” awaits, she remarked. This was despite the war generating some loss of confidence among travellers.

The safe destination defence was thus being produced once more. It is not just Mallorca which is safe - #MallorcaSafeTourism - it is Spain as a whole. After all, Spain is a fair old distance away from the conflict.

But while she said all this in one arena and was therefore reinforcing an earlier message that the war would have no immediate effect on tourism, the minister admitted in another that the longer the war continues, the greater the uncertainty will be. This uncertainty, where the summer is concerned, does worry the government.

Even so, Reyes Maroto returned to the 2021 theme by giving us a forecast for tourist numbers this year. It will be between seventy and eighty per cent of what it was in 2019. We will see, and it is just possible it might be higher than 80%. There are those who feel that Majorca will have a good war because of distance from the conflict. The Balearics will be a safe haven destination, as was the case when terrorism made Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia unsafe. Yes, but then Turkey, despite its proximity to the conflict, is said to be making a determined price gamble on attracting tourists from the main markets.

The vice-president of the Exceltur alliance of leading tourism and travel companies, José Luis Zoreda, has meanwhile been playing down the optimism. Making estimates right now, he observed earlier this week, is “frivolous”. Was the minister taking note? If the war comes to an early conclusion, the picture will be a lot brighter, as Zoreda was firmer than Maroto in highlighting the degree to which it could impact traveller confidence.

But if it isn’t the war, then it is the prices. Consumers in the main tourism markets, just like consumers in Mallorca, are being hit by rising prices. How are they likely to react? Zoreda fears that they will hold off on taking holidays this year. They will need to prioritise their spending on shopping at home, on paying the electricity bills and on filling the car up.
He accepts, however, that bookings are up.

They were in fact around 2019 levels at the time that the conflict started in Ukraine. They have been slowing since, but if the war does mercifully come to an end soon, then they will rise again. By how much? Inflation could well put a damper on the season, but if not, where will tourism go this year? If, as Zoreda notes, bookings had been similar to 2019, would this mean more like 100% of 2019? The minister doesn’t believe so. And I think she may be right not to.

The seventeen at Russia’s fair ... and a fun brand

In alphabetical order - Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Venezuela. These are the seventeen countries that attended MITT Moscow 2022 from Tuesday to Thursday this week.

The seventeen, as can be seen, include a couple of Mallorca and Spain’s competitor destinations. Have they no shame? It might be nice to believe that when holidaymakers are considering their choices this year that they take into account those countries which seem content to turn a blind eye to what is going on.

Participation in the fair, had it not been for the war, would have been high. In 2019, a total of 229 countries and regions were represented. The Moscow fair isn’t as big or as important as London’s World Travel Market or ITB Berlin, but it is significant. The likes of Spain very quickly took the decision to cancel, as did companies such as Meliá.

It’s possible that one company which had been due to exhibit was TUI Russia. Last week, the tour operator rescinded the agreement by which the TUI name is used in Russia. The tour operator sold its last shares in the Russian division in 2021, and so the name TUI Russia was being used under a licence agreement.

TUI’s main shareholder, Alexei Mordashov, left the supervisory board some three weeks ago. He is on the EU sanctions list and transferred part of his shareholding four days after the start of the war to a company which is in fact his investment vehicle. The rest of his stake, 34% of TUI’s shares in total, was held by a company called Unifirm. Holdings in the Cyprus-based Unifirm have since been sold to a company in the British Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, and following the ending of the licence agreement in Russia, Mr. Mordashov has set up a new tour operator brand. Its name is Fun & Sun. Ye gods.