1706076026 After a record year and the challenge of avoiding overcrowding

After a record year and the challenge of avoiding overcrowding, tourism in Fitur is showing its strength

Setting up the Valencia stand at Ifema this Tuesday in Madrid, a few hours before the inauguration of Fitur.Setting up the Valencia stand at Ifema, this Tuesday in Madrid, hours before the inauguration of Fitur.ZIPI (EFE)

The major tourism fair Fitur opens this Wednesday in Madrid after a year of record influx of tourists and spending in Spain. Hotels, airlines and administrations are optimistic and confident that the growth trend will continue in 2024, with a new historical high in sight and the aim of attracting tourists with greater purchasing power. But the big challenge is not to lose out on success: the oversaturation of some areas with increasingly frequent signs of social protest is a major concern.

Fitur is the first major tourism event in the international calendar. This is the fourth edition since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 and the industry entered its worst crisis. Now there is total optimism. Neither the economic uncertainty of recent years nor the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, nor inflation or interest rate increases have been able to curb the desire to travel.

More than 84 million foreign tourists arrived in Spain last year, a record and almost 50% more than a decade ago (57.5 million in 2014). “From now on we will stop taking 2019 as a reference because 2023 is the new reference,” celebrated the Minister of Industry and Tourism, Jordi Hereu, last week after increasing the peak recorded last year. Tourism has thus become the main driver of the Spanish economy for the second year and already accounts for 12.8% of GDP, the highest in the historical series.

The recovery is global: the sector will return to pre-pandemic levels globally this year, according to forecasts from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published last Friday. There were 1.3 billion international arrivals worldwide in 2023, just 12% fewer than in 2019. A decade ago there were 1.13 billion. “The recovery is already having a strong impact on the economy, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities around the world,” said the organization’s Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili. “These numbers also remind us of the fundamental task of promoting sustainability and inclusion in tourism development.”

The social impact is one of the major challenges. “It is better to overcome the challenges and problems of success than not to have that success,” Hereu warned. Exceltur, an association of major Spanish tourism companies, pointed out this week that there are destinations that are reaching their capacity limits. For this reason, it was proposed to open a debate between companies, administrations and citizens to analyze how tourism is compatible with social sustainability, given the resurgent discontent of citizens in overcrowded destinations. This Tuesday the association organized a forum dedicated to managing tourism growth. And its president Gabriel Escarrer, also CEO and president of the Meliá hotel chain, explained in his speech that he missed a PERTE focused on a sector that “has experienced a bad time during the pandemic” and called for more cooperation from the government .

For the president of Exceltur, “in the absence of this PERTE, strong investments must be encouraged” to improve competitiveness and “facilitate transformation processes”. The goals set by Escarrer revolved around four axes. The first is to relieve congested spaces and cities and “promote regions in need of tourism, like depleted Spain”; avoid trivializing destinations – “we have some outstanding cities that we are gradually underestimating,” he explained –; promoting greater sustainability awareness in tourism companies; and create public-private collaboration focused on “improving” environmental and social sustainability.

152 countries

This year, Fitur will reflect the growth that the sector has experienced post-pandemic, with a record event that will see the participation of 9,000 companies (500 more than the previous edition) and 152 countries (20 more), with Ecuador as the host country. A total of 806 exhibitors are represented in nine pavilions at the Ifema exhibition center, which this year has set up an additional pavilion for an event expected to attract 150,000 trade visitors and 100,000 general visitors and which will last until Sunday.

“Spain will break its historical visitor record and it makes us proud to be able to say that we have left the pandemic behind us,” said this Tuesday the president of the Fitur organizing committee, Fernando Candela (Iberia), who expects a 2024 “at least “as good” as last year. Meanwhile, government spokesperson Pilar Alegría has highlighted the importance for the Spanish economy of a sector particularly affected by the health crisis. He emphasized that tourism spending last year reached the “historic” value of 108 billion euros.

Finding tourists who leave more money for their trips is one of the formulas that the sector uses to travel further and not be so dependent on the influx. But another important topic is work. According to a report by the Bank of Spain, more than 40% of tourism companies say they have difficulty finding employees.

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