Monday, November 06, 2017

The Curious Case Of Catalonia In London

One imagines that Carles Puigdemont has other things to consider rather than the state of Catalonia's tourism. He won't, over the past few weeks, have been thinking what will happen when, for instance, Catalonia pitches up at London's World Travel Market (WTM). Others have been thinking about this. Who will be there?

Under the acting government of Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, tourism has been shifted from the Catalonia ministry for business and knowledge to the Spanish national ministry of energy, tourism and the digital agenda. The minister for Catalonia's tourism is therefore Álvaro Nadal. Will he be in London representing Catalonia's tourism and Spain's tourism, moving between the different stands and changing his hat as he does so? Catalonia has its own stand. For some years now, it has represented itself at shindigs like WTM. Have the officials from the Catalonia Tourism Agency been stood down and replaced by ones from Madrid? The situation is, to say the least, somewhat bizarre.

Catalonia attracts more tourists than any other region of Spain. Its tourism is therefore important to it as well as to Spain. Right at the moment it is doing a good impression of crashing and burning. Travel agencies in Spain were reporting earlier this week that sales for Catalonia have fallen by 15% over the past month. This decline isn't being attributed to the terrorist attack. That, remarkably, has had little lasting impact. The political situation is the cause.

With Spanish consumers one can understand this. There will be at least an element of deliberately shunning Catalonia: a travel boycott, if you like. For overseas visitors it is maybe less understandable. There's political instability, there have been the huge rallies, but it's not as though anyone's died. There were, however, those images of the police on 1 October.

The impact is far greater than with the terrorist incident. According to one source, since the referendum on 1 October, bookings for international flights to Catalonia have fallen by 22%. An estimate of up to 30% lost tourist spending for the final three months of the year has been given. The Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence suggests that Catalonia could lose 1,800 million euros over the next few months. Confecat, the hotels and restaurants confederation in Catalonia, is calling on the authorities to take immediate remedial measures. The question is - which authorities?

Then there is next year, which will be what WTM will be particularly concerned about. The way things are going, the Balearic Islands could suddenly find themselves competing closely for the number one slot in terms of tourist numbers. The Balearics won't be "borrowing" as many tourists from Turkey and wherever because of geopolitics in Muslim countries. The islands will be borrowing them instead from Catalonia. That's a prospect that should go down well with certain members of Més who are supportive both of limits to reduce tourist saturation and Catalan independence.

It will be intriguing to see how Catalonia plays at WTM. Nadal should do everything he can to try and mitigate the damage for the sake of the economy of both Catalonia and Spain. But with the situation as confused as it is at present, he may find himself confronted with an even more bizarre set of circumstances than will arise in London. The next big travel fair is Fitur in Madrid in January.

If the Balearics do indeed "borrow" tourists from Catalonia, it seems at present that they won't be UK tourists. Worryingly for both the Balearics and Catalonia is information from the GfK market research consultancy. According to its latest report on bookings for 2018, there has been up to a 10% drop in the sale of package holidays to the Balearics and also to parts of Catalonia. This is based on data which is now around a month old, but it may reflect a general trend for next year. Ibiza's sales are down ten per cent, Mallorca's by nine, with Menorca holding up better with a five per cent decline.

This decrease is being largely attributed to the tourist tax, though in the case of Catalonia, one suspects its tax is less of an issue than the political situation. On top of the tourist tax, there are higher prices and the outbreaks of so-called tourismphobia; all issues that Biel Barceló is to be faced with in London.

The GfK report indicates increases of up to 50% in bookings for destinations without tourist taxes. One of these is Greece, but if holidaymakers have indeed been choosing destinations for this reason, then they will be in for a shock in Greece, where a tourist tax of a similar scale to that of the Balearics is being introduced next year.

One concern for UK travellers coming to Mallorca - passport control queues - is at least being addressed. Among its investments in Palma airport, Aena is to install eighty passport scanners - forty in arrivals and forty in departures.

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