Friday, September 22, 2017

Ignoring The Spanish: Imserso

A figure one hears for the yearly number of tourists in the Balearics is in the 13 million region. In precise terms for 2016 it was 12,994,712, the figure given in the tourism ministry's annual report. This is, however, a misleading number as it applies to European and non-European tourists and not to Spanish tourists. That figure last year was 2,377,209, making Spain the third most important tourism market (there were 4.6 million Germans and 3.7 million Britons). So, the true figure for tourists was 15,371,922.

It is curious that the Spanish are so often disaggregated from the tourist equation and treated as though they are separate. As they constituted more than 15% of all tourists last year, they can hardly be ignored, and yet the impression is often given that they are. It might be, however, because they are less appreciated in terms of what they contribute. In the same annual report are our old friends the tourist spending statistics. And what do they reveal? Well, the plus-15% Spanish market equated to only 10.6% of the total spending. On average per day, the Spanish tourist forked out a mere 85 euros, which were 51.10 euros fewer than the foreign tourist average.

This difference may well of course have something to do with how that spending is worked out. It includes the cost of the actual holiday. But Spanish tourists do come on packages, even if this cost will tend to be lower than for tourists from abroad. Nevertheless, a daily margin of more than 50 euros is a significant amount.

Nationalities have an anecdotal tendency to be characterised by what they apparently spend. We hear, for example, that the British have slipped in the spending stakes. Yet, according to the figures last year, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the French and the Swiss all spend around the same amount (there's no more than 4.50 euros between the highest-spending Swiss and the lowest-spending Germans and French in this mini league table).

Spanish tourists, both anecdotally and according to the tourism ministry's numbers, are generally considered to be at the low end of the spending rankings, if not rank bottom. While this is, as always, a pretty wild generalisation, there is one category of Spanish tourist for which it is generally accurate, and that is the Imserso tourist.

By contrast to other Spanish tourists, the low-season Spanish pensioner holidaymaker is given a high level of attention. It can seem disproportionately so, given that Imserso is, according to the hoteliers, barely worth opening for. Yet each year when it comes around, Imserso fills the column inches in ways that Spanish tourists otherwise never do.

This said, the attention tends to be one driven from within the tourism industry. Politicians, when by and large failing to acknowledge Spanish tourists' existence in  summer, do not compensate for this by going on at any great length about Imserso. This could well be, as the hoteliers are also at pains to point out, because Balearic political institutions - the government, most obviously - don't involve themselves unduly with Imserso. It's a different story elsewhere: Benidorm, for instance, with its significantly greater level of hotel occupancy in the low season than any resort area in Mallorca can lay claim to.

The governmental indifference to Imserso only shakes itself into anything vaguely like enthusiasm when ministers can point to hotels being open and therefore people being employed. Even greater enthusiasm can be reserved for the airport arrivals and declarations that things are therefore clearly "better in winter". Yes, so they are, and they are better in part because of Spanish pensioners who, let's be blunt, might not normally figure in ministerial requirements for "quality tourism". This isn't because the OAPs are rolling around drunk next to Balneario 6 or along Punta Ballena but because they just don't spend anything.

Accordingly, the indifference will mean that those Imserso pensioners who might book for Mallorca will pitch up in February (which is when the hoteliers mainly expect them) and find to their horror that they have to fork out two euros a night tourist tax. Or, perish the thought, three euros if they're in a three-star superior. They'll be hoping that Més Menorca get their way and that the tourist tax rise in the low season will be frozen.

In fact, given the existence of the tourist tax one wonders why the Imserso brigade isn't simply booking itself into Benidorm, which can boast being a tourist-tax-free zone. Perhaps they were trying to, which might help to explain the queues outside travel agencies when the holidays went on sale earlier this week. Astonishingly enough, there were videos of these queues appearing on tourism media websites.

So, as I say, there is some attention paid to Spanish tourists but only to the pensioners. Some attention, but otherwise ignored.

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