The end of July and beginning of August are peak tourist season on the Costa del Sol and this year the usual avalanche of visitors arrived by land, sea and air. Over the five-day period from Friday there were 333,000 long-distance road trips, which was 17 per cent more than the same period last year; by train, 30,000 passengers took the high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Malaga city; and 399,114 passengers were scheduled to travel on 2,342 flights. These are record figures, and they confirm the expectations of tourism businesses in Malaga province.
Now that we have reached this point in the tourist season, we can take a look at the figures for the early part of the summer. Hotel occupancy figures in June showed an increase in the number of overnight stays (1.9 per cent) and visitors (4 per cent) compared with the same month last year, which was already a record.
Occupancy rose by three points to 71.9 per cent. In July, the Aehcos hotel association estimates that it was 81 per cent. However, there was a noticeable difference between the international and Spanish market: the first is generating all the growth, with spectacular increases in specific nationalities such as German, Danish, Polish and Swedish. The number of Spanish visitors is dropping, and not just slightly: by 10 per cent in terms of visitors and 16 per cent in overnight stays. This is nothing new: the numbers were down last year as well, in low season as well as the summer.
What is happening with Spanish clientele? It seems several factors come into play. To start with, Arturo Bernal, the head of Turismo Costa del Sol, says there is traditionally less Spanish tourism when the economy is doing well, because many Spanish people prefer to travel abroad on holiday when they have the money to do so.
In addition, there has been a major increase in the number of holiday apartments and houses. “It may be true that there are fewer Spanish tourists in the hotels, but I’m not sure that fewer Spanish people have come to the Costa del Sol,” he says.
The general feeling in the sector is that many travellers who used to stay in hotels are now choosing self-catering accommodation instead, but there are no figures to confirm this. There are 66,000 beds on offer in rental properties on the Costa del Sol, which is about a quarter of the total.
Are price increases in hotels influencing the reduction in Spanish tourists? The sector doesn’t think so, although Arturo admits that it is possible. “However, the prices haven’t exactly shot up,” he points out.
There are different opinions about hotel prices. The Trivago hotel search portal says some tourist resorts on the Costa del Sol have seen the greatest increases in hotel prices this year. It quotes inter-annual increases in July of 26 per cent in Estepona, 19 per cent in Mijas and 14 per cent in Marbella, which is the third most expensive destination in Spain with an average price of 253 euros per double room.
The Hotel Price Index which is drawn up by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) only gives information about Andalucía as a whole, but in June it showed an increase of 5.9 per cent compared with the same month last year.
The NHS hotel group’s ‘Hotel price radar’ says that Malaga is the city in which prices have risen most this year, by 38 per cent in the second quarter.
Arturo Bernal says prices have risen by between 10 and 15 per cent, which his organisation considers reasonable. “In fact, Ithink the price is still a little lower than it should be,” he says, because “the price helps to improve quality for the clients.”
Something which is clear is that tourism-related businesses have taken on more staff this year after several years in which the increased demand was not reflected by the employment figures.
According to the INE, 9.8 per cent more staff were employed in hotels in Malaga province in June, which means that nearly 1,500 people were employed in the industry than in that month last year.
The number of employees registered with Social Security in the hotel and restaurant sector grew by a similar percentage to around 73,000 (this is 6,000 more workers than a year previously).
Unions welcome the increase in employment but still criticise those businesses which expect staff to work eight or ten hours a day but only give them contracts for four hours.