More tourists than ever seeking the Spanish sun

Experts and hotel owners expecting record year, though jobs and inland tourism yet to pick up

That tourism is now the driving force of the Spanish economy has become something of a truism. But such is the case. Experts and hotel owners agree that July and August have met all expectations with the predictions indicating that records for foreign visitors will be broken once again.

Brits, Germans and the French have flocked to Spain for their summer vacations in their droves with the coasts of the Canary Islands, Balearics and Catalonia absorbing tourists put off by events in other countries such as Egypt, where the ongoing political crisis has caused visitor numbers to plummet.

But several challenges remain: tourism inland is still in a slump; employment has yet to pick up; and seasonality continues to grow, with activity concentrated more and more in the high season.

“Expectations are being met and in general the hotels are full,” summed up Ramón Estalella, secretary general of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels. “But if they weren’t full on August 15, that would be the end.”

The last thing that will come back will be jobs”

Business owners and industry experts agree that the 15.5 million foreign visitors who came in July and August of 2012 will in all likelihood be surpassed this year, with the record 59 million visitors in the whole of 2008 also likely to be bettered by the end of 2013.

But, while welcome, the big figures do mask some darker areas. Though tourism inland has picked up slightly, it still remains at low levels, said Ricard Santomá, director of the TSI San Ignacio school at Ramón Llull University. Meanwhile, the fact Spaniards are making fewer trips is increasingly concentrating activity into the summer months. Work trips, which helped prop things up in the low season, are also down – in 2012 only 6.8 percent of journeys were for work purposes, compared with 9.2 percent in 2008.

And neither are the records translating into jobs, with employment down 1.8 percent in the sector in the second quarter of 2013. “The last thing that will come back will be jobs,” says Santomá. “Business owners have seen how they are dealing with more and more visitors with fewer staff. Productivity has shot up and they will only start hiring again when they see it as indispensable.”

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