Omicron has erased with a stroke of the pen any aspiration to return to normality. The tourism is far from recovering pre-pandemic levels with a particularly affected segment, that of travel agencies. "If you don't travel, then nothing is sold. People come in and ask, because there is a desire to travel, but it is not sold," summarizes a spokesperson for the CCOO Travel Agencies sector.
This link in the tourism chain is the one with the most ERTE due to covid in the entire Spanish economy. At the end of the year, practically one in three workers was in this situation. Specifically, 32% of the total. As a comparison, in another segment also affected by international restrictions on mobility, such as air transport, 10% of workers were in ERTE covid.
At the end of December, in all of Spain there were 102,548 people under this form of employment protection, among all sectors. Almost 10% of the total were employees of travel agencies, 11,358 people. In addition, there is a significant female component, with 8,614 women, according to the latest data published by the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration.
"During 2020 the stoppage was general, both in international and national travel, with a 90% drop in sales. In 2021 we saw some recovery in tourism, but it was national," argues Carlos Garrido, president of the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV). "And we must bear in mind that, for agencies, only 25% of turnover is national tourism. Right now, Asia is still closed, the United States did not open until November, there are no business trips, there are no congresses... No we have reached 50% of the turnover of 2019", indicates Garrido.
That year prior to the covid crisis, the sector entered 25,000 million euros and, if all goes well, this year it plans to reach 80% of that figure, but it will only be achieved if travel limitations are reduced, which is about to see.
"From May to December in a normal year, Spaniards who travel abroad spend 18,000 million euros. That has fallen by almost 70% and means that many agencies specialized in these trips have suffered a lot," explains director of studies at Exceltur -the association which integrates the 30 largest tourism companies in Spain-, Óscar Perelli.
The last census is prior to the impact of the coronavirus. In 2019, 9,500 travel agencies were operating. The majority, belonging to or associated with chains and management groups, to whom they link technology or commercial networks.
In total, before the crisis there were close to 70,000 workers registered with social security and, according to data from the sector, since then at least 12,000 jobs have been destroyed. In addition, it must be taken into account that, of those almost 70,000 people, 25% were self-employed.
"More than 90% of the agencies have less than six employees", points out the president of CEAV. "We are working to quantify the impact of the crisis but we estimate that they have been able to close 15% of the agencies. We believe that many will be operational again when the situation normalizes. It is not that they have closed definitively, they are frozen, they are micro-SMEs , and they'll come back when things get back to normal."
The CCOO Travel Agencies Sector reports that many of these commercial offices have one or two employees, with a high presence of discontinuous permanent employees to deal with peaks in demand in high season.
Since October, CCOO points out that a recovery in demand was perceived, slowed down by Omicron, which has hit hard, for example, the Imserso trips, which had been reactivated for this start of the year and where, despite that there is still no official data, the high percentage of cancellations is being significant, according to different sources.
“There are many workers in this sector who have been in ERTE for almost two years and the SEPE pays 70% based on the contribution. It is not only economic insecurity, it is also labor, because you are out and you see that this never ends. We are concerned about psychosocial risks," they point out from the union.
A problem that deepens the fear that part of these ERTE will become ERE, in definitive dismissals. Even more so when the travel agency chains are going through a process of integrations and mergers, in parallel to the stoppage of activity due to the covid, which can also motivate staff cuts.
In recent months, two integrations have been sealed, which the different actors in the sector consulted assume will not be the last. On the one hand, the Globalia and Barceló sales networks, renamed Avoris. An integration that has already required the rescue of SEPI, with funds worth 320 million euros. On the other, that of Travel El Corte Inglés and Logitravel. The first, with 6,000 employees, the second with about 5,000. And both with the ERTE extended until next February 28.
That is precisely the main concern of the sector. The employers' association that integrates the travel agencies, CEAV, urges that the current scheme be continued and that the current ERTE be extended until the situation begins to take off. Precisely, this Friday the new sectoral agreement that contemplates teleworking and a salary review at the time the activity recovers has come into force.
"It is essential that the ERTE be prolonged, we are a sector with a lot of temporary work and the labor reform harms us. Entrepreneurs cannot maintain our staff without income. We have not had aid," says the president of CEAV.
Instead, CCOO transfers that travel agencies can star in one of the changes included in the labor reform, the new ERTE models.
The CEOE employers' association also points out to elDiario.es that, in the agencies, the new mechanisms contemplated in the labor reform already in force can be applied. "The new ERTEs should replace those of covid", indicates Inmaculada Benito, director of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sports of CEOE. "We can call it an extension, but the important thing is that the transition mechanism is carried out in an orderly manner, that there is no vacuum and that it is carried out as quickly as possible."
Benito also assumes that this sector of commerce is especially sensitive in the current economic situation. "Travel agencies are feeling the effects of the pandemic more, which is why they need more support in aid and transformation. They have to continue to exist," he stresses.
In this sense, José Luis Zoreda, vice president of Exceltur, assures that the agencies are not only experiencing the crisis caused by the covid, but also "many are anchored in a business model that is no longer what the new times demands", while online agencies do maintain the type. "It is a mix, between a business model that needs more than a patch, a deep review of its competitive capacity and then a demand scenario that has made these conventional ones suffer more than the online ones."
Instead, the CEAV association, where these traditional agencies are, points in the opposite direction. "I do not agree. The sector is transforming and needs to be transformed, but we have already made an effort in digitization, we have very relevant 'partners' such as Amadeus and multinationals," says Carlos Garrido. "This positioning of the internet is occupied by the agencies themselves. We are not obsolete. 70% of airline flights are contracted in travel agencies and it is a figure that has been growing by 7% until the pandemic. The same percentage at employment was growing," he adds.
In short, to grow again and create jobs, covid has to look in the rearview mirror. "To get out of this situation we need the pandemic to stabilize and for there to be vaccination throughout the world, so that there are no variants and the borders are opened because there are many desires to travel", summarizes from the CCOO Travel Agencies Sector.