Holidaymakers flock to Spain

spainThe number of tourists coming to Spain so far this year is increasing, albeit slowly, after a fall of two years caused by the global financial crisis. The recent crisis in northern Africa, where Egypt and Tunisia are the major holiday destinations, has also provided an unexpected boost Spanish tourism. The industry is forecasting that occupancy rates will increase by 12% this summer compared to last year, based on bookings made to date. Ramon Estalella, secretary general of the Confederation of Spanish hotels “, the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT), told The Guardian he believes that about two thirds of this increase is due to tourists canceled their trips to North Africa and opting for more secure – and familiar – Spain.

The problem for Maple souvenir shops that tourists do not come to places like Madrid, but in the coastal stations in the country, mainly the Canary Islands. “Cultural tourism is different. People can live without Prat, but not the beach,” he says. Trade began to plummet in August and although it has recovered somewhat this year, things are bad, he says.

A stone’s throw from its place in the busy Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, José María Sánchez, director of the Toledo Art Objects, a large art and craft shop, tells a different story. He is much more optimistic about business, which he says has been fueled recently by many more people who visit Madrid Spanish in day trips or weekend, thanks to new high-speed rail lines connecting the capital, the last one on the Madrid-Valencia, which opened its doors in December.

The tourism sector generates about 11% of Spain’s GDP and employs 2 million people, 11.3% of the workforce in a country where official unemployment rate is 20%. A record 58 million tourists came to Spain in 2007, but fell by almost 10% next year and the numbers have yet to recover.

Tourism is even more vital to the economy of the islands of Spain. In 2006, tourism accounted for 31.8% of the economy of the Canary Islands – including Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote – and 34% of all jobs, according to Exceltur umbrella trade association . But in 2009 the industry was reduced by one tenth. Nearly 50,000 people – one sixth of those employed by the tourism industry does not – lost their jobs, contributing to unemployment on the islands of almost 28%, the highest in Spain. The number of British tourists – who account for 37% of total foreign visitors in the islands – fell by 15% in 2009 as the downturn in the country, the stronger euro and more expensive to travel by plane put out. Ricardo Fernandez de la Puente, Vice Minister of Tourism in the Canary Islands, admits: “The crisis ruined our economy is dependent on tourists has been very difficult for our businesses and companies, but we started to see a recovery … The second half of last year. ”

In February, the number of foreign tourists increased by 13.5% over last year, representing about a third of all trips to Spain. But the kind of tourism is also changing. More tourists are traveling independently, and not tours. Is a change that Gonzalo Ceballos Watling, director of development and sustainability in Tourspain government agency, welcome. The agency is the promotion of active holidays such as riding in Spain, especially in coastal and island stations. “Nobody is going to reject the package tour, but we believe we have to go to a higher segment of tourists not only in the economic capacity of tourists, but also the tourist experience We are trying to offer a different kind of tourism – . not only rests on the beach. ”

The tourism industry does not expect a return to boom times soon. Between 2006 and 2008 the number of hotel rooms in Spain increased by a quarter of a construction boom out of time. He left the industry with an average occupancy rate last year to only 60%. As a result, Ramón Estalella of CEHAT says many hotels can not raise prices, even the numbers pick up. “So there’s a lot of cannibalism in prices and benefits offered to customers,” he says.

However, the tourism industry in Spain seems to be over the worst. Tourspain says no thanks to the EU, who offered to rescue the affected manufacturers, like General Motors Europe during the economic crisis but were less willing to help the tourism industry in Spain. As Watling says: “They [Brussels] while ensuring financial support for the construction of cars and why not more for us tourism is not seen as a first class or industry sector?”. His counterpart, Álvaro Blanco Volmer, director of planning and coordination, said: “Many people think that tourism is developed by itself just because the sun shines.”

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