Spain and “its smile factor”

If the economic crisis for which we are immersed in has served for something it is so that (finally), the Spanish people realize the weight and importance of tourism in the economy. With the financial stress and its hard effects on our economy, tourism has remained strong and capable of supporting the issues of the crisis. Consequently, both the administration and the media have devoted increasing attention to the tourism sector.

 The strength of tourism is supported by data and facts, data proving the importance and role that this industry has on the Spanish economy. Tourism is not only  leisure and entertainment, hence the importance of the Spanish citizens and institutions, to support this seamless industry.

 A few days ago the British journalist John Carlin, in an article published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais (“España sí puede”), explained the importance of tourism in Spain: “Managing the Spanish leisure industry is no joke. Spanish hotels, from one star to five, are probably the most efficient and most attractive in the world.”

 And one of the reasons for our appeal is the “smile factor” that Mr. Conrad Hilton asked his employees: “Give me a man who knows how smile, I’ll show him how how to work.” That is, hospitality to a stranger that has always characterized us, and for that we have to keep working because the gains can be lost if we do not take care of tourists.

 Perhaps we have coexisted so long with tourism that we are accustomed to it, and sometimes it’s not considered part of the recovery of Spain, as if it should get set aside in our economy …

 Let’s start by remembering that Spain is a relatively small country, and we have a little more than 47 million people (Spanish), far from other countries and major tourist destinations like U.S., China, India, Brazil, etc.., In terms of territory and population.

 Consider some relevant data on tourism, and think together about what tourism  means for Spain:


1: Contribution to the GDP: Tourism represents 10.2% of GDP (Spanish), which is the largest sectoral contribution (Spanish) to GDP of Spain.

 2: Employment: Adding all areas of accommodation, catering, transport and additional services, the tourism sector generates 10% of all jobs in the whole country.

 3: Entry of tourists: the figures speak for themselves, especially if we compare with other touristic countries:


  • The economic forecasts for the government and business sector for 2012 is that Spain will exceed the 57 million tourists reached in 2011, and reach 58.4 million foreign visitors, representing a 2.7% increase. This influx of tourists will mean 8 million more than the entire African continent, and only 1.5 million less than all the Middle Eastern countries (60 million).


  • Spain was the third most visited country in the world in 2011, after France (77 million) and U.S. (60 million), followed by China (55 million).


  • More foreign tourists enter  Spain than South and Central America combined (52 million approximately), including the Caribbean Islands.


  • Communities such as Catalonia received 13.1 million foreign tourists in 2010, more than Argentina (5.2), Brazil (5.1 million) and Chile (2.7) together.


4: Spain is more than just sun and beach: Even though the supply of sun and sand continues to be enjoyed, half of foreign tourists arriving in Spain state that they do for cultural reasons, compared with 20% making it strictly for fun.


  • Major cities in terms of foreign tourism are Barcelona (5.2 million), Madrid (4 million), Valencia (1.8 million) and Seville (1 million), according to recent data (Spanish), can be categorized mainly as cultural destinations.


  • While Barcelona and Madrid are around 5 and 4 million international tourists,  “monster” cities like New York and Las Vegas are 9.7 and 6.6 million respectively, a difference I consider very unfavorable given the size and positioning internationally.


5: Hotel Industry: Spain has first-class hotels, with exceptional quality compared to any other country in the world. Unfortunately, the absence of an international certification standard, it is not possible to verify this data, but anyone who has traveled the world will agree that the level that our hotels have two to four stars is much higher than any another country. In high-end hotels there are less obvious differences.


  • Spain has 1,400,000 hotel rooms with three, four and five stars.


  • In Mallorca there are 250,000 hotel rooms, almost the same as in Brazil (275,000).


  • The city of Madrid (82,000) and Barcelona (75,000) have almost the same as New York with (90 mil) hotel rooms.


6: Satisfaction of our tourists: So far we have seen only quantitative figures, but tourism is not just quantity, it’s also about quality, so it is very important to measure the degree of satisfaction of those who visit us year after year. In this regard, the Institute for Tourism Studies (IET) analyzes the level of satisfaction of tourists, yielding conclusive results that are sure to surprise many:


  • Tourists who visit us are happy , in fact, the overall satisfaction rate is 8.5 out of 10.


  • This high level of satisfaction is reflected in the number of repeated visits, as 63% of tourists who have visited us have done it more than 4 times, and 42% have done it over 10 times!


What does this eloquent data tell us? That tourism in Spain is a fundamental pillar of our economy. The past year has been one of the best ever for our tourism, and forecasts for 2012 are even better, but for reasons beyond our control, such as the Arab spring or political instability in other emerging countries, it has favored the entry of foreign tourists.

 But we can’t forget that although we have consolidated our global tourism, we should try to not simply sit back and rest on our laurels. We have a number of advantages compared to other countries, and this position obligates us to commit to innovation and differentiation which confirms Spain as a world power.

In order to gradually increase cultural tourism and conferences to avoid the dependence on seasonal holidays and amplify the tourist experience, are some of the aspects that we must deal with more diligence. In this sense, it is important to note that tourism is not only hotels and restaurants but rather the global travel experience. It is essential to remain in contact with local professionals and those living in the visited country, that is, in order to enrich their experience making their stay as pleasant and authentic as possible.

We return to the “smile factor” by hospitable nature, cordial and close that it has always been defined as a differential value, a detail that can make the difference between high levels of satisfaction and little constructive criticism. What is a trip? A human experience of woven relationships, recommendations and memories? There is no better way of marketing tourism than positivity and consistency, in the accommodation, services, complementary offer and the people that manage them.

 Want to help Spain? Remember the “smile factor”, and give a few!


Turespaña: Report 2011 tourist situation, OMT OMT Panorama of international tourism, IET: Balance tourism 2010, IET: tourism figures, IET: 2011 Balantur Report (Spanish)


Fabián González, ICT Project Area

Hotel Technology Institute


Photo Credit: Alejandro Amador 

  • posted by Dolores | 16 July 2012, 15:51,

    Of course, the tourist experience that is critical to repeat that figure to rise even more. That is, go through loyalty creation of a unique customer experience.

  • posted by Courtney Imel | 17 July 2012, 16:06,

    You’re right Dolores! We’re glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you 🙂

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  • posted by Courtney Imel | 11 February 2013, 18:34,

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