1706418398 Quality versus quantity Tourism is looking for formulas in order

Quality versus quantity? Tourism is looking for formulas in order not to die of success

Every day thousands of tourists crowd in front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to take a photo. In Madrid, long queues form in front of the Royal Palace in summer and winter. The Mediterranean beaches are full again despite the high temperatures. In archipelagos such as the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands the pressure is even greater. Tourism has recovered quickly from the pandemic. According to government figures, Spain welcomed a historic record of 84 million foreigners (plus domestic tourism) last year, and all indications are that it may have displaced France as the world's leading arrivals. This is according to a study by CaixaBank Research, which would mean that a milestone was never reached. The French Ministry of Tourism estimates that at most 82 million travelers visited the French countryside. But the extraordinary return of tourists has once again caused dissatisfaction among citizens and opened the debate about the sustainability of a sector that already accounts for 12.8% of Spain's GDP.

How many tourists is too many? Companies and administrations ask themselves this question. The answer, at least for now, doesn't have a round number. Not even saturation problems have a single (or simple) solution. “There are places in Spain that are clearly saturated, such as the Balearic Islands and Tenerife, with problems also in Benidorm or Lloret de Mar,” emphasizes Macià Blázquez, professor of regional geographical analysis at the University of the Balearic Islands. These Mediterranean islands broke their own record of human pressure on August 9, with a total of 2.1 million people on their territory, compared to 1.2 million inhabitants, according to the indicator prepared by the Balearic Institute of Statistics. “When we emerged from the pandemic, it was said that we should not fall into the same mistakes as before, that we could not return to overcrowding, but the so-called champagne effect, where people want to travel more than ever after the coronavirus,” That was imposed,” says Blázquez.

Quality versus quantity Tourism is looking for formulas in order

The sector and the administration are looking for formulas to manage tourism without failing in success, both due to the impact on the quality of life and on the environment. “Spain must focus on quality, in every part of the territory and in every season,” defends the Secretary of State for Tourism, Rosana Morillo. “There are successful destinations that need to be examined if their number continues to grow or an in-depth analysis of their carrying capacity needs to be carried out to ensure environmental, economic and social sustainability, so that the quality of life of citizens is respected,” he adds. . “And we also have destinations that are still unknown, that have great potential and we must bet on them increasing quantitatively but in a sustainable way,” concludes Morillo, who this week focused on the major tourism fair Fitur opens on Wednesday and closes its doors this Sunday.

On the first day of the fair, long queues formed in front of the venue in Ifema (Madrid), where the atmosphere felt that the industry was in a good and profitable moment. Lots of working meetings, presentations, forums… The organizers expect that pre-pandemic visitor numbers have recovered, an expectation consistent with the hectic activity in tourism over the last two years. After the historic setback caused by the pandemic in 2020 and a very complicated 2021, the industry experienced a rapid recovery in 2022, surprising the industry itself, especially in Spain but also in the rest of the world. The World Tourism Organization expects the global recovery to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, after 1.3 billion international arrivals worldwide last year, down just 12% from 2019. The figure was 1.13 a decade ago billion. In Spain they have increased from almost 58 million in 2012 to 84 million in 2023.

However, there is now some consensus that attendance cannot be the only measure of success. “Fortunately, there is more and more talk about the fact that it is not just the number of tourists that matters, which was the clear indicator until a few years ago,” emphasizes José Serrano, professor of tourism at the European University of the Canary Islands. “We must also measure the impact it has, because it is not harmless, and take advantage of this sector but with a higher performance in terms of expenditure, a redistribution of flows to other areas and deseasonalization in order to increase tourism on several levels Months to distribute.” he adds.

1706418384 110 Quality versus quantity Tourism is looking for formulas in order

Sources from Exceltur, an association that brings together large companies in the sector, have in these days pushed the debate on the limits of tourism, but also emphasize that the sector has been the great engine of economic growth, since it accounted for 70% of the increase . of GDP in 2023. There have been some attempts so far, such as the controversial cap on tourist resorts introduced in the Balearic Islands in 2017, which the new regional government wants to reverse. A hotel moratorium (ban on opening hotels in the city center) was also issued in Barcelona in the same year, which can now be relaxed. “In the Canary Islands there is also a moratorium on the construction of tourist beds and this is highly regulated; “You can’t build without planning, but we also need to strengthen controls on tourist housing,” says Serrano. “We need to think about a quality offer that does not displace the local population or make access to housing more difficult, in order to avoid cases of rejection of tourism, because not everything can be worthwhile,” he warns.

The introduction of fees was another measure taken by some administrations, such as those in force for several years in the Balearic Islands and Catalonia. The Valencian Community announced a tariff for 2024, but it was canceled by the new government and did not come into force. More and more destinations are now imposing restrictions on the number of daily visitors, beaches, local roads or boat travel next to protected islands. A well-known case is the Galician beach Las Catedrales, considered one of the most spectacular in Spain, which experienced critical moments with almost 12,000 bathers per day until the Xunta established a maximum capacity of 5,000 people in high season in 2015.

Tourism expenditureSeveral tourists armed with parasols visit the Sagrada Familia last August. Alejandro Garcia (EFE)

The first action on the part of companies is to increase the quality of services in order to attract tourists who will leave more money at the destination. The aim would be to maintain spending, which reached a record 108 billion euros last year, even if fewer tourists come. The Ministry of Industry and Tourism also defends formulas to mitigate the effects of overcrowding in some areas and avoid social rejection, promote the deseasonalization of activity, extend seasons and diversify tourist destinations and promote inland Spain . with a view of the sun and beach. And try to avoid making visiting a place an obstacle course during peak season.

The negative perception of tourism among citizens living in the most polluted areas, both on the coast and in the centers of large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, ​​is a cause for concern. Not only because of the discomfort it causes among residents, but also because this reaction has implications for tourists who may prefer not to go to a destination where there is graffiti saying “Tourists, go home.” the streets. The president of the Hotel Association (CEHAT), Jorge Marichal, said at a tourism forum in Madrid last Tuesday that he felt “like a prisoner” because he had to defend a sector “when it has not grown in beds in 15 years”. The number of vacation rentals has skyrocketed.

1706418388 163 Quality versus quantity Tourism is looking for formulas in order

How do you listen to residents? Mallorcan businesswoman Carmen Riu, CEO of the Riu hotel empire, put forward a novel proposal this week at the same forum organized by Exceltur: a referendum to ask citizens what tourism model they want. “I have often thought that we are not brave not to hold a referendum: we want tourists, we don’t want them,” he explained. “There is a problem that worries me and that I do not know very well how to solve: that of citizenship.” In this sense, Turespaña, dependent on the Ministry of Industry and Tourism, has just announced that it will launch a survey on the perception of the impact of tourism to find out “the attitude of the resident population towards the tourism phenomenon both in perception and in the perception of the impact it has on their place of residence and their private life.” The results will be announced at the end of 2024.

Another possibility, according to Blázquez, is a reduction. In a recent study, the researcher and other experts propose opening the debate on the decline of tourism as “a strategy to repoliticize issues of tourism development in general and its sustainability in particular,” they explain in the document.

Quality tourism does not always mean high purchasing power. “Quality tourism should depend on the employment it creates, of high quality, decent salaries and stability,” says anthropologist José Mansilla, a professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona who studies the connection between tourism and conflict in cities . “The sector does not want to hear about a decline, but our tourism model is heavily based on low labor costs and tourismphobia is a label created to stigmatize residents who simply do not want mass tourism,” emphasizes the expert who bets on local tourism That takes into account the environmental costs it causes, especially the airplane.

In Germany, shortly before the pandemic, the Greens even proposed limiting the number of flights per passenger per year to three, a measure that was never implemented. In Spain, the government has just announced an investment of 2.4 billion euros in the expansion of Barajas, despite its Sumar partners seeing this as environmentally damaging. According to the executive, the investment is focused on increasing the capacity of Spain's main airport as a transit point between Europe and America and not only receiving tourists to Spain.

Ecuador's “Stand” at Fitur, last Wednesday.Ecuador's “Stand” at Fitur, last Wednesday. Santi Burgos

As for working conditions, thanks to intermittent permanent contracts, the temporary employment rate in the sector rose from 35% in 2019 to 8% last year, a decline above the general average. And it was one of the drivers of job growth. Exceltur puts the salary increase at 9.8% since 2019 and 4.4% between 2022 and 2023. However, unions emphasize that in both accommodation and hospitality sectors, workloads have increased more than new hires, while subpar salary costs and schedules are unattractive. Although deseasonalization is encouraged, the vast majority of work is concentrated in the peak season between Easter and September or October, causing instability.

Austria and Finland are two countries that, according to anthropologist José Mansilla, serve as examples of how tourism is regulated economically and ecologically while at the same time employees have “a good salary level”. “Its economy does not depend so much on tourism and there is less fear of interference,” he says. After Croatia, Greece and Portugal, Spain was the EU country with the highest contribution of tourism to GDP in 2022. Economist José Serrano agrees that “we need to work on powerful alternatives to the tourism industry to diversify the economy,” but he also argues for “speaking out” about what has been achieved in the tourism sector.

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