Spain is hoping to entice tourists away from its crowded beaches and draw them to its national parks and monuments in the hopes they will spend more money.
It has launched a three-year plan to revamp its tourist industry, making sure the bloated “sun and sand” vacation market doesn’t grow any more and looking to “quality” tourism for other ways to bring in more dollars, pounds and marks.
A highly successful 1995 season has helped Spain overtake the United States to become the world’s second most popular tourist destination after France, but the Tourism Ministry hopes for only modest growth this year.
“We understand that in the future, the Spanish high-season holiday must not grow in volume but we must promote and improve the quality of our offer,” Miguel Gongora, secretary general for tourism, told Reuters.
Over 45 million tourists visited Spain in 1995, up 4% on the previous year, compared with France’s 60 million, recent figures from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) show.
Tourism revenue makes up 9% of Spain’s gross domestic product and accounts for 11% of jobs.
Although tourist numbers grew in 1995, they remained stable in the peak July-August period and only increased in the pre- and post-season months, Gongora says.
This is welcome news at the ministry, which hopes tourist numbers will grow by a sustainable 1% in 1996.
The problem it now faces is how to maintain growth in revenue, which reached $25 billion in 1995, up 15% on 1994 and the fourth highest in the world, according to WTO figures.
Tourist officials predict that 1996 will be difficult as the economic outlook in many European countries gets bleaker.
“Our main clients are having economic and social problems,” said Lluis Alegre, spokesman for the Catalonian Tourism Council.
“In Germany, they are starting to talk about unemployment and the French had a long strike which psychologically has a big effect on vacations,” he said.
The recent rise in the Spanish peseta is also depressing trade, said Alegre, wistfully recalling the peseta devaluations of 1993 and 1995 which boosted the latest spurt of growth.
Traditional big tourist destinations have realized volume can’t grow forever and are trying to raise the amount of money each tourist spends, according to a WTO official in Madrid.
Spain hopes its 78 paradors, state-owned inns usually situated in buildings of historical or architectural worth, will contribute a larger slice to profits.
The paradors, which include medieval cloisters and an 8th century Arab castle, generated close to $200 million in revenue last year and a pretax profit of nearly $9 million.
Eduardo Moreno, chairman of the company that runs the paradors, recently said he planned to lift profits by 70% this year and productivity by 20%.
On a broader scale, the Tourism Ministry hopes its plan, which includes quality, training and new products, will be the key to making tourism both profitable and sustainable.
In the Balearic Islands, the regional government is campaigning to improve all services, from renovating hotels to upgrading roads and creating nature reserves.
Its latest measure, “Plan Q,” aims to inspect and grade hotels for service levels.
“The idea was to give these zones a fresh coat of paint,” said Juan Carlos Alia, head of promotions at IBATUR, which promotes Balearic tourism under the government’s auspices.
He is aware that getting customers to spend more will be hard, as many of them are on low-budget package tours.
“Of course the 8 million tourists who come here every year can’t all be millionaires. But with the improvements in services, quality and infrastructure, a hotel owner can ask for a reasonable price from tour operators,” he said.
Aware that there is a strong market among young people for budget holidays with abundant cheap bars and discos, the Tourism Ministry is careful to point out that quality doesn’t simply mean herding everyone into museums for a dose of culture.
To Gongora, quality tourism means that holidays live up 100% to their advertising and every tourist believes he or she got exactly what was promised in the brochure.