Wake up, Spain!

THERE is something dreadfully boring, even claustrophobic about the Costas’ approach to tourism.

It is stuck in a time warp of mediocrity. This is no reflection on the people who live here or bored tourists searching for pastures new; they are victims of industry complacency.

It is time for those losing money in Spain’s tourist industry to take a hard look at their operation and compare it with what the competition offers. Failing to move with the times they are being left behind. The Costas are often seen as the swinging 60s that just aren’t swinging anymore.

This should be a boom period: Travel has never been easier or cheaper; North African competition evaporated. There has been unparalleled improvement in people’s disposable incomes. The real spenders are the working professionals and early retired. This niche market is being ignored whilst tourist heads bang on about creating gay quarters.

Residents in Spain are constantly begged for advice for something different to do. The answer is drearily predictable; the same one or two restaurants offering kitsch Spanish ambience; tablecloths; ersatz architecture, plastic wine vines, mediocre service and inflated prices. You’ve seen one and you have seen them all.

My sons and friends no longer visit; to them the Costas are un-cool and on a par with Butlins or Pontins holiday camps. Theirs is the generation that habitually does Europe with which they have growing familiarity.

Spain is famous, or notorious, for one season and one sport. Much of Europe has four delightful seasons and more activities, sports and distractions than a tourist can swing a stick at.

I can’t fault the summer spent in Latvia; much the same can be said for nearly 30 European nations and scores of cities competing for Spain’s traditional visitors.

Christmas markets are so popular hotel rooms are booked years in advance; other festivals like the Munich Beer Festival; are held throughout Europe. Europe parties throughout the year: Spain slumbers on the beaches and wretchedly complains about tourists; the fact that they are here or they are not here.

Whilst the Costas are looking for tourists that one restaurant alone is packing them in from all four corners of the earth. Visitors return to their own countries and tell their friends, friends who used to do Spain.

There is stiff competition from Poland, France, Germany, Prague in the Czech Republic and Slovenia; more than a score of countries desperate for tourist Euros; from the Ukraine and St Petersburg to Salzburg, the Rhineland and Dubrovnik, the shopping streets are packed; their street theatre; fairs, restaurants and attractions lure those for whom the Costas used to be first and last choice. Tourists are appreciated; it tells.

In Spain one often encounters indifference; even hostility.

It is true that the Costas also have their unique atmosphere but there’s no mileage in denial. One has to ask: What has gone wrong and what can we do to put matters right. Put simply; the attractions of the Costas’ have got to be more than the rare sighting of a faux-ethnic restaurant or sun-kissed deserted beach.


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