Tourism is Malaga’s key to emerge from the crisis ahead of the rest of the region. Carlos Moret
More often than not speeches made by Malaga-based politicians and business owners include somewhere the expression: “Malaga, the economic capital of Andalucía”. But to what extent is this true? Are there objective arguments and statistics to defend this statement outside the provincial boundaries?
Now, in the current climate, experts agree that if there is one province capable of getting Andalucía’s economic wheels rolling again, it is Malaga. The tourism industry, business initiatives, being home to the region’s biggest financial institution and the growing weight of advanced services in its productive fabric all contribute to Malaga’s economic advantage.
Despite this though, the main gauge used to compare the economic strength of countries, regions and provinces, the gross domestic product (GDP), does not agree. In fact Seville has always come first in this particular race; in 2009, the last official statistics, its GDP was around 34.5 billion euros, compared with Malaga’s 28.2 billion. Of the Andalusian total, Seville accounts for 24.1 per cent of the GDP, while Malaga contributes 19.8 per cent. The difference can be put down to Seville’s larger population and territory, its superiority in the agriculture and industry sectors and the advantage of being the administrative capital of Andalucía.
On the other hand the latest edition of the Spain Economic Yearbook produced by La Caixa does put Malaga at the head of the region’s economy, giving it the highest rate of economic activity. This prestigious publication takes into account the Economic Activity tax (IAE) when compiling its results, which also name Malaga as the Andalusian leader in the tourism, commerce and catering sectors.
More so than by the overall picture, Malaga’s leadership can be measured by its evolution over time. One of its greatest assets is the wealth creation potential shown over recent decades. The province’s GDP grew by 180 per cent between 1995 and 2009, an Andalusian record.
José Juan Benítez, professor of Applied Economy at the University of Malaga, points out that “no other province is better prepared than Malaga to stimulate the economic growth of Andalucía”.
“Statistics show that the weight of the province of Malaga, in terms of production and employment, is smaller as a whole than that of Seville. However if we consider the economic activities that show a greater capacity for development, and, therefore, the creation of sustainable wealth, then we can state that Malaga, and more specifically its coastline, has the necessary characteristics to be considered the driving force behind the region’s economy”, he explains.
Meanwhile Victorio Valle, professor in Applied Economics and member of the advisory board of the Foundation of Savings Banks, states that the youth of the population explains why the province is more dynamic in terms of private initiative, being home to the birth of one in three new businesses in the region.
“Malaga has the youngest and most dynamic population in the region: between 2000 and 2010 it has grown by almost 25 per cent,” he states. Valle stresses Malaga’s “solid base of human capital”, thanks to a university that enjoys special prestige in engineering, which the expert relates to the strength of the Technology Park. Being the home of Unicaja, Andalucía’s biggest financial institution, and the quality of the transport infrastructure in place, are also points in Malaga’s favour, according to the economist.
Now however, four years into a financial crisis and with unemployment at more than 30 per cent, it’s easy to doubt this optimism. Once again though, tourism promises to save the day as “the Malaga economy’s greatest asset”, stresses José Juan Benítez. Last year economic growth in Malaga was above the Andalusian average and, as Felisa Becerra of the Andalusian Economic Analysts points out, despite the recession this year the local GDP will not fall as much as in the rest of the region.
According to the experts, thanks to tourism Malaga will emerge from the crisis ahead of other areas, ready to resume its role at the helm of the Andalusian productive fabric.
“This is a modern economy, with a more developed services sector: almost 63 per cent of the GDP is generated by private services when the Andalusian average is 55 per cent and the Spanish average is 52 per cent”, points out Victorio Valle. He believes that this advantage is capable of compensating for weaknesses brought about by the crash in the construction sector.
There is still a lot of work to do, however; Malaga can’t just sit back and wait for the macroeconomics circumstances to improve without doing its bit to help get the engine running again. Taking care of its star industry to keep ahead of rival tourist destinations is top of the ‘to do’ list.