The Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, attacked the added value of the Spanish tourism sector. This criticism did not sit well with the entrepreneurs of a sector that, in light of the data, reflects great counterweights that highlight its vital importance for the Spanish economy.

In the face of some very controversial statements by the Spanish Government’s consumer minister, Alberto Garzón, Spanish tourism has risen up against the government. After some statements that, despite being rectified, highlighted a low added value in the Spanish tourism sector, the businessmen of this sector demanded explanations from the Minister, expressing their displeasure, both with the statement that was issued, as well as with the obsession with a formation such as the United Nations We can do away with the Spanish tourism sector based on attacks that instill a need for change in the country’s productive model.

A situation that disconcerts the country’s tourism entrepreneurs, since they are unable to explain how a country that, after the crisis of 2008 and the great loss of productive capacity, has become the second largest tourism power in the world, can consider its tourism model to have failed. In a scenario in which tourism has become a pillar of vital importance for the Spanish economy, businesspeople do not show any sympathy for a government that is trying to detract from a sector that, in a certain way, supports a quarter of the Spanish economy.

In this sense, we are talking about a tourism sector that, as reflected by the World Economic Forum, has become a great attraction for international tourists. Since 2015, the report published by the World Economic Forum (hereinafter WEF) has positioned Spain as the most competitive country in the world in the tourism sector. With a measurement broken down, based on some variables such as infrastructure, environment, the conditions presented by the sector, as well as a list of variables that integrate the model that projects this ranking, Spain is shown, and already for five consecutive years, as the country with the most competitive tourism sector; this was collected by Domingo Soriano in an article that highlighted the above ranking, also recalling the lack of Spain in the leadership of other rankings that try to measure other sectors, which we do not lead.

Thus, with 14% of the GDP, the tourism subordinates a great percentage of the Spanish economy. However, as the economist and professor Jose María Gay de Liebana, as well as a server, reminds us, if we count the auxiliary services of this sector, as well as the sub-sectors that it presents, the contribution -direct and indirect- that this sector makes to the Spanish GDP is around 25% of the GDP. In this regard, we are talking about the fact that the tourism sector is not only important for our economy, but that, if we break down and add the indirect contribution, that sector supports a quarter of the Spanish economy; therefore, if it is of low added value, we would have to monitor which sector would be capable, with its potential capacity, of occupying the enormous gap that the tourism sector would leave if we began to reduce its weight.

On the other hand, on the employment side, the contribution made by the tourism sector is also noteworthy. Since 2013, the tourism sector has been responsible for generating 20% of all newly created employment on the planet. In this sense, two out of every ten employees on the planet, who have been hired from 2013 onwards, have been hired in the tourism sector. In fact, if we take the active population in the planet, one out of every ten employees that are working in the world, they do it -and in a direct way- in the tourism sector. In Spain, the contribution amounts to 14.7%, which is the employment supported by the tourism sector in relation to the total employment in the country.

Although it is true that the tourism sector in Spain has serious shortcomings, it is a sector that has always known how to adapt very well to the scenarios. Its undesirable temporary nature (32%) leads the sector to adapt better at times when the economy may suffer various shocks that may end up with the demand peaks that it presents at other times. The ease with which it adapts its workforce and its ability to shape it to easily adapt to the macro and microeconomic situation, even if this is in contrast to high-quality employment, gives it the capacity to optimise its resources and is more robust than other sectors.

Another aspect that should be highlighted and that should improve the Spanish economy is the issue of the tourism model that the country presents. Spain presents a series of claims that, like Madrid, offer great value-added tourism, with proposals for scientific, cultural and heritage tourism, among others. However, it is true that a large number of Autonomous Communities, due to their lack of diversification, have complex economic structures that have led them to depend entirely on this sector. With this we can refer to communities such as the Balearic and Canary Islands, where the tourism GDP can be around 50% of the total GDP; as well as, on the employment side, in the Balearic Islands it represents 60% of total employment. Therefore, especially in communities such as those mentioned, tourism has become a fundamental pillar.

However, despite its vital importance, the tourism model offered by these islands has also been based entirely on tourism models of what is described as “mass tourism” or “sun and beach tourism”. This type of tourism, according to figures on salaries, productivity, among other variables, does present a low added value, compared to other tourism models that offer a higher added value. This nuance is what the Minister of Consumption was missing when he made the statement that all the newspapers reported, scandalized by an erroneous message from a minister who understands consumption, as much as a philosopher can understand health.

Thus, Spain does not present little added value with its tourism model. However, it is worth noting that there are severe risks such as the weight of the GDP in certain communities, as well as in the country itself. On the other hand, there is a list of tourism models that, being the world’s leading power in tourism competitiveness, could provide the country with greater added value, as well as quality tourism, with highly qualified employees. For, although it is another matter, we should tackle scenarios such as the fact of being a country that calls itself a world ambassador of gastronomy, but that does not include these trades in its educational models to offer them as value-added degrees and university qualifications.

For this reason, Spain must continue to work on improving its tourism sector, as well as perfecting it. To continue thinking that the country, as well as a politician, can end up with a productive model based on the tourist sector is a utopia for many. We must not fall into the error that some people make, generating non-existent dichotomies between the industry and the tourism sector. A developed economy like Spain can present both productive models; in the same way that, I add, the Spanish economy, being, and holding, the first place in the mentioned WEF ranking, as well as the second place in the ranking of tourist powers, should focus on generating new tourist models that make Spain a tourist and varied power.

Francisco Coll MoralesEconomist

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