Spain’s tourism sector seeks to extend peak season into autumn in a bid to offset pandemic losses

The regions are resorting to vouchers, advertising campaigns and sporting or cultural events to try to stimulate demand. Foreign visits were down 55.5% in July compared to levels before the health crisis took hold

Tourists in Seville's Plaza de España on September 3.
Tourists in Seville's Plaza de España on September 3.PACO PUENTES (EL PAÍS)

Spain’s regional governments and tourism sector are opting to stretch out this summer’s tourist season as much as possible. The aim is to continue to attract visitors until at least the month of November, in a bid to recoup some of the losses that have been caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Catalonia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Valencia and the Balearic Islands are resorting to vouchers, international campaigns and sporting or cultural events to achieve this aim. With extra time in the autumn season, both administrations and companies alike are hoping to plug the gap caused by the absence of foreign visitors, which were down 55.5% in July compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Andalusia. The southern region has been the principal destination in Spain this summer, accounting for 45% of national demand and with occupation levels above 80% in August. The figures, in some cases above the best expectations, have prompted the regional government and cities such as Seville, Granada and Cordoba to believe that the inertia from the summer months will continue into October. The region is planning campaigns right up until Christmas.

The city of Seville has suffered two consecutive years without its world-famous Easter processions and Feria – events that account for 17% of the region’s GDP. It is, however, hopeful ahead of the arrival of autumn. “As well as the thermometer represented by the strong national demand for sun and beach tourism, we are optimistic given the return of international flights and the revitalization of the major trade fairs from autumn onward,” explains Antonio Muñoz, delegate for urban habitat, culture and tourism in the city. Seville will be hosting major in-person events such as the Tourism Innovation Summit. But the sector remains cautious, and points out that revenues from the summer are not enough to compensate the cumulative losses of more than 70% from last season.

Catalonia. The arrival of the fifth wave of Covid-19 at the outset of the summer posed challenges for the regional government. “There was a recommendation not to travel to Catalonia, so we created a crisis cabinet in which we approved a special budget of €500,000 for promotion abroad and another €100,000 for an advertising campaign aimed at the domestic market,” explains the general director of tourism, Marta Domènech. Given the restrictions on flights from some countries, the region targeted senior tourists from France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, those who usually drive to campsites. According to Domènech, “there are signs that people are still interested in coming in autumn.”

Extending the season will not be easy in family destinations that depend on the school holidays, such as the Costa Daurada and the Costa Brava. “But we have to restart activity to try to deseasonalize [tourism], especially now that everyone is starting to assume that Covid will form a part of our lives,” explains Berta Cabré, the president of the Federation of Hospitality Companies in Tarragona. In this province, they have detected a rise in camping reservations in the coming weeks and they are also promoting tourism linked to sporting events and Halloween.

In the city of Barcelona, occupation in hotels that are open has been around 50%, although 43% of these businesses remain closed currently. Xavier Mercé, the city’s tourism chief, says that promotions need to “make full use of the cultural agenda that is starting now and create a bridge between the summer and Christmas.”

Tourists on Peguera beach in Mallorca this July.
Tourists on Peguera beach in Mallorca this July.CATI CLADERA (EFE)

Balearic Islands. This region has also spent years trying to attract visitors outside of the peak summer season, and this year has stepped up these efforts. “All of our endeavours are aimed at prolonging the season,” explains the tourism chief, Iago Negueruela. From September, the success or otherwise of international advertising campaigns with airlines will become clear: €2.5 million has been invested to guarantee connectivity between the islands and foreign destinations. Another campaign, with the same budget, is about to be finalized, and is aimed at ensuring travel connections between the Balearics and cities on the Iberian peninsula.

“These two campaigns will allow for connectivity to be guaranteed, something that is a basic requirement to keep the hotels open,” explains Negueruela. “We need to work in October and November to guarantee more income for those on permanent seasonal contracts in our islands.” He adds that the region is seeking to promote tourism related to trade fairs, sporting events and culture, and is expecting it to be “a good autumn.”

Valencia. Businesses in the region are seeking to extend the current season as long as possible in order to compensate for the first five months of the year, which saw very low occupation. Toni Mayor, the president of the Hosbec hotel association, admits that the way the market will behave in the coming four months is still an unknown.

The association is waiting to see whether Spain will be removed from the United Kingdom’s amber travel list, which currently means that visitors returning from the former country to the latter must take a coronavirus test before travel as well as another once at their destination. UK nationals account for one of the major markets for cities such as Benidorm, among others.

Mayor is also counting on a spike in activity thanks to vouchers that the regional government is supplying for travel, and that count on a budget of €16 million. These are aimed at encouraging weekend trips by residents of the region, and will be activated once more on September 15.

The region is also counting on the return of organized trips for seniors, another area of activity that has been put on hold due to the pandemic.

Luis Martí, the director of Valencia’s Confederation of Tourism Entrepreneurs, which represents 40,000 spaces in hotels and hospitality, agrees that the voucher system has stimulated national demand and trusts that the extension of the campaign and promotional activities will attract business and cultural visitors. “We have had good occupation levels in the summer, but the first five months of the year were a disaster, so we will try to stretch out the season as long as possible,” Martí explains. On the international level, they are seeking promotional campaigns in markets such as Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Based on reporting by Eva Sáiz, Josep Catà, Lucía Bohórquez and Cristina Vázquez.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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