MANAGING SUSTAINABILITY IN TOURISM: THE SPANISH CASE
*photo from www.spain.info
Back in the 60s, the Nordic countries were the first markets in discovering Spain. Since then, the importance of tourism in Spain has not ceased: in 2019 the tourism sector accounted for 12,4% of the GPD and 12,9% of the total labour market.
However, the success story of tourism in Spain has not been without significant challenges. Aspects such as overcrowding, pressure on public services, coexistence problems, temporary employment, or the negative impacts of tourism on the environment are problems that remain on the agenda of Spanish political authorities. On top of that, the new COVID represented a real reset in the tourism industry.
This new cathartic situation motivated a collective reflection on how to incorporate new concepts, as sustainability, into the two main instruments of tourism policy in Spain: destination management and promotion.
Sustainability in destination management.
Spain is a decentralized state, and as such, competencies in tourism planning and management correspond to regional entities called autonomous communities. This has allowed different Spanish destinations to adapt their rules and public policies to their own reality, managing their own territory. Furthermore, decentralization allowed for a field of good practices, where different destinations innovated and incorporated measures that had been successful, while rejecting measures that had not.
With the Next Generation EU funds, Spain approved, among other measures, a package of specific tourism investments worth €3.4 billion, the largest tourism investment package in Europe. It included the Strategy for Tourism Sustainability Plans, endowed with more than €1858 million. Sustainability Plans are transversal investment proposals formulated by Local Entities in their own territory with the aim of improving their tourism offer, and in cooperation with local travel businesses. Four groups of actions are contemplated: green and sustainable transition (environmental restoration, waste reduction, cycling infrastructure, etc.); energy efficiency (air conditioning systems, installation of charging points, etc.); digitalisation (Apps and websites development, sensor systems installation, intelligent data management platforms, etc.); tourism competitiveness (reconversion of tourism infrastructure, improvement of tourism information equipment, improvement of accessibility, etc.).
It is a bottom-up system: the local government develops a proposal (Plan) based on a menu of actions authorized by the central government. The program has been, so far, the most successful instrument for tourism sustainability in the history of Spain, with more than 500 applications just in 2022.
Sustainability in promotion
With COVID, the promotion of Spain abroad required a deep reflection, culminating in the new Strategic Marketing Plan 2021 - 2024 of Turespaña (the national DMO). It established as its main vision to make Spain the most desired tourist destination in the world, becoming a benchmark for environmental sustainability, social responsibility and profitability.
For the Finnish market, the Helsinki Office has focused on demand recovery actions (of many sorts: online/offline marketing campaigns, newsletters, presentations, sponsorships, event productions…), but prioritizing those suggested by the travel industry in Finland and that meet one or more of these three characteristics:
1. Diversification. Does the specific action allow promoting new tourist products other than traditional ones?
2. Deseasonalization. Does the specific action promote a Spanish destination out of high-season?
3. Deconcentration. Does the specific action allow Finns to know other destinations in Spain, beyond the traditional ones?
Last but not least, two main aspects could be highlighted for the Finnish travel sector from the abovementioned. 1) The renovation of the tourism infrastructure in Spain with the NextGenEU funds could create more business opportunities in less known destinations, but also transform known destinations in order to protect ecosystems and local communities; 2) Destination management and destination promotion must go hand by hand, with a closer focus on cooperation between national, regional and local governments and the rest of the travel industry.
Julio E. Jiménez Novella
Spanish Tourist Office in Helsinki