Mission: rescue tourism. The task does not seem easy. The sector – which for many years has been the engine of the economy, since 12% to 13% of gross domestic product (GDP) depends on it – is in the doldrums. The pandemic caused by covid-19 has led to a loss of 60.9 million foreign visitors and a gap of 67,000 million euros, as of November of last year, among the members linked to this activity, ranging from restaurants and hotels to transportation and leisure. The only way out of this crisis is to reactivate mobility as soon as possible. But to achieve this, it is necessary to shore up the national vaccination plan. This was one of the main conclusions reached by various experts during the El Futuro del Turismo event, organized by EL PAÍS and KPMG in Spain.
“The pandemic has hit us hard and the effects on the sector are being devastating,” said Reyes Maroto, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, at the meeting that took place last Thursday. Across the globe, international arrivals fell by 72% in the first 10 months of 2020. This translates into a loss of revenue of more than 935,000 million dollars (about 770,000 million euros, at the current exchange rate). The wound is 10 times greater than that which occurred in the Great Recession, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
In Spain, the blow was no less. The arrival of foreign visitors decreased by 77%, leaving an imprint on the economy. In terms of employment alone, 327,000 affiliates have been lost and the crisis is leading to the disappearance of many companies that suffer from a lack of liquidity. “There are companies that are tremendously powerful, that have experienced many crises and that are trying to manage the situation in the best possible way,” said Luis Maroto, CEO of Amadeus IT Group.
In the midst of this storm, however, the arrival of the vaccine gives some hope. The Government’s bet is that before the summer between 15 and 20 million people are immunized. This represents between 30% and 40% of the country’s population. It will not be until the end of the summer season when the figure rises to 70%, according to the estimates offered by the minister.
“The differential factor in competitiveness will be the security we offer,” said Hilario Albarracín, president of KPMG in Spain. And although the sector will not return to pre-covid levels until 2023, with 83.7 million expected international travelers, there are some certainties that allow us to be optimistic. For example, 52% of Europeans plan to travel in the next six months, according to the latest report from the European Travel Commission. The data is five percentage points higher compared to the November 2020 survey. 67% of them feel safe to enjoy their trip even with strict health protocols, and Spain is placed as the number one preference among the interviewed. “It is obvious, but if there are no tourists there is no tourism. Restrictions on mobility have posed an immense challenge for the survival of many companies and employment in the sector, ”added Albarracín.
Waiting for resources
But the vaccine is not the only remedy to revive business. The manna from European funds (some 140,000 million euros that Spain will receive, distributed among various sectors) will be essential for this industry on which 13.6% of national employment depends. “It is not about how much I have to do, but about having identified the projects that give us the leap to improve,” said the minister. The roadmap to distribute these resources will be marked by plans that are sustainable and digital. The purpose is to promote the ecological transition and boost the local economy. To meet that goal, it requires great efficiency in money management, according to the government representative. “We can run the risk of doing it wrong and we can’t afford it,” Maroto stressed. “This is a ‘country project’. After the pandemic we need not only to build, but to improve the fabric we have, ”he added.
“The resources of European funds represent a historic opportunity,” said Javier Sánchez-Prieto, president of Iberia. In front of the minister, Sánchez-Prieto demanded a backbone vision in the use of the money from the recovery plan. “It would be a missed opportunity to let these funds be invested in a way in which the different companies make individual decisions,” he said.
The representative of the airline also emphasized the mobility of people and called to learn from mistakes. “There are things we should not be proud of, for example, in the way of recovering mobility.” During lockdown, many citizens were unaware if and how they could move. “They still don’t know. Now, during the vaccination process, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of it being the same ”, he said during the event, which was moderated by Miguel Jiménez, deputy of EL PAÍS.
For Patricia Rosselló Palmer, CEO of Roibos (a digital platform focused on the needs of the sector), the key to recovery is to continue investing in what the country is number one for: sun and beach tourism. “Let’s really bet on what we’re good at and keep that leadership,” he said. “We need to put Spain in the world,” said Luis Buzzi, head of the Tourism and Leisure sector at KPMG.
For his part, Raúl González, CEO for Europe, Middle East and Africa of Barceló Hotel Group, asked that within the European funds there be a preferential exchange dedicated to this branch, due to the importance it has in the economy. “Two thirds of the fall in GDP in Spain in 2020 are due to the sector,” he added. Ramón Aragonés, CEO of NH Hotel Group, commented that for the money to be well used, a greater communion between the Government and private firms is needed. “Success will only be achieved from a public-private governance,” he argued.