Is the fiesta over for Spain's tourism industry?
News Article Date: Wednesday 22nd of July 2009
In the 1960s Spain pioneered the concept of mass tourism – the idea of attracting tens of thousands of foreigners to enjoy the country’s sun, beaches and the cheaper food and wine. But the good old days could be over.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Danny Wood sent his thoughts on tourism in Spain
Four decades ago, the Spanish dictatorship of General Franco, badly in need of an economic boost, made tourism a priority. Northern European responded. To escape their cold climates, British and Germans started flocking to the country.
They came to Spain's coastline, to places like Benidorm, then a Spanish fishing village with a lovely beach, that soon transfomed into a seaside resort city, with tower blocks of appartments.
In fact today, Benidorm has more skyscrapers per meter than any other city in the country and if you speak Spanish there, there's a good chance you won't be understood. I got lost in Benidorm years ago and went into a bar to ask directions. Looking at me with surprise and horror the woman I'd asked, shouted across the room, "Does Anyone here speak Spanish?" That was real confidence booster for my then struggling Castellano.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Benidorm was a birthplace of mass tourism
Until very recently Spain's tourism industry was still growing and led the world. According to Eurostat, the European Commission's statistics office, between 2000 and 2006 Spain dominated, pulling in a full quarter of the earnings from Europe's total tourism market. Italy followed with about 15 percent.
But in recent years, the overall figures have been plateauing and for the first time the future of the tourism industry, which represents more than ten percent of Spain's economy and employs two million people, looks uncertain.
There are now cheaper beach and sun destinations for Europeans, easy to get to on low-cost flights - like Turkey or Morocco. The economic crisis has also contributed – people are staying at home rather than going on holiday. Some figures suggest that thirty pecent fewer Britons will visit Spain this year, a significant drop when you consider that each year seventeen million British citizens come here.
As a result, Spain is looking for new ways to boost tourism. The government is investing hundreds of millions of euros in a plan to modernize the industry. The idea is to diversify its traditional sun-and-seaside tourism and offer urban and cultural tourism as well.
The city of Barcelona, with its trendy bars and restuarants and famous architectural landmarks like the Gaudi cathedral, has been doing this well and now earns more from tourism than the neighboring Costa Brava coastline.
But the country is looking beyond the traditional spheres of tourism to try to boos the industry.
Science cuold prive the re-birth of Spanish tourism
The town of Sanlucar near Seville is pioneering Technology Tourism and taking visitors around its thermal solar energy plant, the largest solar platfrom in Europe. It's a spectacular site, with two 100-meter towers that dominate the landscape for miles around. Each tower is surrounded by dozens of solar screens that reflect light up to a focal point on the tower.
It sounds a little bit odd using science to boost tourism, surely most visitors to Spain still want sun, fun and a siesta? But when I spoke to American tourists in neighboring Seville, they all said they would happily include a visit to Sanlucar's Solar Plant on their next holiday.
More people seem to be looking for stimulating ways to spend their free time, rather than just lying on a beach. So Spain's attempt to boost its flagging tourism industry with new holiday ideas may just work.
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