Spain braces for tourism drop as competitors recover
Spain braces for tourism drop as competitors recover
28 MARCH 2018 7:36 AM

Spanish hoteliers are worried Spain’s annual number of international visitors will decline now that travelers are returning to destinations like Turkey and Tunisia. But a warmer, sunnier Holy Week is reason for more confidence for the country’s peak seasons.

MADRID—Spanish hoteliers see clouds on the horizon concerning foreign visitor numbers, according to sources gathered at a news conference last week given by the Confederation of Spanish Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT).

Juan Molas, president of CEHAT, said the resurgence of Northern European tourists returning to seaside destinations in Spain’s major competitors such as Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey—which are rebounding following terrorist attacks and political unrest over the past several years—could significantly decrease Spain’s number of inbound travelers.

“Visitor numbers are coming back strong to these competitors, as well as to Greece, which are now stabilizing, and they are again attracting tourists from our major markets like Britain, Germany, Russia and the Nordic countries,” Molas said.

In recent years, Spain has registered a string of record tourism numbers, with the peak year being 2017 with the arrival of 82 million visitors, Molas said.

Analysts have said one key reason for this surge is that foreign visitors switched their vacations from those countries to Spain.

“As the airlines increase traffic to these destinations to meet the rising demand, that means fewer flights to Spain,” Molas added.

Spain has had to overcome its own turmoil, Molas said, as visitor numbers have recovered since the fall when political unrest in Barcelona linked to a regional bid for independence from Spain had scared off tourists. Molas said hotel occupancy over the past three months has bounced back to 2017 levels.

But new concerns have arisen after the recent arrest of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany. Spain has sought Puigdemont’s arrest since Catalonia declared its independence last October. Puigdemont has been living in exile in Belgium since that declaration.

For all of Spain, Molas added, hoteliers were “cautiously optimistic” about the spring season but “were worried about lower average room rates, shorter stays and higher costs impacting on profitability.”

Another concern, Molas said, is that the steady decline in the value of the British pound against the euro since the Brexit referendum almost two years ago could put the two currencies at parity in the near future.

“This would cut into the purchasing power of visitors from Britain,” he said, adding the United Kingdom constituted Spain’s largest foreign tourism market.

Holy numbers
Spanish hoteliers are buoyed, however, by the prospect of favorable weather and better hotel performance during Holy Week, following an unusually cool and wet winter.

Schools in Spain have closed from 23 March to 31 March for Holy Week and most businesses will shut down between 29 March and 1 April. Hoteliers and others in the tourism sector see the holiday as a reliable indicator for Spain’s vital spring and summer seasons.

“We’re expecting a good Holy Week if the weather changes for the better, which is the forecast,” Molas said.

Referring to the results of a CEHAT poll measuring expectations of the association’s membership over the spring season now through the end of May, Molas said 63% of Spaniards plan to spend their Holy Week vacations in Spain, which is a slight increase over 2017 figures.

Molas also noted inclement weather over the past several months benefited Spanish ski resorts.

“All of our ski areas are having their best season in the past 30 years, and we’re predicting 100% occupancy from Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday,” Molas said.

Molas reported hotels on the Mediterranean’s Costa del Sol had registered occupancy rates of approximately 70%.

“But these could go higher if the weather improves,” Molas said, who added “hotels in the Canary Islands were reporting occupancy rates of some 90%.”

Interior destination cities like Seville, Granada, Burgos, Valladolid, Caceres, Zamora and Badajoz are expecting large visitor numbers for their traditional Holy Week processions and passion plays, with Madrid and Barcelona also much in demand with occupancy rates of 80%.

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