Federico González

CEO of NH Hotel Group

“If we can avoid creating problems for ourselves, the tourist industry will have a significant impact on unemployment figures”

Do we need a tourism strategy for Spain?

Yes. During recent years, tourism has been one of the responsibilities relegated to the regional level, and this means that there are more regional than national tourism plans or strategies. In this sense, it is important to articulate a serious strategy that lets each region have its self-sufficiency but also projects an overall image, and standard of services and of experience in order to avoid surprises. For example, in Spain the legislation concerning the award of stars to hotels is regional or municipal. That means that there is no consensus on a definition of the hotel experience, which differs depending on whether you visit Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, or Bilbao. And there ought to be a strategy that standardizes all those aspects such as services, communications infrastructures, the very structure of our set of hotels, and the training of the people who are going to attend to visitors.

Are we too focused on sun-and-sand tourism?

Many people come for sun and sand because they want sun and sand. What they have to find at such destinations is a service that’s spectacular, decent hotels, good entertainment, well-trained staff, and superior quality compared to other sun-and-sand destinations. Then there is another field, which is business tourism. The more we invest in this sphere, the greater our capacity for differentiation compared to the hotel chains you can find in Europe and other destinations.

How should we situate ourselves on the price/value ratio?

In the end, price is very relative. Competing on prices brings you a high volume of visitors but often leads you into decline, since there will always be someone capable of doing things cheaper than you. It isn’t a question of volume: it’s a question of finding the right segment that wants to come to your country. We very often go from one extreme to another. We appeal to countries to come to Spain more because it’s cheap, and then we try to attract segments of the population with very high income because they spend a lot of money. And in the end we lose out on the most interesting segment of the population, the middle or upper-middle class, which is keen to travel and not necessarily in search of the cheapest prices. Rather, they are tuned in to what they see as the experience and the value you can offer them.

Is the tourist sector capable of being the sector that most helps to consolidate a recovery in employment in Spain?

Even during the years of the crisis, it has brought in an income from abroad that has kept flowing. What we are seeing now is that domestic demand is growing and can continue to do so if we can avoid making strategic mistakes. And if we can avoid creating problems for ourselves, the tourist industry will have a significant impact on unemployment figures. There is now a debate as to what we can do about tourist apartments, with vacation rentals. When you have apartments that can sleep eight or ten people, with no taxes being paid, or where you could have a fire and there’s no safety, this can have a serious impact over the long term.