“This article was orignally published on August 27, 2021 in the Economic (El Punt)”

The general director of Med Playa hotel chain, Agustí Codina, explains that although this year they do not work with traditional markets, he estimates that this August they could close with 80% of the income of the same month of 2019. They are hopeful, but, since little by little the international circulation is growing because, he assures, the British tourist is already making reservations for the end of the year. He expects the recovery of the tourism sector for next year and believes that it will take place more quickly and with greater force than anticipated.


How is the tourist season progressing this summer?

On August 6, we already managed to open all the hotels, including a very large one that we have in Benidorm, which has been open in summer and winter without interruption since 2001 and has been closed for 503 days since the pandemic began. For now, this year is much better than the last one despite the fact that we do not work with our traditional markets. We are basically working with the Spanish market. Economic statistics tell us that there are savings in the hands of families that are much higher than the historical average and this summer people have taken vacations because last year they could not go out. Catalan and Spanish tourism has stayed here. I believe that the Spanish market is quite captive.


But this proximity tourism does not last the whole summer. In September, when schools start, it will disappear.

Yes, it will lose strength. The tourism model of the State is based on 84 million foreign tourists who came in 2019 and just over 19 million in Catalonia. Without foreign tourism, obviously, there are plenty of beds and space for everyone.


Is the international tourist circulation still stopped?

Our hope is to see how it recovers. For us, especially for Benidorm and the Costa del Sol, the British market is very important and, although we are not yet in an ideal situation, we are beginning to see a small recovery and an increase in bookings for this senior tourist profile for November and December. And if you asked me how we now have the British reserves for the end of the year, I could assure you that we have more than this past August. Despite all this, I estimate that with all the hotels of Med Playa chain we will make 80% of the income for the same month of 2019. Obviously with the Spanish market which is not our main market, but it has served as a platform launch for recovery.


Since Covid broke out, it has been said that the client will look for a non-mass type of tourism. What do you think?

It is difficult to predict. What is clear is that vacational tourism cannot be done by videoconference. Vacations will be enjoyed in person and, therefore, the trips will continue to exist. Maybe it will take a little while to get back to normal, maybe when we return there will be some sanitary measures that were not there before and that now will be, but I think we will return to the tourism of before.


And for example, what about congress tourism which has practically disappeared?

Perhaps it is the most affected and it will take a little longer than normal to recover its activity, but I believe that in the end, everything will return to normal, because congresses also have a recreational component. Perhaps that trip that was made in a provincial capital where you spent a night in a hotel will easily end up being replaced by a videoconference. But the rest is highly integrated into a commercial dynamic that requires a relationship with the client. It is clear that in the end, everything is a hypothesis and many evaluations can be made, but this saying ‘never again’, no. I believe that it will recover. Like tourism in general. I, for example, have a lot of hope in the British market. It will not be to spectacular, moderate prices are paid, but the client likes to leave England for a long period and stay in Benidorm or on Costa del Sol, and it has already been two winters in which they have not been able to vacation normally. I believe that this is a client that will come back strong.


And the Imserso?

The Imserso’s trips were stopped and will resume in October. We were awaiting the appeal that the tourism employers had put in place, which requested an update of the conditions because they estimated that the prices were well below the costs. The courts, however, have dismissed the appeals. The truth is that the agencies that go to contests have been earning their living for many years, but the hoteliers pay us a price that is practically below costs.


So why do you accept Imserso tourism?

Because we did not open a hotel for the Imserso. Normally what we do is take advantage of this tourism to complement the clientele that pays more and that is the one that serves to finish off a season or open a hotel with a little more clientele.


And, therefore, if there are no more outbreaks or new waves of Covid, does the recovery of the sector foresee it for next year?

Yes, definitely. I think we have this new waves thing under control. Obviously, if a new wave arrives, I don’t know what can happen, but a meteorite can also fall on Earth and, therefore, when you think about bad things, a lot can happen to us. I believe that next year will be the year of recovery and that this recovery will be faster and stronger than expected. It will be a strong, strong recovery. We have had to travel often this time due to the works at Malaga airport and this airport now has nothing to do with what it was a few months ago. Now it begins to look normal.


What do you think about the tourism sector in Catalonia?

The Costa Brava and Salou, for example, are two different dynamics. In Salou, British and Russian tourism were hand in hand and the third was, in pre-pandemic times, Spanish. It has the Port Aventura factor and is very well connected to the Reus and Barcelona airports. It is evident that, with the lack of British and Russian tourists, in Salou they have suffered because they have not had the occupations they were used to have. They have had a lot of tourists from the Basque Country, Aragon and the metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona.


And the Costa Brava?

This lack of foreign tourism has also affected Costa Brava, especially the part that lives outside the wholesale agency. But Costa Brava has had access to French and Dutch tourists who have arrived by car. The Belgian not so much, but it also begins to show. What has happened to us on the Costa Brava is a very interesting phenomenon, and it has become a destination of great quality. Many times, when they want to punish us, the media emphasize some problem that may exist with youth in towns like Lloret de Mar, but I don’t think that problems like these are representative of what happens. Lloret de Mar has transformed very well.


And what has this change been due to?

The country has many positive and quality things that we already know. But, to give you an example, gastronomy has given the destination an international name, or like Girona with cycling. I believe that Costa Brava has become a destination with a lot of category, and work has been done to make this happen.


Do we have to change the tourism model?

Everything is changing and evolving. And the touristic sector is also making changes. The success we have had in the hotel sector in Spain is that we have made a product with a very good value for money. And it has nothing to do with what they do in Italy and even in France, which may have extraordinary hotels but are not capable of taking 1,500 people and getting them all to eat three meals a day that is well served in quality and variety for a reasonable price. This is the success of our model. And it is not easy. And then, will it change? I believe that there are things that can be raised.


As which?

Costa Brava, for example, cannot grow more in hotel infrastructures. We have already reached the ceiling because, in the end, we have to preserve the landscape, and not only the aesthetics but also the management of all this tourism that comes in summer. And there are places that cannot afford to put a thousand more people. Another change to come is that of air transport.


… because they say that it is what pollutes the most?

The first thing I think is that four days ago everyone was with the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg and that the students went on strike on Fridays to demand action from world leaders to stop climate change and save the planet. The EU wants to be carbon neutral in 2050, the Chinese also have signed up and the Americans, now with Biden, too. If air transport is one of the most polluting, how will all this evolve now? I do not know. With cars, it seems that it is evolving towards the electric, but having electric airplanes seems that it is more complicated. So I believe that all this will evolve and this Ryanair model of such massive flights will perhaps be penalized fiscally and they will make them more expensive so that there are not so many.


And speaking of airports, what do you think of the expansion of the airport in Barcelona?

It is a subject that we could talk a lot about because it has many positives and many negatives. For example, what they said that with the expansion, the Prat would be promoted as an international hub, is the same as they said when they made terminal 1. Therefore, I do not buy that it is for that. And that it will be used as a long runway for landings? Well, there is already the track that passes through Gavà Mar, which they do not take advantage of because of the noise issue. And then the Ricarda issue: this is an issue that depends on the European Union, which if it says that it is protected and cannot be built, then it cannot. Perhaps before announcing the expansion it is necessary to know if it can be done or not.


And a station has been announced in Girona at the Girona-Costa Brava airport.

This connectivity seems very ingenious to us and of very good use. Girona airport has had many ups and downs. When Ryanair arrived I had to park in the margins because there was nowhere to leave the cars. Then when the car parking was built Ryanair moved to Barcelona. And we have seen a drop in passengers. But we had always said that if other countries have different airports, such as the United Kingdom, which has Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted airports, which serve as satellites for London, why can’t Barcelona have Girona and Reus like satellites? These airports were already linked by coach and if you can now also do it in twenty-five minutes by high-speed train and with reasonable prices, it can be very attractive, obviously. Well explained, the AVE from Reus airports and from Girona can take traffic to Barcelona. But who will have to manage it? Aena? It’s very complicated.


The Generalitat has announced that it wants to extend the tourist season until October. How can this be done?

It is the dream of tourist entrepreneurs, to whom we obviously enthusiastically join. Climate change will have very negative things but it could happen that we have some springs that start a little earlier and some autumns that end later. If this would happen, we would have a climatic factor that would help us. I think we have to preserve what we have and do complementary activities.