Exploring the recovery of Spain’s travel sector

Amy Stewart

And despite the obstacles presented by the effects of the pandemic – from frontier closures to vaccination passports and the general feeling of more insecurity – ‘medium and long-haul destinations are also starting to show green shoots’ claims the report: “In the first six months of the year, they [destinations] saw a recovery of 22 per cent in the number of outbound travellers from Spain, with a growth of 47.8 per cent year on year.”

Building on this start, Braintrust’s study points to the fact that ‘nearly three quarters of Spaniards are thinking of travelling, and of these, 49 per cent want to do it abroad’.

Of this total, 42 per cent are looking at Europe and the other seven per cent at more distant destinations, leading to a greater likelihood of growth in travellers taking out insurance policies.

“There is no doubt that the pandemic curbed the desire to travel around the world, and now it’s being accelerated. [This], united with accumulated savings, is pushing these hopeful figures,” says Co-Author Ángel García Butragueño.

Spaniards have begun to expand their horizons despite some remaining Covid concerns

Domestic tourists who had remained in Spain outside the summer beach tourism season had headed for ‘small to medium-size cities with a broad offer of culture and experiences, with strict security protocols that guarantee peaceful escapes after so much uncertainty during Covid’, found the report. Braintrust predicts this pattern will be followed as tourists start to venture abroad again, seeking out ‘high levels of security and flexibility faced with the possible appearance of new outbreaks or rise in contagions’.

This new wave of infections remained the main fear declared by Spanish tourists for the coming months, and they continued supporting safety measures such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing and reasonable capacities, added García Butragueño, the company’s Director of Tourism. He is confident ‘the moment of recovery has arrived, if there are no backward steps in the control of the pandemic’. “The Spanish are demonstrating a noteworthy intention to travel over the next six months,” he told ITIJ, “with an uncontrollable desire to explore new horizons after being obliged to remain within our own frontiers for so many months, and the gradual loss of fear.”

Higher numbers of inbound travellers are employing agents to book holidays

With all destinations fighting to pull in tourists once again, and juggling this with investment in more sustainable forms of tourism, the Spanish inbound travel market also needs to react to the new scenario, he said.

“Spain needs to make the grade, transforming its pattern of sun and beach (tourism), broadening its offer and providing it with more experiential attributes.” One of the main points the study has highlighted is that many more people are likely to make their bookings through travel agents after Covid, with the number of travellers choosing agents as their travel vendor projected to reach over 40 per cent: “One in four people who previously said they would not have used an agent are now looking to do so,” pointed out Butragueño. “Their reasons are that only agents can offer guarantees of security, [and act as] depositories of the knowledge, experience and tools for making a journey a unique, peaceful and safe experience.”

For the same reason, more travellers are likely to take out travel insurance policies, he adds: “It is logical that more people will be looking for more protection. Now they are seeking different journeys, away from the usual packages of plane plus hotel, and they want to add new concepts to their trips such as gastronomy, shows, leisure, nature, sports, health. This gives tour operators the opportunity to build new products and services that are truly different, that are not mass tourism and that allow personalisation for each client, in line with their goals,” he concluded.

For his fellow Co-Director of the Barómetro Turistico, José Manuel Brell, travel agencies and tour operators ‘need to transform themselves to keep being necessary in the eyes of travellers who, in spite of the accelerated advance of digitalisation and ecommerce, are seeking expert advice in a world that is more uncertain and unpredictable than before the pandemic’.

Travel insurance is a higher priority for travellers than pre-pandemic

Insurer MAPFRE points to its travel policy sales figures as a sign of the growing urge to travel among Spanish travellers. “2020 started with an historic record in the emission of travel policies, braking in March with the beginning of the pandemic,” said a company spokesperson. But growth started to return in the second quarter of 2021, and the third quarter saw a 155 per cent year-on-year increase.

“From the moment in which it started to become possible to travel, the contracting of policies rose considerably. Now there is a greater awareness among travellers of the need to take out this type of insurance.” In some cases, this is due to it being obligatory to have insurance of this type to obtain an entry visa for certain destinations, of course, but awareness of the benefits that travel insurance offers has undoubtedly risen, and providers are offering the peace of mind that travellers need.

The company highlighted a recent conference organised by its foundation, the Fundación MAPFRE Guanarteme, which looked specifically at the potential of senior citizen tourism as the sector recovers.

“In a few years,” said MAPFRE, “tourism will not be understood without older people. For travel agents today, they represent two out of every 10 journeys. But their forecasts are that in 30 years, one in every two travel agents’ clients will be elderly.” To meet this demand, more personalised travel packages need to be created, with special attention paid to ‘better health during the journey and in the destination’.

The same is true of Spain’s incoming market, where Juan Fernández Palacios, Director of the foundation’s Ageingnomics research centre, said that 36 per cent of the tourists who visited the country in 2019 were aged over 50.

Ignacio Gordillo, Director of Home and Leisure at AXA España, remains cautious about the evolution of the Spanish market. He said it was ‘clear the pandemic has caused a sudden stop at a global level as far as tourism is concerned, being one of the sectors most impacted along with hostelry and services’. He continued: “The effect of vaccinations is bringing a gradual return to normality, although we are still far from the level of journeys made in 2019, when they reached an historic maximum.

“This return to normality is generating the logical reaction whereby little by little, we Spanish are launching ourselves into organising journeys overseas.” But, he added: “The uncertainty is still significant.”

While logically, vaccinations and the fact that each day people are growing more accustomed to the virus make for a reduction in the fear of travelling, the need for travel medical insurance, and the cancellation benefits offered by travel cover, is ever more obvious. Gordillo said: “Travel insurance has taken on an even greater importance if possible than prior to the pandemic. That’s not only for the protection it offers against potential contagion, but also for the uncertainty (it creates) ahead of the journey.”

https://www.itij.com/latest/long-read/exploring-recovery-spains-travel-sector

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