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TOURISM in southern Europe Recovery

TOURISM in southern Europe needs more ‘proactivity’ to keep up its momentum, but Spain has a ‘good structure and base’, is the verdict that has come out of the World Tourism Organisation EURAGORA Forum in Portugal.

Its Europe regional commission head, Alessandra Priante, said countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece,

which had become mature and established destinations, had long had a ‘certain tendency towards passivity’ given that their influxes of tourists have always ‘just turned up’ without any effort having to be made.

The Covid-19 pandemic will ‘seriously’ change the way people enjoy their holidays in the future, Signora Priante says, as a result of a social, cultural and mental crossroads that the global outbreak has created.

“Masks and social distancing are the antithesis to what tourism traditionally means – a thirst for new experiences, getting to know and trust other people – and yet the rules now tell us to do exactly the opposite: Keep our distance, not to trust people you don’t know, and so on,” she says.

“For southern Europe, especially mature tourism markets like Spain, Italy and Greece, hardly has to do anything to sell itself to holidaymakers, but now the time has come to plan better and be more proactive.”

This summer could be a lean one on the holiday front – by now, practically every flight seat, hotel or resort room and package tour space should have been sold – and, worldwide, tourism is expected to be 70% lower than in summer 2019 when, had the pandemic not occurred, the forecasts were for 4% growth.

Spain, for several consecutive years, has seen its tourist numbers rocket, and typically, visitors year-round total about double the resident population, with summer being peak season, especially for northern Europeans seeking sunshine and beaches.

Even then, Spain’s decades-long reputation, its closer proximity in the age of low-cost, less-complicated flights and the internet, and its popularity with holiday-home owners, means it is less likely to suffer as much as other destinations which have been even harder hit by the pandemic and which are largely viewed as sight-seeing spots, which travellers may decide to shelve visiting until later in the year if the virus is suitably contained.

Internationally, the tourism industry is purely looking at ‘survival’ in 2020, but hopes to come back with a bang in 2021 – which will be much easier for those European countries which are now opening their borders, Spain included.

This may even give them an advantage over other global destinations which habitually attract as many, if not more, foreign visitors – such as the USA, whose borders remain shut and where the pandemic continues to be out of control.

But according to Alessandra Priante, the issue is not so much when the tourism industry will fully recover, but how it will do so.

“We’re waiting hopefully for a vaccination, but recovery does not depend purely on a medical solution – it needs to be a more holistic one,” she argues.

“And, of course, will depend upon borders not having to shut again.

“In the future, the market needs to be more connected, and will need a substantial long-term investment; also, it will have to include the words ‘innovation’ and ‘sustainability’.

“Many destinations and tourism businesses will have to redefine what they offer the customer, although ‘low-cost’ holidays have not necessarily gone out of fashion.

“Prices of flights, trains and hotels may need to increase because companies will need to compensate for lower occupation, and seek a balance between income and expenses; what is not clear is whether consumers can bear that extra cost.”

In Spain, however, the opposite appears to be true: Flight prices have plummeted in several heavily-frequented Spanish airports, and accommodation prices have either remained the same or dropped, in a bid to encourage holidaymakers this summer.

Also, Spain’s stringent measures, starting right from the boarding gates in the traveller’s country of origin, means safety is a priority; in fact, testing, isolating, treatment and contact-tracing is likely to be faster and more efficient in Spain than at home, since the increase in risk means authorities and traders are being extra-cautious, even more than they feel they need to be.

“What will probably change are the preferences of customers, and how much they can or are likely to spend – in fact, growth is already being seen in some areas, such as villa and apartment rental,” Signora Priante reveals.

“The Organisation is working closely with governments and travel agencies to monitor the situation and determine the direction in which the recovery should go, and recommendations, globally, will come out of this to contribute towards restarting the industry – ‘green’ investment, research on the characteristics of different destination, city-break tourism and culinary tourism are among these.”

As for Spain – where the World Tourism Organisation’s head office is based – Priante says the holiday industry is ‘very well organised indeed’ and praised the ‘close cooperation between public authorities and the private sector’ in terms of Spanish tourism, especially this year in light of the changes.

The ‘recovery’ programme, part-financed by the European Commission, is aimed at supporting diversification and innovation in tourism via the media and via training professionals, and through cross-border cooperation within the EU.

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