How many tourists can you fit on the head of a pin? The Ministry of Tourism would like to know.
Coming up in January is Spain's tourist fair, the FITUR, held in Madrid. I've been there half a dozen times over the years and, as the Reader can imagine, it's an enormous trade-fair which stretches through a number of pavilions. Most countries are represented there, as are all of Spain's autonomous regions, tourist areas, cities, resorts and hotel groups. Marbella... Costa Brava... PortAdventura...
Even Gibraltar has a stand there.
For some years, Mojácar did too.
Like any trade fair, FITUR is all about finding new business; which, when it comes to tourism, means more tourists.
Spain makes a lot of money from tourism, which it needs to help balance the books. This year, around eighty million foreign visitors will have experienced Spain, all leaving behind a quantity of money, while taking home with them little more than a hangover and a sunburn.
Now that's a good deal for Spain.
Furthermore, the Spanish themselves are no slouches when it comes to taking a holiday in Andalucía, Mallorca or the Costa Brava. In the summer season, a number of cities - Granada, Seville and Córdoba for example, - are filled to the brim (much to the joy of the hoteliers and the souvenir shop-owners). New tourist routes are being opened up - the Chinese in particular are beginning to arrive, and they like museums and historical sites.
And souvenir shops.
But, who cares. Spain is making money. At least, until there's a terrorist attack, a political upheaval, an earthquake, a cholera outbreak, or the Italians suddenly (and unexpectedly) lower their prices.
But now the authorities themselves are waking up to 'tourist saturation'. It finally occurred to someone that it's not the amount of visitors you want, it's how much you can wring from their pockets. In short: You have parking for a hundred cars. Which is better for business: Seats or BMWs?
So, says the WTTC - the World Travel and Tourism Council - what to do? First, try and spread the visits across the year: make the season longer. School holidays should be spread out maybe? They don't say. Secondly - try and persuade the visitors to go to less attractive spots. Two weeks in Teruel anyone? The third suggestion (we hope somebody is getting paid for this) is to adjust prices upwards to better reflect supply and demand (Dominican Republic, here we come). Fourth is 'control the lodgings available'. This of course is an idea favoured by the hoteliers and consists of closing down all other lodgings, Airbnb and the guest suite upstairs. The fifth and final suggestion is to 'limit or curtail certain activities'.
What, like drinking and sunbathing?