Spanish tourism tries to keep up

11th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Competition from regional rivals has seen profits from the industry shrink

11 February 2008

MADRID - Nobody in Spain's tourism sector is using the word crisis... yet. And despite the financial uncertainty of the last six months, Spain's tourism sector, which last week held its annual FITUR trade fair in Madrid, is confident that in 2008 it can repeat last year's success story, when the number of foreign arrivals grew by 1.7 percent to 59.2 million, matched by an overall 3.5 percent increase in spending.

While tourism's contribution to GDP continues to shrink, and now stands at 10.8 percent, it is still very important to the economy.

"No one has a crystal ball to see into the future, but none of the tour operators has said they are worried about numbers," says Secretary General for Tourism Amparo Fernández. She admits that Spain is still heavily dependent on the British, who make up 27.5 percent of the total number of visitors, and whose numbers last year showed signs of a slowdown. But she is confident that Germany, the country's second largest market, can make up the difference.

Raúl González, managing director of the Barceló hotel chain, is confident that German tourists will continue to come to Spain, and can make up the 5 percent fall in domestic visitors. Spaniards spent less on travel in 2007, thanks to rising interest rates and inflation.

The latest report from tourism lobby Exceltur attributes the decline in UK numbers to the economic slowdown, coupled with a weaker pound. It also says that competitors like Turkey are also attracting visitors away from Spain. The organisation says that Germans have more money to spend on holidays thanks to rising employment, but that Spain will have to work hard to compete with Turkey, Morocco, and particularly Egypt, which last year attracted 11 million visitors, 2 million up on the previous year.

The growing appeal of Spain's Mediterranean rivals to northern Europeans has prompted the tourism authorities to try to offer more than the traditional sun, sea, and sand holiday for which it has been famous for the last four decades. Last year, there was a significant increase in city break and cultural holidays, reflected in a 6.3 percent increase in short stays in places such as Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Jerez, Seville, and even Valladolid.

Spain has broadened its appeal, say the tourism authorities, attracting visitors from Scandinavia, Italy, and increasingly the United States - US arrivals grew by 22 percent in 2007, partly as a result of the weaker dollar, which hit more expensive European destinations like France.

But what Amparo Fernández calls the "prudent optimism" of the tourism sector is not shared by the airline industry, which says that 2008 will not be a repeat of last year. IATA, the sector's governing body, points to a slowdown: "The lower growth levels seen in December will be the tendency of the coming months," says its head, Giovanni Bisignani.

Predictions of a slowdown are shared by the European Union, and Spain's airports authority AENA, as well as by the national carrier Iberia. Silvia Cairó, the head of international sales says: "Yes, there is a falloff, but it's not spectacular."

Spain's need to compete with its cheaper regional rivals looks set to bring to an end the era of vast hotel complexes, says Barcelo's Raúl González. He says that the emphasis now is on quality rather than quantity, and points to the planned redevelopment of Mallorca's 6-kilometre Playa de Palma. The project, which has brought together the private sector and the local authorities, aims to set new standards in upscale tourism development.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / LARA OTERO 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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