Costa little more: Spain questions its tourism strategy

Its sun and beaches attract millions, but what they spend is falling, prompting a push for wealthier guests attracted by its food and culture

For more than half a century, Spains tourist fame has rested mainly on its sandy beaches, warm water and dependable weather. But despite record-breaking visitor numbers over the past 12 months, there are fears the sun could slowly be setting on the countrys traditional approach to attracting foreign holidaymakers.

Although Spain is predicted to have welcomed 75 million tourists by the end of this month up from 68 million last year the upsurge are not too what it seems.

The increased numbers are due less to any particular Spanish strategy than given the fact that terrorism and instability have driven millions of holidaymakers from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and France.

According to the Confederation of Spanish Travel Agencies( CEAV ), almost 10% of this years tourists are borrowed from competing destinations around the Mediterranean.

The other problem is that although the overall tourist numbers are up, the average sum they are spending is down, falling 2.2% among European guests between January and July this year.

Add to that were afraid that some popular destinations are becoming saturated with low-spending tourists whose numbers and behaviours are raising local hackles, and questions are once again being asked about the efficacy of Spains decades-old sol y play a( sunlight and beach) tourism model.

A recent report from Ernst& Young noted the declining average spend and considered that Spain reorientate its strategy to attract higher spending premium tourists from Europe and beyond rather than continuing to rely on those looking for a inexpensive break.

Philip Moscoso of Spains IESE business school discerns a few shadows lurking among the good news and tells it is time to rethink Spains approach to tourism.

In some places, such as the Balearics and Barcelona, were starting to see a saturation point where the parts of society begin to feel a little overrun by the tourist hordes.

Although we all know that tourism is our number one industry and that we owe it considerable thanks economically over the past few years a lot of people are fed up with so much tourism, especially in summer.

He points to anger at tourists who cram into tiny rented apartments and spend little fund on anything but alcohol and going out, or the individuals who head to Ibiza and stay up for three days without booking into hotels.

Its not all black-and-white, but in places like Barcelona, things will definitely change because in some neighborhoods, people are taking to the streets to protest, he said. When voters do that, [ politicians] tend to react.

Moscoso highlights the fact that although Spain is working to attract higher spending visitors by sprucing up some of its more dilapidated destinations, it also needs to invest more in promoting its interior and culture.

Obviously, theres the kilometres of coastline, but theres also an artistic heritage that needs to be valued and promoted more. Lots of Chinese people visit Paris, Rome and London; they need to know that there are things to visit in Spain, too, and that its not just sunlight and beaches. We need to push that.

Josep Valls, a prof in the marketing department of the Esade business school in Barcelona, used to say moves to overhaul the Spanish tourism sector should have begun two decades ago, but were stymied by the influx of holidaymakers abandoning the former Yugoslavia for Spain during the 1990 s, and further thwarted by terror attacks on tourist resorts and the uncertainty brought by the Arab spring.

However, he said that the concept of invention is now working its route into the DNA of the Spanish tourist industry as it increasingly embraces gastronomy, sport, culture and wine to depict overseas visitors.

People are now realising that the Spanish coast isnt merely useful for two or three months a year: it can be a much less seasonal business, he said. Its about looking beyond beaches as the only places for Europeans on holidays; its about employing land and heritage in different ways.

Rafael Gallego, president of the CEAV, agrees that more needs to be done to attract tourists with deeper pockets and to promote the countrys wider charms, but insists that the costas will remain the engine of the Spanish tourist economy for a long time.

I dont think that the sol y playa model is obsolete. Its obvious that this kind of[ holiday] isnt going to go away, he said. Spains been growing in borrowed tourism since the Arab springtime. But weve been missing a great opportunity to take advantage of this by selling everything that Spain has to offer to its implementation of culture and gastronomy and the countryside of the interior.

Moscoso says that Spain simply cannot afford to take its sunny, sandy allure for awarded. With so many guests borrowed from other destinations and Brexit creating the issue of the future of Spains single greatest source of foreign visitors, urgent guessed needs to be given to the tourist sector, which accounted for more than 11% of Spains GDP in 2015 and which is predicted to grow by 4.4% this year.

Its a bit like the situation is with people health. As long as you dont notice any symptoms, you dont go to the doctor. You know that you should stop smoking, take more workout and feed more healthily but you only go to the doctor when the problems start.

As long as the numbers appear good and the problems arent obvious, people wont react. But when the expend per tourist goes down and the number of tourists also goes down and the sector starts to contract, the big players will start to worry and thats when the real work will begin.

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