Right at the beginning of the summer season, the Spanish tourism sector still does not have them all with them. Especially due to doubts about the arrival of foreign travelers while direct government aid has not yet arrived. The minister of the branch, Reyes Maroto (Medina del Campo, Valladolid, 47 years old), remains optimistic and hopes that half of the visits in 2019 will recover. This vision collides with the increase in infections in Europe and the progression of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The sector crosses its fingers so that its minister, who sees herself in the position long after the summer, gets it right and the reactivation does not go wrong again. Maroto, in addition, advances that the Council of Ministers will give the green light to the PERTE (strategic growth project) of the electric car before the holidays.
Question. The tourism sector is very affected after more than 15 months of pandemic, although thanks to vaccination the first green shoots are glimpsed. What summer are you waiting for?
Answer. I look forward to a summer in which we gradually return to normality. The vaccination rate is accelerating more and more and that allows us to recover the international tourist. Since July 1, the digital certificate of the European Union has been in force and it is undoubtedly very good news because we have a common protocol within the EU to regulate these tourist flows, guaranteeing safety in this mobility.
P. The United Kingdom, in its third update, has included the Balearic Islands in its green list, but not to the rest of Spain. How much does the recovery depend on the arrival of these travelers?
R. It is our main source market and it is true that it will influence in terms of volume. But that does not worry us, I believe that this year we have to give certainty and begin to recover normality in a sector that has been unemployed for 15 months.
P. Do you keep the forecast that half of the arrivals in 2019 will be recovered?
R. At the moment we believe that it is a forecast that can be achieved. We see that summer is going to be good from the point of view of the national tourist, who is transmitted to us by the sector and that will give encouragement. We can still recover half of the international tourism this year, it is a prudent objective. The European market should work well with the digital certificate and with the rest of destinations, in particular the United Kingdom, the forecasts we have are positive. They already have half of the population vaccinated and we hope that in the coming months they will definitively control the pandemic. Now they can come simply proving that they are vaccinated or with a negative PCR, which is a good sign because the destination is open.
P. Are you afraid that the expansion of the delta variant of the coronavirus in markets such as the British one will slow down the recovery of tourism this summer?
R. My main concern is to control the pandemic because only in this way will tourism recover and for this it is necessary to continue accelerating vaccination as we are doing in Spain. For the summer we expect around 17 million international tourists and many will be British, because they are a very faithful market to Spain.
P. Of the European funds, 3,400 million are destined to tourism, although the sector demanded a greater effort taking into account the weight it has in the economy. Is this amount enough for the modernization of the Spanish tourism sector?
R. It is a historic investment. Never have so many resources been allocated to investment in the tourism sector. In any case, more than how much, I believe that the fundamental thing is the design of the plan and getting it right in what and where we have to invest. And the driving effect that private investment will have will also be important, especially in the modernization of our accommodation sector, which will improve the quality of our tourism sector.
P. Will there be a PERTE, a strategic project financed with European funds, for tourism?
R. I think that tourism, with the presented plan of 3,400 million, I do not know whether to call it PERTE, but without a doubt it is a strategic sector for the Government. There is sufficient evidence that it is a priority for us, we have protected it and we will continue to do so.
P. There are signs of recovery. For example, the number of workers in ERTE has been declining for months, although tourism and restaurants account for more than six out of ten affected. Is there a risk that a significant number of these will not be able to return to their position because the company is no longer viable?
R. That is what we are trying to avoid and that is why in March we approved 7,000 million in direct aid and added two funds: one of 3,000 million to address a debt restructuring, in particular with ICO funds, although we extend it to other debts that have the companies with banks. And we are going to open in the coming days the Cofides fund of 1,000 million that will allow to recapitalize companies, aimed at small and medium-sized companies that need support to be able to hold out for a few months until normality recovers. Although we have been hearing for months from the opposition that the ERTEs were going to become ERE, this is not happening and the affiliation data for June have been extraordinary, which gives us an idea that the recovery is already here.
P. He mentions the direct aids approved in March, but these have not yet reached companies. Should it have been managed before or in another way so that it was not such a cumbersome process?
R. We analyzed different alternatives and the fastest way was through the autonomous communities because most had already approved direct measures. The calls are now open and companies have begun to request it, although it is true that it has coincided with a gradual recovery in the economy. They are necessary, and that is why we approved them, but the fact that the economic sectors that need it most are being reactivated makes the emergency less than if they were still closed. I hope they arrive as soon as possible.
P. Among the measures launched by the Government during the pandemic, some have worked well, such as ERTE, ICO credits or the extraordinary benefit for the self-employed. But others have not had the expected effect, for example SEPI’s rescue fund for strategic companies where there are dozens of companies, many from the tourism sector, that are still waiting. Why is it taking so long?
R. One of the reasons that is hindering the agility in the process is the complexity of the operations. And another, without a doubt, is the political noise of the rest of the parliamentary groups that question the suitability of these aid. That makes the technicians, who are the ones who evaluate, and the officials, who are a very important part for the aid to arrive, have a certain qualm, especially when it is pointed out to them.
P. It refers to the controversy unleashed by the rescue of the airline Plus Ultra …
R. Well, there have been other operations that have been questioned as well and the noise does not help to give confidence to citizens and companies. This week, for example, I received a letter from the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Community of Madrid alerting me to the contagions that are entering through Barajas, something that the data denies. The truth, according to the Ministry of Health of the Community of Madrid, is that between May 11, 2020 and June 28, 2021 there have been 1,046 imported cases, 0.14% of all positive cases diagnosed in Madrid , which is 730,260. It is regrettable that the safety of the Madrid destination is called into question when, in addition, it is false.
P. What expectations do you have with Alcoa, now that the case has been prosecuted?
R. Alcoa has lost two lawsuits in less than six months. We hope that you will show your good faith, which you expressed in December, and that you sell the plant. The courts will keep talking and Alcoa is not going to fare well. In the case of Lugo, we expect him to sell the plant to one of the six or seven investors who are interested. The aluminum sector has a future in Spain, although it does not go through Alcoa.
P. There has been a lot of talk about the PERTE of the electric and autonomous car, which would be the first to be approved, but nothing is known yet. When will you be given the green light?
R. Before we go on vacation [a inicio de agosto] We will give you the green light. The complexity of PERTE is that it is the first time that a measure has been approached by working on the entire value chain. We have already made the diagnosis to have the entire electric vehicle chain in Spain in 2025, which includes having a battery factory, the platforms in our plants assembling electric cars and continuing to invest in charging infrastructures and incentives for demand through Plan Moves.
P. What do you blame for the delay? Is there a problem with Brussels?
R. I think we are doing well on schedule. We are working with the European Commission to have a framework of aid adapted to that PERTE, since the investments that we have to make force us to have greater intensity in the aid and that must be negotiated with the Commission, as we already did with the Statute of the electrointensive consumer.
P. During the legislature there have been differences with the Ministry of Ecological Transition. And the modification of the National Fund for the Sustainability of the Electricity System, for example, has generated criticism in large industry. Do Industry and Ecological Transition go hand in hand in this type of reform?
R. The Government has a roadmap and there is unity of action. What is approved in the Council of Ministers is approved by the Government and there are no differences between ministries. I stay with the result, although to get there there are negotiations within the Government and also with the autonomous communities, with the federation of municipalities and with the sector.
P. Does Spain have a problem with its energy costs?
R. Until recently, we imported all electricity, although this Government has put renewables as a country challenge because if we maintained energy dependence, we had limited decision-making capacity. All the structural reforms that we are doing will bring us a competitive price. And while we get there, we have increased CO ayudas aid by 100 million, lowered VAT [de la factura de la luz] and approved a moratorium on the electricity tax that will mainly benefit the industry.
P. Is the Government studying some type of extraordinary measure in the face of the semiconductor deficit?
R. The debate we have now is European. It has to do with the strategic autonomy that as a result of the pandemic we have put it on the government’s agenda and on that of Europe. In the case of semiconductors, it is a problem for the EU, because we do not have our own production. We are working to define a European project to reduce this deficit and have industrial capacity.
P. They have been talking for weeks about a possible remodeling of the Government … Is there nervousness among your colleagues in the Executive?
R. We don’t have time to think about those things. Now the urgent thing is to speed up vaccination and we are also focusing on all recovery projects. The rest will be seen, but we are not concerned, at least not this minister.
P. Do you see yourself as Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism after the summer?
R. Yes, of course, and I hope much longer. We have been resisting a pandemic that has taken a great effort from all teams. And now we face recovery with more courage to finally put it behind us.