Tourists flocking to Spain, but locals far from welcoming

Tourists flocking to Spain, but locals far from welcoming

Spain is experiencing a record-setting year in tourism and
is the European destination du jour for U.S. travelers, according to travel
sellers and tour operators. But that popularity has sparked a spate of anti-tourism
protests that could ultimately make the country less attractive to prospective
visitors.

The deadly van attack in Barcelona last Thursday, a
terrorist act for which Islamic State claimed responsibility, could also hurt
Spain tourism in the short term.

“Traveler sentiment is fickle, and it does not take
many bad news stories to cause significant displacement,” Tim Fairhurst,
head of strategy and policy at the European Tour Operators Association, said in
a statement. He was alluding to the uptick in anti-tourist vandalism and street
demonstrations that have occurred in Barcelona, Majorca, Valencia and San
Sebastian in recent weeks.

Last month, a sightseeing bus in Barcelona was attacked by
masked assailants who slashed its tires and sprayed the message “tourism
kills neighborhoods” on the windshield, the U.K.’s Independent reported

That incident came just days after a group of anti-tourism activists burst into
a restaurant on Majorca and showered foreigners with confetti. In San
Sebastian, “tourists go home” slogans have cropped up on the city’s
walls.

“The violent actions of a minority are not
representative and should not prevent normal life continuing for residents and
visitors and those who provide services to them,” Fairhurst said.

The anti-tourism activism comes as Spain is experiencing a
record year in tourism, with the number of visitors rising 12% in the first six
months of the year, according to the National Statistics Institute, to 36.3
million. 

Steve Born, senior vice president of marketing for the
Globus family of brands, said the company’s bookings for Spain and Portugal are
up 8% over last year.

Born cited great value, good air prices, a strong product
range and a surge among travelers who had previously visited Italy as factors
contributing to Spain’s popularity.

Intrepid Group reported a 10% jump in Spain bookings
compared with 2016.

Brian Sanchez, a Travel Leaders adviser in Menomonee Falls,
Wis., said his agency has seen tremendous growth in trips to Barcelona in the
last couple of years. 

Tourism represents approximately 11% of Spain’s $1.3
trillion gross domestic product. But Fairhurst said the challenge of balancing
the benefits of the visitor economy with the growing animosity toward visitors
will not be easy to tackle.

“This is not a challenge that will be solved with easy
sound bites and short-term fixes,” he said. “It will require
long-term strategic thinking. Too much demand is a good problem to have. Its
solution will require imagination … on the part of the community, policymakers
and industry.”

Germany, Italy, Ireland also in demand

According to the National Statistics Institute, Germany
ranked second this year for visitor growth, up 10%, to 5.5 million, for the
first half of 2016. Born said Globus is up 10% in Germany bookings across the
Globus family of brands.

“That’s a healthy rebound from 2016,” he said. “Value,
including airfares, and safety are also drivers for renewed growth to Germany.”

Agents also reported seeing peak interest this year in
Italy, Ireland, Iceland and Greece.

Kate Rosevear, owner of a Travel Leaders agency in Plymouth,
Mich., said the agency’s No. 1 Europe destination this year is Italy, followed
by European river cruises and Greece. She said Spain and Ireland are also
booking well. Rosevear attributed strong Europe bookings to aggressive
airfares.

“I think that the vendors who are promoting rock-bottom
airfares — i.e. $299 roundtrip air with many of the river cruise lines — are
largely responsible for the incredible increase in business to this part of the
world,” Rosevear said. 

She added, “Couple low airfares with reasonable hotel
rates and a fairly strong dollar against the euro or pound, and it has proven
to be a magical formula to induce travelers to take their trip of a lifetime
now and spend a delightful week or two abroad.”

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