Skift Take

Spain's giant tourism industry is likely to bounce back significantly this year, barring new variant disruptions. But identifying and implementing long-term solutions for the sector to evolve sustainably will also be an urgent task.

Series: Skift Forum Europe 2022

Skift Forum Europe

Skift Forum Europe was held in London, England on March 24, 2022. Find out about future Skift events through the link below.

Learn More

Visitor numbers have been steadily on the rise for Spain’s tourism sector since the Fall of 2021, in spite of Omicron and rapidly changing entry restrictions across the European Union. This picture is expected to improve further in 2022, as one of world’s most visited countries keeps making strides to ease entry. 

As of Monday, children between the ages of 12 and 18 who are traveling directly from the UK or Northern Ireland will no longer be required to be fully vaccinated to enter Spain and can instead present a negative PCR test. This opens the door wider for family travel this upcoming spring and summer seasons.

But it’s not just about the recovery of visitor numbers from major source markets. Miguel Sanz Castedo, director general of Turespaña, the tourism office in charge of promoting Spain, told Skift that his destination is currently looking into ways to become more sustainable post-pandemic and that it wants to improve. Out of European Union recovery funds, Spain is investing 3.4 billion euros just in the tourism sector, with more than two billion going toward sustainability projects.

“We want to make sure that the tourist model that we develop with the help of these European funds but also with the help of the private sector, is a model by which we can little by little say the impact of every visitor that comes to Spain has a net positive impact in terms of the environment, in terms of of the social impact on local communities, in terms of economic sustainability,” said Sanz.

Sanz discussed this and other developments — including Turespaña’s new “co-op” marketing campaign model, which has already generated two million euros in investment from different destinations across Spain within the first week of its launch — in the following interview ahead of Skift Forum Europe

Skift Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Lebawit Lily Girma: There have been projections that Spain’s tourism is going to experience quite a bounce back this year, to the tune of 80 plus percent of pre pandemic levels, and that the recovery would start around April. Is that still accurate? What does tourism recovery performance look like for Spain this year and what regions do you see picking up?

Miguel Sanz: Spain has destinations that are year round, such as the Canary Islands and some parts of Costa del Sol; for the Canary Islands high season is Christmas until February, and we are seeing that every month the recovery is stronger and stronger. Data for January was just released and in terms of flights, January 2022 was already over 80 percent recovery in domestic tourism, over 74 percent recovery in international tourism. And that figure is better than it was in December and in December it was better than it was in November. So we are seeing a steady recovery. 

We think that February is going to work better than January has been, and March will be better. The trick is that of course March is a slower month than April, and April is slower than May. But if the trend continues — and everything indicates that it will continue — and restrictions are easing all over, especially in our main source markets like the UK, Germany and France, that as from Easter numbers will start to look a lot like before the pandemic.

Girma: Speaking of restrictions, new research from the European Travel Commission shows that Europeans are eager to travel, but they’re also delaying the booking process because of so much fragmentation in rules out of the EU. And for Northern Ireland and the UK, they had to have full vaccination to enter Spain, including anyone over the age of 12, causing UK families to reconsider going to Spain and instead going to other destinations. Is that a concern for you?

Sanz: The European Commission has a recommendation for member states as to how to proceed with international mobility within the member states of the European Union and then how to operate the external borders of the European Union. So these recommendations are under review. They will be enforced later in the year.

There is a common consensus that children under the age of 12 can freely come into any European country. So the problem is with children between the ages of 12 and 18. The consensus has been that these children when they travel with their parents can enter either fully vaccinated, or if they have a negative PCR test. This was meant to be implemented later in the year, but we advanced this decision and Spain will allow children between the ages of four and 18 with a negative PRC test.

Girma: I understand you’ve launched a “co op campaign” approach for marketing Spain — can you explain how you’re shifting both your marketing messaging and how this new model works?

Sanz: Spain is a decentralized country. We do have a national government and then we have the regional governments and local authorities and they do work in promoting their destinations internationally as well. So I think that Turespaña has a role of coordinating that effort, that international effort to promote the Spanish destinations abroad because sometimes, if you don’t have this coordinated approach, you can go different ways and have a non-coherent message when you are abroad. 

So we are at the top of the funnel, we inspire people to come to Spain as a whole, and then we have to coordinate that with the different destinations within Spain to see that the messages that we launch are coherent across the funnel, that they are transmitted and they reinforce each other. What we want is to have a coherent message for our potential visitors. 

We have produced a model, which involves in one part digital platforms such as TripAdvisor or OTAs, which are our partners. In the case of TripAdvisor, we’ve partnered with them to launch a campaign promoting Spanish cities, city breaks or city tourism. Now at the same time, we are negotiating with different Spanish destinations to  participate in this campaign and strengthen the campaign while promoting their destination. So it will be a campaign that promotes Spain as a city destination, but then promotes the specific cities to be visited. And then within the cities we will promote things to do in those cities. 

We incentivize destinations in Spain to participate, matching their funding for the campaign. We tell our destinations, okay, if you participate in this campaign, we will match the funds that you put into the campaign to promote your city and on top of that, we will do a branding campaign of Spain as a city destination, and TripAdvisor will give the special conditions and rates to participate with us. 

So we think it’s a win-win situation by which you have a coherent and coordinated campaign. You can also benefit from not betting on or pushing for the same place, for the same ad space. And then we give the choice of someone expressing interest interacting with our general campaign to say okay, this person is interested in Spanish cities, so there you go our partners — you can retarget those people by offering a particular product, saying OK you’re interested in Spanish cities, there’s Cuenca, Madrid, Valencia, or Palma or whatever, and then we can also help the specific businesses to join the campaign and target those people that have expressed a double interest in those products.

Of course, we will promote how wonderful Spain is as a destination — but there’s something that we are working on right now that has to be with the work of the moment which is sustainability. We are very concerned about not doing just a marketing campaign to greenwash our message and we do not want to use greenwashing just because it’s a fad and it’s trendy to say, oh, we’re so sustainable. 

So what we want to tell our visitors and our potential visitors is that we’re working on it and that we have a strong commitment to make Spain a sustainable destination, not just environmentally but also socially speaking, and economically speaking. Before the pandemic we were all worried about mass tourism and turistifcation. We’re working on, OK we need to make sure that every visitor that comes to Spain has a positive impact in local communities, that everyone that comes not just in terms of employment and income, but also in terms of accessibility to culture. 

Tags: coronavirus recovery, dmos, european union, sfe2022, skift forum europe, skift live, spain, spain tourism office