Spain: A sustainable tourism

Spain is a world leader in tourism, the second tourism destination after France. It is also ranked second in Tourism earnings. The country is an established popular destination, a mature one, exhibiting many features of mass tourism. Its main touristic offer remains the “sun and beach” destination. In this essay, is going to be examined the past, current and future developments in touristic terms. The aim of this writing is to understand clearly why Spain is tending for a new pace of development, a changing face of the touristic sector, how will it be managed and organised, what will be the strategy and who will be involved?

Spain has become one of the biggest tourism industry worldwide thanks to its natural and varied characteristics. From a geographical point of view, Spain holds a privileged world’s position. Situated in Europe’s Mediterranean region, it sits at the confluence of two of the world’s most important tourist areas, namely, the European Union and the Mediterranean basin. Is a diverse country, ranging from the near deserts of eastern Andalucia to the green countryside and from the sun-baked uplands of Castilla-La-Mancha to the snow-capped Pyrenees.

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The climate is both warm and Mediterranean, making summers on the mainland and the Balearic Islands ideal for beach tourism, whilst winter for the Canary Islands provides sub-tropical conditions, making them ideal for winter sun destinations. Spain occupies approximately 85 per cent of the Iberian Peninsula and consists of 17 autonomous regions, the most popular for tourism being Andalucia, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. Each region has got his own authority with a certain degree of power, for example the independence of Catalonia.

The state is a monarchy constitutional under the King Juan Carlos, and governed by the Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Towards the media, Spain appears a nice country, thanks to its folklore, its way of life, its climate, its hospitality, etc. The population is close to 41 millions. There is a growing tendency towards human concentration in the peripheral and urban areas and a tendency towards depopulation in the interior (except Madrid) and rural areas. The urban population represents 76 per cent of the total population. Large metropolitan areas include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Bilbao, etc.

The Spanish culture contributes to the rise of mass forms of tourism to the country. Fiestas and folklore are an absolutely crucial part of Spanish life. Indeed, a lot of major events and community celebrations take place all around the year. For example the running of the bulls at Pamplona, the April Feria of Seville, the religious procession of Semana Santa which is leading up to Easter. Beach tourism is the most relevant touristic offer in Spain. Cultural tourism, sport tourism and business tourism are also exiting. In recent decades, tourism has become a sector of prime importance.

Its good health is one of the indices of an economy’s overall performance, indeed its impact touches on practically every aspect of the country’s economic activity and production sectors. In Spain, these assertions take on a particular significance: tourism represents 12. 1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, accounts for annual revenues exceeding 37 million euros, serves to finance 154 per cent of its deficit trade and generates more than one million jobs. The Iberian Peninsula is really linked with South-America thanks by means of language and some formers colonies. After the Second World War massive tourism started to invade Spain.

The country has benefited from being an early entrant into the field of mass international travel and the period since 1960 has seen rapid and sustained expansion in the numbers of visitors. This same period, after war until the 60s, knew a huge development in terms of transportation and infrastructures, especially along the Mediterranean seaboard and the Balearic and Canary Islands. This rapid pace of development has undermined the attractiveness of some locations. Indeed during the 80s, 90s the sector was at a slower pace. Tourists weren’t satisfied enough with the quality of the accommodation and the over-development of the coasts.

Problems of over-development in popular Spanish resorts have become a major source of concern within the Spanish tourism industry. Hence, over and above the local development problems, common to many European cities, in the case of Spain’s tourist areas, there have been additional problems arising from the seasonal nature of its tourist trade. Spain exemplifies many of the problems that resort areas encounter as they reach their capacity, and the resulting tendency for tourism places to drift down-market, setting in motion a process of spatial displacement of some groups of tourists to new destinations.

Tourists in Spain are traditionally middle class families on a two-week beach vacation. But this is changing; tourist behaviour is becoming less predictable due to societal changes, the re-organisation of labour, low airfares and many new holiday destinations. Now almost anybody can travel abroad, and they may take anything from a weekend city break to a month-long foreign language. Thus, there are some visitors for work or study reasons, and as well some visiting families or relatives. Spain is the preferred destination of European tourists. (Refer to appendix).

The destination’s success relies on the traditional family sea-and-sun holiday segment. Consequently, there have been problems arising from the seasonal nature of the tourism in Spain’s tourist areas, especially along the coasts and the Islands. There is cultural tourism, especially in the large cities like Madrid and Barcelona with an important World Heritage. Spain also attracts visitors thanks to its best worldwide museums, like El Prado, Picasso, Dali, etc. The quality and diversity of the Spanish gastronomy has dethroned Paris as food capital to place itself at the forefront of experimental cuisine.

This trend will, beyond a doubt, keep Spain at the center of attention internationally for years to come. In concerned of the rural tourism, Spain is the European country with biggest fauna and flora diversity. Thirteen National Parks are occupying a 3,236-km2 territory with and additional 22 biosphere reserves. This type of Tourism tends to be accrued through the development Plans in the Autonomous Communities. There is already some positive data, for example 19per cent more beds in rural houses in 2002 than in 2001 or 12,2per cent more “same-day” stays in rural houses in 2002 than in 2001.

Another type of tourism tend to be developed is sport, the golf has already a good implantation in Spain, 216 golf courses and fields related to tourism accommodation. Sailing, ski and adventure tourism are already offered to the visitors. Business tourism has got a remarkable advance. Whereas 3,249 meetings were held in 1995 with 784,056 participants, and 10,183 meetings were held in 2001 with 2,002,741 participants likewise. Conferences and conventions tourism have increased and let us allowing a positive and durable future.

Lastly, the residential tourism is assuring a huge growth for the country is reducing the seasonality problems and develops villages and gives response to work and leisure new habits. In 2000, one out of four foreign tourists chose this kind of tourism, and in the next five years, between 800,000 and 1,7 million European, non-Spanish families, will establish their second home in Spain. Concerning the accessibility to the country, transport by plane and car has known a very good development, for example very good motorways along the Mediterranean coast.

Arriving by boats or trains remains weak. The Spanish government has a long tradition of successfully developing and promoting tourism. The Internet has become the major source of tourist information, especially for the new markets. About 70 per cent of Internet users search the Web for information prior to making decisions about a holiday destination, according to research conducted for the secretary general of tourism and Turespana (the Spanish tourist board), which together are part of the Spanish ministry of the economy.

There is no central reservation for specialized markets and the large tour operators that organize Spanish holidays do not cater for alternative forms of tourism. Spain’s secretary general of tourism has adopted the Microsoft Solution for Internet Business to launch a Spanish tourism portal that provides personalized, multimedia tourist information in nine languages. The portal hosts a “content factory” that aggregates information from public and private sector databases. Responsibility for tourism within Spain is decentralized to the country’s autonomous regions and local governments.

The government’s central role is to provide guidance to the tourist sector and co-ordinate and promote the country internationally. One of the major challenges now confronting the Spanish economy is to successfully apply sustainability criteria and introduce the necessary changes, without damaging the tourist industry as a whole. Sustainable development is now part of commonly held concept, and is perceived as a compulsory prerequisite for any proposed activity. Nowadays, one can no longer speak of a set of policies constituting a country’s development initiatives unless these are shown to be sustainable.

It has to be said in this regard that the relationship between tourism and the environment is particularly close. Furthermore another goal is to increase the average expenditure per tourist in order to cover the changes and improvements as planned by the tourism sector. Finally, an increase of out of season tourism demand is planned. So, how to take an already healthy sector to new heights while warding off growing competition from more recently accessible markets deemed more exotic and in the meantime introducing sustainable criteria?

We have moved on from those far-off days when anything seemed to be acceptable and tourist destinations were built without any regard to either their load capacity or impact on the local environment. Blinkered views of this nature can lead to the natural surroundings being damaged, sometimes seriously so. Furthermore, the economic viability of such schemes is very short-term. The leadership of Spanish tourism is based on quality. The “Plan Integral de Calidad del Turismo Espanol” (Spanish Tourism Integral Quality Plan, PICTE 2000) is the result of the efforts made by both the private sector and the public administration.

It is focused on the creation of new offer (basic as well as complementary), the renovation of the existing one and the public investment in infrastructures. The plan seeks to address the challenges of the Spanish tourism, covering the period 2000-2006. Search for the quality inside the PICTE embraces two big lines such as sectoral quality systems, pursuing the installation of specific quality systems in the different sub sectors that may affect to the visitor’s final satisfaction: hotels, campings, travel agencies, air companies, etc.

Furthermore the PICTE include programs of “Sustainable Tourism”, the “Plans of Quality in Destination”, the “Planes de Excelencia Turistica” (for the recovery and regeneration of mature destinations), the “Planes de Dinamizacion” (for emergent destinations) and, lastly, the “Touristic Quality in Destination Integral System” (SICTED) that supplements the two previous plans and objective is to reach a homogeneous level of quality inside one destination. (Refer to the appendix for the investment by types of actions).

The validity of the Plan has been settled down in parallel to the programs and initiatives of the European Union, so that some activities of the PICTE can benefit from EU funds. Today, alternative modalities to “sun and beach” tourism are being promoted to diversify the touristic offer and to fight against the current high seasonal nature, such as sport tourism, cultural tourism, business and residential tourism, among others. In the future, the interior of the country will be more developed with extension and expansion of cultural tourism, sport tourism, business and residential tourism…

In addition to being a world leader in tourism, Spain can also boast Europe’s greatest store of natural riches. One of the current challenge of the Spanish government, the tourist industry and those regarding protection of the environment is to make these twin aspects compatible. Fortunately, this has been fully understood by all sectors included. The ministry of Economic Affairs and Inland Revenue and the Ministry of the Environment have assumed their responsibility by sponsoring a joint Programme of Sustainable Tourism, the PICTE.

All levels of the Spanish Administration, Regional Authorities, City and Town Councils, have implemented operations and plans designed to remedy past imbalances and seek formulae, at times novel and bold, for sustainability reasons. The response of the tourist sector is also proving positive, while companies that have set about introducing environment-friendly policies and reforms are receiving their reward in the form of lower costs and greater customer acceptance. Nevertheless, this is an open-ended process and one where the goal is exceedingly ambitious, namely, to obtain the continuous co-operation of all citizens.

Only in this way, by changing patterns of behaviour, we will be able to ensure that sustainable tourism is just one more feature of a society that shows respect for the environment and the needs of all its members. While the initial impetus may well come from the public authorities, it is in the full knowledge that, ultimately, success or failure will depend on the participation of all parties implicate, and particularly, on the action taken by the local inhabitants of the respective areas and by tourists themselves.

Strategies that are already being implemented tend to address local planning and development, control of land use and adaptation of town-planning structures to environmental conditions. In certain important aspects, strict regulations banning new buildings and the fight against illegal building go hang in hand with a moratorium that only permits new tourist construction where this can be shown to replace old structures.

Mopping-up plans have been implemented, enabling the authorities to acquire and raze tourist buildings that by virtue of their location or condition amounted to environmental deterioration, and to replace these with parks or public facilities. . I believe that nowadays it is important to sell a lot of products to many kinds of people into several markets. The sun and beach destination is not enough anymore. People want more attractions like culture, nature, archaeology, health activity, events, typical “cuisine”, music, folklore, festivals…

To summarise, it is still possible to find great business opportunities, despite the maturity of the Spanish touristic sector thanks to a bet on quality and diversification as a guarantee for the future, thanks as well to a huge development of “sun and beach” alternative tourism, lastly thanks to excellent climatic and geographic conditions. All that will imply an increase or the average expenditure per tourist, a diversification of tourism offer and an increase of out of season tourism demand.

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