Catalonia weaves complicity for a new Tourism Law

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Marta Domènech is the fourth generation of a family dedicated to hospitality in the town of Falset, in the Priorat region, where they run the Hostal Sport, a four-star hotel that she herself defines as “a restaurant with rooms”. She has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations (URL), she has a degree in Marketing (ESIC), an expert in protocol from the University of Oviedo and a professional sommelier from the Rovira i Virgili University.

“We are starting from a pandemic situation that has caused changes in behavior in tourism, which we do not know if they are circumstantial or will end up being structural”

It is said that the Generalitat is preparing a new Tourism Law. Is that right?

When I took office, on June 15, 2021, they told me that the will was to make a new Tourism Law. The first time legislation began in terms of tourism was 20 years ago, but this legal text has been evolving through modifications and decree-laws.

Now, we are starting from a pandemic situation that has caused changes in behavior in tourism, which we do not know if they are circumstantial or will end up being structural. And to this is added the climate emergency, it is necessary to carry out some changes in order to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations asks of us.

Then?

We have decided to stop for a moment. Instead of launching ourselves to make a new law, without having a clear objective, we begin to ask ourselves many questions, to see where we have to go. And it is that many aspects go beyond the competences of the General Directorate of Tourism, given the transversality of the sector. It is necessary to analyze well what the new law will contemplate, but we cannot do it alone, but with the private sector.

How will they do it?

Through the so-called “National Commitment to Sustainable Tourism”, which will be the seed of the future tourism law, the future strategic plan and the domino effect of the marketing plan.

How will they reach that commitment?

Through several steps. First, the Directorate General for Tourism has commissioned Dr. José Antonio Donaire, an international expert on tourism issues, and a professor at the University of Girona. Let us bear in mind that we start from a great tourist diversity: in typologies, company sizes, etc.

And in a first phase, they have gone to look for a series of people who are referents in the environment, landscape, geography, sociology, statistics, economy, etc., who have drawn -in a document of 72 files- the future tourism model of Catalonia in the next 30 years. What we are looking for is for the tourism sector to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Because it says?

Everybody talks about soccer and tourism, and in a very categorical way, and many times they don’t go into depth. I think that the tourism sector is suffering a depreciation, but it is a vital economic activity for Catalonia. It is 12% of its GDP and 14% of employment.

And regarding that great agreement or commitment that you are working on, which will be the “seed” of the future tourism law and of the marketing plans, what phase are you in now?

With the document of the 72 cards prepared, the contrast phase with the private sector is being carried out. We, as the General Directorate of Tourism, have not been involved in the preliminary phase of the work, since it has been a technical assignment that we have requested, so that we have been able to give everyone a voice. The team led by José Antonio Donaire is holding meetings with all the agents involved in the private sector and once an agreement is reached, we will present it.

What deadlines have they set?

We will have the agreement in September-October at the latest. We cannot go further.

And after that commitment that will precede the new tourism law, what issues will be legislated on: accommodation, platform regulation…?

We have to wait for the landing of this whole process in progress. We need to have an agreement and be clear about where the tourism model should go.

But while that agreement has not been reached, what will they do in the meantime, for example, in terms of tourism promotion?

We are not paralyzed at all. We have some daily challenges: deseasonalize, diversify the offer, distribute tourists throughout the Catalan territory and increase the average expenditure per visitor. Based on this, on June 20 we present the Wine Tourism and Gastronomy Plan for Catalonia 2022-2027, which includes an investment of eight million euros.

“I am concerned that the media will fall into the frequency of attacking the tourism sector”

Speaking of the present, what worries you the most at this time when we are witnessing an intense recovery in travel?

I am concerned that the media fall into the frequency of attacking the tourism sector. And we are seeing how the Universities of Tourism, which are very good, are losing students because working in the tourism sector is not cool for them, it is not cool. Therefore, it will be necessary to carry out a very important campaign to explain the values ​​of tourism, a sector that obviously has externalities and we will not cover them, but we will work on them.

So you are worried about the return of tourism phobia?

No. It worries me that they talk to me about the externalities of tourism lightly.

But he won’t be able to prevent that conversation on the street from continuing…

Well, we have to recover the sociological value that we are a tourist country. The other day, in a meeting with businessmen from the sector, he asked them how many of their children will study Tourism and continue in the family business… Because we are a sector of family businesses.

And what responses did you get?

I am the first to raise my hand. I am a hospitality businesswoman and none of my three children are studying Tourism. Well, one studies Gastronomy, which is linked to the sector.

“You have to go to second and third year ESO students to explain to them that studying Tourism is as valid an option as any other”.

Young people see the hotel industry and tourism in general as a highly sacrificed sector…

In the hotel industry you work on weekends and you have split schedules many times, yes. But a very important job is being done from the sector to reverse this situation. We must make an effort to make people understand that we are a tourist country, where we can stay to study and work. You have to go to second and third year ESO students, who in fourth year are already beginning to do the itinerary, to explain to them that studying Tourism is an option as valid as any other.

Can dual FP be an opportunity?

It is, of course. We are already holding meetings with the Employment Service and with the Continuous Training Center of Catalonia.

The key to the success of dual FP, which is widespread in Germany, is that the student is paid from the first day he enters the company. Do they foresee agreements, subsidies, bonuses in Social Security contributions…?

Certain issues will have to be negotiated with Madrid. Now we are analyzing the implementation of dual FP from the academic point of view. And the private tourism sector is very receptive, given that there is a great lack of labor.

Marta Domènech was appointed General Director of Tourism of the Government of Catalonia in June 2021. Previously, she was president of the Association of Hospitality Entrepreneurs of the Province of Tarragona and president of the Association of Accommodation with DO.

“Enterprise energy consumption has risen a lot and not everyone has transferred this increase in costs to the final customer. Raw materials have also skyrocketed”

When assessing whether tourism is going well or badly. What indicators or signs do you pay attention to the most?

If we only look at the number of visitors, I would tell you that the figures are very good. But I am not talking about profitability or margin.

So let’s talk about it…

The entrepreneur has raised an outrage energy consumption and not all have transferred this increase in costs to the end customer. Raw materials have also shot up.

On the other hand, there is no longer the certainty of previous years, when at the World Travel Market in November you already knew how the next twelve months would go. Right now, we can talk about how the July and August bookings are going, but we can’t talk about September. There is a lot of flight offer, but at the moment we are not seeing reservations and the anticipation is getting shorter and shorter.

This year Russian tourists will not come either, who came from one to three weeks in a row, which means a different margin and profitability for the hotelier compared to short stays.

Without forgetting, the labor reform, which affects, and being able to organize yourself in labor terms, is being complicated.

In short, how do you foresee the summer of 2022?

Apparently, we will have a very good campaign, but without going into the business figures in terms of profitability and margin, which is complicated. And it will also go through neighborhoods, as always.

And in the fall, how do you expect congress and convention tourism to work?

Fira de Barcelona and the Convention Bureaux say that activity is recovering. However, there is already talk of a certain setback in 2023. Some large companies foresee staff cuts. Interest rates are going to go up. All this will affect the services sector.

What would you ask of your usual interlocutors in the tourism sector, that is, business federations, guilds, associations, etc., and what do you offer them as General Director of Tourism of Catalonia?

I would ask them to never lower the quality. We need a lot of quality to continue being an international benchmark. Never let your guard down, because as we say at home: Hi ha estalvis that is mengen les estovalles*. And I offer them all the support, knowledge I have of the sector and the entire team that works in our department with the desire to strategically stretch the territory.

* Translation: sometimes by wanting to save too much you lose out. The proverb plays with the double meaning of the word “estalvi” in Catalan, which means savings, but also trivets.