"Tourism is strongly impacted by the political discontent"Redacción
Interview with Gloria Guevara, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), by Carmen P. Flores.
The Mexican Gloria Guevara is from the past 1st of August, the new president of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). With extensive experience in the sector, she was Secretary of Tourism in Mexico and CEO of the Tourism Promotion Council of her country. He was part of the cabinet of President Felipe Calderón and has been collaborating with Harvard University. The members of WTTC had no doubt at the time of designating her for the position.
From the WTTC viewpoint, how do you see the political crisis situation in Catalonia?
The current situation undoubtedly reflects a complex issue that needs to be addressed by the parties involved. While this is a political and diplomatic issue, it is unfortunate to see that it is also having a sizable impact on the travel and tourism industry in Spain.
Catalonia, and especially the city of Barcelona, has experienced tremendous growth over the past years and built a reputation as a stable, safe, and thriving destination that is popular with a wide range of tourists. we believe that this strength as a destination will ultimately prevail and tourism will recover from the impact of the current crisis.
How has this affected tourism in Catalonia?
The situation in Catalonia has led to uncertainty about the destination, and some of the travellers who have either booked a trip to the region or considered doing so have reconsidered their plans. While we haven’t seen any sign of tourist's experience while in Barcelona actually being affected by the recent political developments, some of the news coverage abroad left travellers wary of what they might encounter on the ground and wanted to avoid what they perceived to be a risk.
Do you have data on this?
According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), foreign visitors’ arrivals in Catalonia declined 4.7% in October. We also follow the data from Exceltur, which showed a 15% slump in tourism activity in Catalonia in the weeks following the referendum. Hotel reservations in Catalonia declined 20% in the previous quarter of the year, especially in Barcelona. This is normally the high season for conferences, leisure, and shopping tourism, so the decline is a significant loss to the industry.
Has congress tourism also decreased?
While there is limited data available so far, we would usually expect congress tourism to be less impacted by the current situation. Congress events are usually booked long in advance. While they may be cancelled in severe situations, we doubt that many would have gone as far as that in the current situation, as there was no direct risk to delegates because of it.
The impact on congress tourism may come in the longer term, as people organising events now may be more hesitant to book something in Catalonia or Spain as a whole and choose other destinations instead. This could have an impact long after the situation is hopefully stabilised again.
Has the political insecurity affected travellers more than the terrorist attacks?
Yes, definitely. The political unrest's impact on tourism is strong. The longer the turmoil remains, the more the tourism industry suffers. We did a study in 2015 on recovery times by category and found out that, on average, it takes double the time for the Travel and tourism industry to recover from political turmoil than a terrorist attack. In the first case, it takes, on average, 26.7 months, whilst after suffering terrorist attacks, the average is 13 months. Please refer to the table below.
Recovery times by crisis category
Source: World Travel and tourism Council: Crisis and the Tourism Sector 2015
Has the political crisis in Catalonia also affected tourism in the rest of Spain?
Although to a lesser extent, we have seen signs that tourism in the rest of Spain has not remained unaffected by the situation in Catalonia. Some of our WTTC Members saw cancellations from groups travelling to Madrid or Valencia in late October, which indicates that at least some people changed their plans even if they weren’t travelling to Catalonia itself. Based on previous experiences, these groups were most likely from source markets farther away, who often have a less nuanced picture of what is happening and tend to be more risk-averse.
Which countries have been the receptors of the tourism that has left Catalonia?
This is not something that we can track exactly, but usually in these situations comparable destinations which seem safer tend to benefit. Barcelona, for example, is a popular city trip and cruise destination, so it is likely that other cultural city destinations in Europe might have gotten some added visitors who chose them instead of Barcelona in the current context.
What does this situation mean economically?
Considering that travel and tourism provides 14.2% of Spain's national GDP and more than one in seven jobs, any changes in the travel and tourism sector will have a significant impact on the economy overall. Barcelona itself contributes over 12% of Spain's tourism GDP, so anything that happens there has an impact at the national level.
More than half of the travel and tourism spending in Spain comes from foreign visitors, who is decision is probably most likely to be influenced by the situation.
This is even more so for Barcelona, where over 90% of visitor spending is by tourists from outside Spain.
If people change or cancel their hotel reservations, flights, cruises and other travel plans because of the political uncertainty, the economy will suffer and thousands of people who depend on tourism for their income are likely suffer.
What measures do you think are necessary to recover tourism?
In the long term, tourism will recover best if the political situation stabilises, so the industry hopes that there will be more clarity and normality soon. In the meantime, it is important to communicate the reality of the situation and the fact that nothing has changed in terms of Catalonia as a tourism destination. Many travellers may have a distorted or confused view based on what they see in the media, but since the developments are mostly at the political level they should pose no danger to tourists. This is something that should be made clear in any messages to potential travellers.
Are you optimistic about tourism?
Yes, we believe there is every reason to be optimistic about tourism and its future. The sector has shown strong growth over the past years, and we are reaching the end of the seventh straight year of positive growth. The future forecasts are equally positive, as we expect travel and tourism's contribution to increase by an average of 4% yearly over the next ten years. This means that about million thousand additional jobs will be provided by the sector worldwide by 2027.
Of course, this growth brings some challenges, which the sector will have to address over the coming years to effectively manage the growing numbers. But with the right leadership and effective use of planning and technology, travel and tourism has a bright future ahead.
What are the World Travel and Tourism Council's projects for the coming years?
We will be focusing on three priority areas. First, we will be advocating the use of technological solutions, such as biometrics, across the industry to ensure increased security while facilitating more seamless travel. This will ultimately impact job creation in a positive way.
Secondly, we will be working on projects to promote the sustainable growth of the sector - climate change and destination stewardship will be particular focus areas.
Thirdly, we will be working with governments and international organisations to improve the sector's preparedness when it comes to crises, and defining protocols for how travel and tourism can be better integrated into terrorism, pandemic and disaster management planning.