They were holding a summit in Madrid earlier this week. This wasn't a summit for, say, climate change, nuclear disarmament or how to solve a problem like Brexit. It was for something far more important (some might believe) - shopping. Yes, shopping is that important that it merits a summit. Not a mere conference, seminar or a forum, but a summit. What happens now? Will the UN pass a resolution?
The Summit Shopping Tourism & Economy (Madrid 2016) is an awfully pompous and self-important title for the pleasures (or otherwise) of traipsing around the streets of major cities and handing over vast amounts of cash in exchange for ... . Ah, there you have it. That's why a summit is required. Cash. Lots of it. Now let's make more.
The importance of the occasion was such that the government's second-in-command, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, was there. As was China's ambassador to Spain, Lyu Fan. Among other notables were the secretary-of-state for tourism (Spain's that is), the director-general of Turespaña, the president of the World Travel & Tourism Council, the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Spain, and Spain's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
In addition, there were heads of tourism from Madrid (region and city) and from Barcelona. How many do you reckon where there from Palma or the Balearics? Correct. None. Oh, there may have been the odd one or two in the audience, assuming the town hall in Palma had been willing to fork out the 390 euros (IVA included) to attend, but as for speakers, official institutional and corporate representatives, the number was zilch.
China's ambassador wasn't there to extol the virtues of the local Chinese store (or several local Chinese stores). He took part because the summit was very keen to learn how to extract ever greater benefit from Chinese tourists. Spain currently only gets around 400,000 a year - a mere 5% of non-EU visitors, but a 5% which represents 35% of non-EU visitor spending. Likewise, you can appreciate why a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia might have been invited.
The Chinese tourist offers great fortunes, but the summit was at pains to stress that this shouldn't be the only market targeted. There needs to be greater global segmentation. In other words, we don't care where you come from so long as you are loaded and willing to part with all your cash in a city's main shopping centre. Like, for example, in Palma around the Born and Jaume III.
If only this were the case. A reason why no one from Palma was on the official list is that no Chinese tourists come to Palma (or very few anyway). The same can be said for tourists from other nations with credit cards to burn, except for those comparatively rare European beasts who are capable of meeting prices in a shopping zone with some of the highest rents not just in Spain but anywhere. Alas for Palma and for its ambitions to become Spain's or the Mediterranean's Shopping Central, there aren't direct flights from Asia and the Middle East, so - as with elsewhere in Mallorca - it has to get by with impoverished market suppliers like Great Britain, whose tourists' contribution to the retail economy generally amounts to no more than the purchase of several hundred Embassy, a dozen types of mosquito treatment and an inflatable crocodile for the beach.
But it isn't only the Britons who are cheapskates. Spain as a whole accounts for around 20% of all overnight stays in Europe but only has 4% of the European shopping tourism market. That's mainly because out of the 68 million tourists who come to Spain, 60 million of them are from the European Union. Those from outside the EU spend as much in a day as Europeans do in a week, and if the non-EU market were to be expanded by 25%, then spending on shopping would leap from a current 4,100 million to 8,900 million euros.
It was these 4,800 million additional euros (plus ever more) that the summit was so interested in and therefore why it was deemed to be important enough to be dubbed a summit. Essentially, though, it was a summit for Madrid and Barcelona. Vague references may have been made to "other cities" - and one could mention the likes of, for example, San Sebastian, Malaga, Valencia, plus Palma - but until such time that there are adequate flights, the summit's attention will remain focused on Madrid and Barcelona.
Perhaps, though, Palma can hope for a whole new line of cruises for Chinese tourists. One dreads to think what the reaction would be to that. Hordes of Chinese cluttering up the city then legging it back to ships with the entire contents of El Corte Inglés. Someone would have to learn how to do graffiti in Chinese.
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