UNWTO says that the two crises of covid and outdated tourism model give an unprecedented opportunity for essential change – scaling down and grading up to move from cheap and cheerful to quality and luxury

It was almost inevitable, it’s been called for for years – by me but more importantly by many more significant tourism voices – but Spain’s tourism sector is looking to overcome its present dire situation by scaling down and grading up.

A round table meeting as part of the 10th Congreso de Turismo de Compras y Calidad de España (Spanish Congress of Economic and Quality Tourism) has heard Manuel Butler, Executive Director of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and former Turespaña chief, say that the tourism sector is currently experiencing two overlapping crises: one is obviously the covid19 pandemic, but the other is the need to change the model of tourism entirely for the future. Butler said that Spain has to seize the opportunity, and take advantage of the current crisis – a stage of “low intensity” tourism which he sees continuing for the next two to four years – to convert our ideas of what tourism is, and that that conversion must be based on digitalization and sustainability.

These are ideas that have increasingly been expressed in Spanish and regional tourism voices, with the Canarian Government’s one of the loudest in recent years as it stressed the need to move away from the mass market, the “cheap and cheerful” end, and towards what it has called “quality tourism” – the move towards upmarket tourism that I’ve reported on now for a few years. At last, it seems that other voices and ideas are getting on board.

The idea is fewer customers, but with niche markets appealing to “quality tourists” (not my words!) staying in luxury accommodation. As the authorities have repeatedly said for a few years now, the Canaries and Tenerife specifically do not have the infrastructure to provide for modern mass tourism. We need, they say, to reduce numbers, change from the 1970s model that’s now at least 30 years out of date, and provide quality and luxury.

The UNWTO agrees, and calls for investment that will see the new model thrive over the next 50-60 years or so, a similar period to that of the old model, now seen as completely outdated. The investment will need to go into training, to attracting personnel with qualifications and talent, and technological abilities to attract a type of visitor that brings greater added value. At the same time, investment must go into buildings, for renovation and modernization and to increase sustainability and energy efficiency.

It’s time to change. I’ve been calling for it for some years now and at long last it seems to be a need that’s accepted not just by the regional authorities, but country-wide.    


  1. Agree Mary and the one and only thing I’ve enjoyed (masks and all) during covid is the peaceful walks and evenings out socialising with my expat friends. No screaming karaoke, no bellowing and shouts from ‘men’ watching bloody football, no crowds. It’s been bliss and yes I would love a touritic model that would provide something similar to these more civilised and peaceful days. Thing is I doubt it will ever happen, certainly not in my liftime, for reasons I’ve previously mentioned. Still, you never know for sure.

  2. I agree with you Janet. Is not just that there are small British bars, is the fact that there are so many of them. There is room on this island for bars that cater for the (hopefully reducing) numbers of holidaymakers who want everything to be British over here, from their food to their nights out. We can still cater for them but they won’t be the majority. It will take a generation to change things, but it is long overdue.

  3. We bought our first apartment in 1984 so we have seem tremendous changes in Tenerife. Some good, some not so good. More & more hotels were built and somebody needs to fill them. AI must have been offered by the hotels so its not the fault of the tourists. Bars of all nationalities offer beer at a Euro a pint. Mass tourism happened because the Canary Islands wanted it, or should I say wanted the money..With the amount of money earned from Tourism the police force should be much stronger…I could go on for much longer. I heard this discussion about upmarket Tourism about 20 years ago. It didn’t happen but I hope it does.

  4. 😁. As for the Islands and the future of so called ‘cheap and cheerful’ tourism, some just don’t get it. Supply (availability) creates its own demand. Always has and always will. So none of us will see much change in the next 20 years here (like the past 20 years) unless existing supply is throttled through the mass redevelopment of existing tourisim infrastructure and/or there is a massive local intervention to hike touristic pricing/taxation. Neither are likely due to the economics involved ……. didn’t some one once say “It’s the economy, stupid.”?

  5. Ray – so there’s some good news then, no more karaoke. Something to celebrate after all!!

  6. What! No more karaoke!!!! Now that will be devistating 😂

  7. The mass market in Tenerife will slowly die. It is great that the Tenerife government has recognised this and is planning for the future. It has been repositioning itself for a number of years.

  8. What about all the British owned cafes and bars? They will certainly go out of business. Lets face it ,they bring in good money for the Tenerife government by paying their taxes. Upmarket tourists mainly stay in the hotel and grounds and won’t venture out to local shops cafes etc. So going for a higher class tourist could see the Canaries fall flat on their face.

    1. Author

      What about them? The Canarian Government is looking at the future of tourism through the 21st century, which it is entirely entitled to do. Indeed it would be irresponsible not to. This is not a whim but a well researched projection based on any number of studies and the advice of international consultants expert in various tourism-related fields. British owned bars may well go out of business but do we still see Butlins and Pontins camps anywhere?

      And indeed, as I say in the comment above, it is the all-inclusive cheap end that sees people stay in their hotels. And we have been told this repeatedly by the bars themselves! All evidence demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the golf and spa luxury market do indeed get out and about and spend money, lots of it! They just don’t spend it in small CC locales kitted out as Brit sports bars or karaoke venues, or the like.

      Things change, and let’s face it, it is more in line with the Canaries’ future as part of an EU country to market to other EU countries where there are no issues about borders, or passports. British visitors will still be welcome, indeed are sought, but the type they want aren’t the demographic for British bars in any case. Again I repeat, there is a Brexity arrogance about the “they need us more than we need them” view, and the idea that they’ll “fall flat on their face” without cheap mass tourism is insulting.

  9. One of the main problems here is not the class or volume of tourism, but the strategy behind how the business is won. The Canary Islands are almost exclusively dependent on Tour Operators and Wholesalers, who take a 20%-25% margin from published prices, leaving hotel operators thirsty for volume to be able to survive on the low margins, in a destination which already has low average room rates.. These same Wholesalers and Tour Operators control a significant portion of the airlift which comes into the islands – the Canary Islands need to solve this conundrum first, then the hotels will take care of themselves – the island is hostage to this old fashioned way of doing business and it is critical to begin changing now if we want to focus on higher end tourism (and I disagree with one of the above comments about this being an insult to the islands – the islands are not ready for it, it will require significant investment, mostly in the form of training of people and motivating the locals to embrace GREAT service and not see tourists as an inconvenience). We also need better infrastructure for conventions and business meetings to diversify the type of travellers which we receive – Tenerife for example, does not a host any global industry events…yet it is a great destination for it and these single events can contribute massively to the local economy.

    1. Author

      It’s exactly why they’re talking now about training! They are looking 60 years into the future and starting now! As to not hosting global events, that is simply wrong. Look at the walking festivals, international astronomy/science conferences like Starmus, wine and gastronomy events. They are global industry events and many want them here because of the winter climate.

  10. I agree with the excellent sentiments regarding sustainability and protection of the environment but there is one key problem with that view Janet. Native Canarians need jobs/income and with a growing population that means more jobs/income needed year on year. I’m all for reduced visitor numbers, less environmental damage, fewer aircraft flying (in general) but what covid has also shown is that these asperations do not support economies.

    The USP of these Islands is the very good all year climate. This is what attracts tourists here today. It’s unlikely that enough additional star gazers, walkers, gastronoms etc, could ever support a viable economy, And don’t we already have enough golf courses soaking up our limited water supply.

    So I agree, change would be a good thing but it’s viability from an economic/GDP vewpoint is very questionable indeed.

    1. Author

      They’ve done the research, and they have the viability studies. They’ve been studying this for years, and think it works. Let’s face it, if the cheap airlines go, the mass market won’t be able to afford to come here anyway.

  11. How is it going to be achieved when the planes, hotels, bars, etc are owned by companies and individuals, not the government?

    How will they force companies to price uncompetitively and up their offering if it doesn’t increase their profits? If it made more money companies would already be doing it but they have mostly done the opposite.

    1. Author

      They won’t. They don’t really expect the cheap airlines to survive, and they expect people with money to come … as they are already doing from all over Europe. They will simply increase the marketing to select audiences, as they’re already doing. They don’t mind companies making profits, they just don’t want the cheap end of the market because to make a profit out of that you need mass numbers.

  12. Niche markets and quality tourists comes at a cost. Many tourists choose destinations based on affordability. By target the exclusive market, visitor numbers reduce significantly. GDP plunges as bars , restaurant and shops fight for a reduced market, closures and Unemployment follow. All because the island wants to be more exclusive, whilst the “economy tourist” travels elsewhere to spent their money. Yeah blue sky thinking there, superb idea…

    1. Author

      The problem is that the economy tourist puts an undue strain on our infrastructure. We cannot afford mass tourism, cheap or otherwise. This is why the cost of niche markets and quality tourism is baked in. The lifestyle of residents matters too and is being taken account of. Fewer tourists spending more might not equal mass market income, but it’s not so far off given how little cheap tourism actually contributes generally – much is all inclusive, for example, and we’ve been told for years by the bars that they gain nothing from these tourists. They have routinely called for an end to AI because “it contributes nothing”.

      The benefit of slightly lower income but fewer people is less stress on other things that cost money, things that tourists often don’t see or consider, like roads, medical and security resources like police and ambulances, and that’s without thinking about things like sewage spills which are directly related to the numbers involved in cheap mass-market tourism. Lower income and lower expenditure – the calculation is that it will actually mean an expenditure saving that compensates for the loss of income, but even if it doesn’t, it will mean a far more pleasant environment for resident and holidaymaker.

      There’s something of the Brexit “they need us more than we need them” argument about all this. There’s a clear sense of “if you don’t want us we’ll go to Dubai or Sharm” about it. To be clear: they are not looking at any tourists in particular and saying please go elsewhere you’re too low class for us. It is not about that. It is how to maximise what we have and bring in the maximum value for it without exhausting finite resources that have to serve a resident population as well as its tourist trade. Sewage is a good case in point in this regard.

      It is also about keeping up with the rest of the world and how tourism is developing. This is just the same as the changes in the 60s and 70s … and yet would anyone think of sending a saucy postcard any more? Times change. This is not about classism, or snobbery, or trying to be more exclusive. It is about resources. Some think that these islands cannot “go it alone”, and that without mass tourism they will fail and die. They are not trying to go it alone, but to tailor their product to the appropriate market. To suggest these aspirations are unachievable, or that the authorities here are incapable of what it takes to achieve them, is simply insulting to these islands.

  13. “Niche markets” and “quality tourists” need to be defined. What do they mean? If Tenerife intends to compete with the likes of Dubai, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives et al then I fear they will fail.

    1. Author

      Already defined Ray. Astronomy, gastronomy, walking, spa, golf, many more … they aren’t competing with those places, they have a unique market here themselves.

  14. No more ‘bread and butter’ trade, more like caviar and champagne in future?

    I still think many of our tourists like it here for the weather (not this week perhaps!!) and the hospitality of the Canarian people.

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