the euro zone

A break from reality

Regardless of the economic and social problems Spain has endured over recent years, it has not lost its status as one of the world’s tourism heavyweights. Every year, huge numbers of visitors from around the world come here seeking limitless sun, cheap food and drink and a laid-back pace of life, pumping money into an economy that has exited recession partly because of their spending. And according to the hotel confederation Cehat, 2017 will be another record-breaking season: the group announced on Wednesday that it expects Spain to receive around 80 million visitors between May and August, up from 75.5 million in 2016.

This is certainly not bad news for the Spanish economy, but “bumper” tourist years alone won’t solve the country’s economic problems. One reason for this is that, although such busy tourism seasons provide hundreds of thousands of jobs (especially here on the Costa del Sol), these positions only last for the holiday season; and because joblessness rates fall during these periods, sometimes dramatically, it can seem that Spain’s unemployment rate - which, at 18%, is still the highest in the EU after Greece’s - has permanently contracted.

Take this April, for example. The Easter holidays are also a productive time for the Spanish hospitality industry, and partly for this reason April saw the biggest reduction of unemployment claims in a single month since June 2013: according to the Ministry of Labour, the number of employed people in Spain increased by 212,216. This seems almost miraculous until you learn that 96,069 of these new positions were in the hospitality sector; they were probably only for a few weeks’ worth of work.

Temporary contracts in general are the reason why a lot of Spanish workers - especially those employed in the tourism industry - lack financial stability. Recent statistics from the Spanish Labour Ministry showed that the number of workers who sign more than ten employment contracts every year increased from 150,000 in 2012 to 270,000 in 2016: many such Spaniards work in restaurants and hotels during the Easter and summer holidays, but struggle to find employment for the rest of the year.

A deeper problem for the Spanish economy is that many young Spaniards seeking careers are leaving for countries where they feel their skills will be more appreciated. A 24-year-old Spanish acquaintance of mine has just finished an IT degree at Granada University and is now looking for his first job in the computer industry. He is not hopeful of finding rewarding work here and is considering moving abroad. “Spain,” he told me, “is a good country to holiday in, but not to work in.” So long as young Spaniards feel this way - and many do - the country has a problem that no number of foreign visitors will fix.