Tourism is stressed: early vacations, last minute reservations and lack of staff at airports

"When something goes wrong, there are people who love to blame ministers, but that doesn't mean it's the government's fault. We're supporting industry, but it's also time for industry to take more responsibility for the Time to solve your own problems. The British Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, thus responded last week on Sky News to criticism of the Executive for what is happening at many British airports in recent weeks, where flight delays and cancellations have multiplied due to lack of staff.

It is not a unique situation in the UK 'post Brexit', because similar scenes have been experienced in Germany or the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in Spain, criticism of the Ministry of the Interior has intensified for the lack of police officers at passport controls, with delays in reviewing traveler documentation, especially at airports with a high volume of British passengers, which before the pandemic still traveled with the same freedom of movement as community citizens and now have to go through the same process as all visitors arriving from outside the European Union.

Beyond specific problems, which can be solved with more personnel and police -Interior has announced a reinforcement with 500 additional troops-, the tourism sector assumes that it is taking off, perhaps too quickly. There is talk of the 'Champagne effect', an explosion of trips due to the desire to go out after the pandemic, which can be followed by an equally rapid slowdown, given the inflationary tensions and the loss of purchasing power that they entail.

"We are seeing at the end of May and in June July situations, due to the number of travelers, flights and queues at airports. Summer has come early. Welcome to this tension after two years of hiatus," says José Luis Zoreda, vice president of Exceltur, the association that brings together the 30 largest Spanish tourism companies, such as Iberia, the large hotel companies or Renfe. Advanced vacations that, in addition, are decided at the last minute. "We Spaniards have always been given to booking at the last moment and that, with the pandemic, has become chronic, but also foreigners, who used to be more far-sighted when it comes to booking, this year they are less so," adds Zoreda.

Whatever the reason, there are destinations, such as Greece, that in the last week already have more flights than in the same period of 2019, according to Eurocontrol. A spirited traveler who does not arrive everywhere the same. "The level of reserves that we are having is very high", affirms Carlos Garrido, president of the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV)"In Spain, coasts and islands are doing very well. Also, medium-distance destinations, such as Morocco and Tunisia; or the Caribbean and the United States, much better than in 2021," he lists.

Some destinations that in Spain, in some cases, may have a significantly higher demand than in 2019. In this direction, the president of the Association of Air Lines (ALA), Javier Gándara, pointed out a few days ago, in an interview with elDiario. it is. "There is a very big difference between destinations like Balearic or Canary Islands, which are at levels of more than 10% of flight offer above 2019. Other cities are the same or a little below. Urban tourism or business traffic is the one that goes the slowest," she acknowledged.

At the moment, Spain is not yet like Greece in the influx of tourists. We have not reached the levels of 2019, although we are closer. Gándara assured that we will be one step away from the year with more air operations in the history of aviation in Spain. "The trend is growing and we are going to be at levels of 90% or more of the passengers who flew that year, which was the record. It would be very good news."

We are going faster in the recovery than the manager of the Spanish airports thought. Aena revised its passenger traffic forecasts for all of 2022 upwards on Friday. It forecasts that we will reach between 75% and 85% of the pre-mandemic figures when before it believed that it would be close to 70%. At the moment, in May, more than 22.2 million passengers passed through its airport network, 9.6% below the levels of May 2019.

But there are data that feed optimism about returning to a record year. The latest flight figures in Spanish airspace, published by Enaire, indicate that we are at 95% of the 2019 figures. In fact, in recent weeks, the airspace manager has increased the number of controllers, in order to to the growing pressure of summer travel.

There are 6% more operational drivers available than in 2019, although the increase is not the same in all areas. In the south of the Peninsula and the Canary Islands the increase is 9% or higher; in Illes Balears, almost 6%; while in the central and northern areas the increase in controllers does not reach 2%.

"After an exceptional Easter, which exceeded our own expectations, the high summer season presents very good prospects, according to the demand indicators that we monitor week after week," say sources from the Secretary of State for Tourism. "Confirmed reservations on international flights to Spain this summer already exceed 80% of 2019 levels, and that's not counting last-minute purchases, which are more numerous today than they used to be in the pre-pandemic," they add. Again, a sign that the decision to travel is made at the last moment.

But it is not only the plane, there are also more trips by train and bus. Between January and April, long-distance train travel skyrocketed 186% compared to the same period in 2021, when restrictions were still in place. The AVE grew by 205%, with 1.7 million users; while more than 52 million people traveled by bus, 40% more, according to data published on Friday by the National Institute of Statistics (INE). And, at the end of May (on the 27th), the AVE reached the record number of travelers since the start of the pandemic, almost 170,000 people in 24 hours.

The different sources consulted agree that this desire to travel has not been accompanied by the hiring of personnel, not so much in the hotel sector, but rather in airports, for example, in Germany or the Netherlands, but, above all, in the United Kingdom. .

Hence, in recent weeks the number of canceled flights and operations has skyrocketed, numbering in "hundreds". For this reason, there is pressure from the International Association of Airlines (IATA) where all the big ones are, so that airport personnel be reinforced. Not in Spain, where they do not see problems, beyond the lack of police officers at passport controls.

There is also no fear of a situation of lack of employees in Spain and staff not dimensioned for a 'boom' of travelers. "In April, employment in the tourism sector exceeded pre-pandemic levels with 2.5 million Social Security affiliates, 2.4% more than in 2019," the Secretary of State for Tourism highlights. "In the previous financial crisis, with a much smaller impact on tourism than the COVID crisis, it took six years to recover employment levels. This puts us in a position of strength compared to other countries that are having more problems than us when it comes to filling jobs in this sector", they add.

The appetite for travel, reservations and, also, prices are recovered. The online agency Destinia states that "for the summer months there is a 14% price increase per person and night compared to the price paid in 2019." That year, an average of 47 euros per person per night was paid and this summer an average of 54 euros is being paid. More nights are also reserved, foreigners, on average, eight; compared to the six pre-pandemics; while the Spanish remain at five.

"The average expenditure per international traveler has gone from 987 euros in April 2019 to 1,131 euros in April 2021, as a result of the fact that tourists have extended their stay one more day. This growth in spending occurs even deflating inflation, the increase is 15% in nominal terms and 4.4% in real terms", they explain from the Secretary of State for Tourism.

That price rise was already perceived at Easter. In April, the annual rate of the Hotel Price Index (HPI), which is measured by the INE, increased by 29.5%, which is 49.4 points above that registered in the same month of 2021. That is seven points more than in March and the highest rise since 2002, when it began to be measured. The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (Cehat) also speaks of a price recovery to 2019 levels, which accompanies the good prospects, but also the increase in costs borne by operators, as in all sectors.

At the moment, inflation does not seem to be a determining factor, but the big question is what will happen in the fall. "Prospects are good in the short term, but in the medium and long term we are concerned," acknowledges Carlos Garrido, from CEAV. "We will see if there is a 'champagne effect' and in autumn and winter tourism subsides. Now there are savings and many people have not traveled for two years, but it is true that the cost of living is skyrocketing. We will see", summarizes the vice president of Exceltur.

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