Fear­ing at­tack, Euo­peans flock to Ibe­rian safety

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

ALMUDENA Martin is scram­bling to keep up with tourists flood­ing to the Ca­nary Is­lands ho­tels where she works. Reser­va­tions are up as much as 20 per­cent this year, as ter­ror at­tacks and se­cu­rity wor­ries else­where draw visi­tors to the safety of coun­tries like Spain.

“There’s been a lot of last­minute book­ings. We’ve had to hire new staff and redo our plan­ning board for the sum­mer to cope with new demand,” said the as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager at Sea­side Ho­tels, which has two five-star prop­er­ties on the is­lands. “We also have many clients who have stayed with us twice this year be­cause it’s a safe des­ti­na­tion.”

After mul­ti­ple at­tacks in France and a failed coup in Turkey, both Spain and its Ibe­rian neigh­bor Por­tu­gal are fore­cast­ing a record num­ber of visi­tors this year, as tourists seek sun in des­ti­na­tions per­ceived as safer. For Por­tu­gal, it’s also help­ing fuel a push to keep the des­ti­na­tion on trav­ellers’ year­round itin­er­ar­ies.

“Por­tu­gal al­ways shows up as a safe des­ti­na­tion,” the na­tion’s econ­omy min­is­ter Manuel Caldeira Cabral said in an in­ter­view. The coun­try is work­ing to find dif­fer­ent seg­ments, like sport­ing and cor­po­rate events, to fill ho­tels in the win­ter. “Next year, we are go­ing to see less con­cen­tra­tion in the peak sea­son and a more even spread of tourists, not only across the time frame of the year, but also across the coun­try.”

Tourism is big busi­ness for both economies – gen­er­at­ing about 10pc of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in both Spain and Por­tu­gal. In Spain, ar­rivals were up 7.4pc through May this year, while vis­i­tor spend­ing jumped 7.8pc. Overnight stays by non-res­i­dents in Por­tu­gal ad­vanced 13pc in the same pe­riod.

Turkey and France have seen the opposite. Turkey’s travel agency as­so­ci­a­tion is fore­cast­ing a drop of up to 40pc in 2016 in­come. France, the world’s most vis­ited coun­try, suf­fered an 8.7pc drop in for­eign visi­tors in the fourth quar­ter of last year – when ter­ror­ists killed 130 peo­ple in and around Paris.

Turkey “is seen as con­flict area”, said Pro­fes­sor Josep Francesc Valls, a lec­turer at ESADE Busi­ness School in Spain. As peo­ple in­creas­ingly shun it, they turn to Ibe­ria be­cause the vis­i­tor pro­file of many of those who go to Turkey – Euro­pean fam­i­lies seek­ing sunny weather – is sim­i­lar to that in Spain, ac­cord­ing to Valls.

That’s not to say that Por­tu­gal is tak­ing any­thing for granted – it has bol­stered se­cu­rity mea­sures at air­ports and pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, fol­low­ing the “ter­ri­ble events” in France and Turkey, Cabral said. It’s also in­creased the num­ber of doc­tors in the Al­garve re­gion in the sum­mer.

The gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing credit lines for in­no­va­tive ho­tel projects and to help ex­ist­ing ho­tel own­ers ren­o­vate their prop­er­ties. It’s also build­ing a free WiFi net­work in his­toric cen­ters across the coun­try as it sim­pli­fies leg­is­la­tion on short­term rentals in a bid to in­crease the qual­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of the tourism sec­tor in Por­tu­gal, said Cabral. His gov­ern­ment is also play­ing a role in help­ing Lis­bon at­tract big con­fer­ences such as Novem­ber’s “The Web Sum­mit”, one of the world’s big­gest gath­er­ings of start-ups.

“When tourism is go­ing quite well we have to work to guar­an­tee that this is not a peak or a fash­ion but a trend,” said Cabral. “And we want to main­tain that trend.”

At the Con­rad Al­garve Ho­tel in Quinta do Logo, rooms cost about 500 euros-(US$550)-a-night in high sea­son but that hasn’t kept peo­ple from se­lect­ing it this sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to its di­rec­tor.

“Over­all, our book­ings for the sum­mer are well above ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Joachim Hartl. “One of the big fac­tors of this des­ti­na­tion is safety and se­cu­rity. This has helped in­crease tourism over­all to Por­tu­gal.” That will “surely” ben­e­fit Por­tu­gal in the off­peak sea­son, he added.

The im­pact isn’t lim­ited to just Spain and Por­tu­gal, ac­cord­ing to Star­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts World­wide Inc. In Costa Smer­alda, an up­scale stretch of sea­side re­sorts in Sar­dinia, the com­pany’s growth was 33pc in the first six months from the pre­vi­ous year.

“There was a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in book­ings from both Ital­ian and for­eign trav­el­ers be­cause in­deed, they feel more se­cure in Italy now,” said Robert Koren, a com­pany vice pres­i­dent, in a state­ment.

While Spain is no stranger to vi­o­lence, its last ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack was 12 years ago. The coun­try en­joyed a bumper year for tourism last year, with a record 68 mil­lion visi­tors ar­riv­ing to the na­tion as it be­came one of the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the po­lit­i­cal un­rest across the Mediter­ranean. And it looks on track to hit a new mile­stone this year, ac­cord­ing to Madrid-based agency Ex­cel­tur, which sees Spain hit­ting a fresh high of 74 mil­lion tourists.

Photo: RJ Vogt

In Barcelona, tourists and lo­cals mix on the fa­mous Barceloneta beaches. More trav­ellers are turn­ing to Spain and Por­tu­gal in the wake of at­tacks in France and Turkey.

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