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 We need, they say, to reduce numbers, change from the 1970s model that’s now at least 30 years out of date, and provide quality and luxury.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the new model thrive over the next 50-60 years or so, a similar period to that of the old model, now seen as completely outdated.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.