It was one of those ceremonies that are staged to highlight the importance of an occasion. Two drummers - one male, one female - are in traditional dress. They contrast with the stage behind them, which is quite minimalist save mainly for a vast screen. In front of the screen stand four masked people. They look serious. They include Spain’s tourism minister, Reyes Maroto.
To the right of where these four are standing, the name of the city is displayed on the wall of the stage. In two shades of blue, the letters spell out Oviedo. The four are in the capital city of the Principality of Asturias. In 1388, the heir to the throne of Castile took the title of the Prince of Asturias. The current Princess of Asturias is Leonor, daughter of King Felipe.
Oviedo and the region of which it is the capital are steeped in history as well as pomp. The closing ceremony for the 2021 Congress of Spanish Hoteliers was thus in keeping with tradition attained over many centuries.
One might of course argue that a hoteliers congress is not so important that it merits such an apparently solemn ceremony. But then hoteliers, some of them, are like lords from times past. Powerful, landowning, with dominions in foreign places, the lords once commanded small armies of loyal servants. The lords of the present are of a very different kind to feudal times, but their importance is no less diminished. A degree of ceremony can therefore be deemed appropriate.
Oviedo may be symbolic of Spain’s noble, knightly and monarchical legacy. But why was the congress there? Hoteliers are all about Mallorca, the Balearics, the Canaries, and the mainland Mediterranean regions. Are they not? Well no, of course they’re not. But like sun and beach equates to tourism in many people’s minds (most people’s minds?), so hotels line the coasts and hoteliers form associations that just ooze the sun cream of summer holidays. What is the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation if not a summertime band of seaside brothers and sisters?
The hoteliers are urban, rural and mountain as well as beach, and this beach - let it not be overlooked - doesn’t exist only in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic off the African continent. Oviedo isn’t by the sea, but Gijón is. There’s a whole coastline from Galicia to the Basque Country - the Costa de Morisco, the Costa Verde (Asturias), the Costa Cantabria, the Costa Vasca. We may forget that there is, the we who know Majorca or the Costas Blanca and Sol, but there is that whole other beach life on the Bay of Biscay and into the North Atlantic.
So, Oviedo had every right to host the congress. Asturias had every right. For Asturias, as well as its coast, has numerous, outstanding examples of all that other type of tourism they (we) keep going on about in Mallorca. Does Mallorca have paleolithic art in caves that is a World Heritage Site? No, but then Mallorca does have its own site, the Tramuntana. Indeed it does, but Asturias can also boast the Picos de Europa National Park, the tallest peak of which is more than 1,000 metres higher than the Puig Major.
It probably shouldn’t need stating that Spain has enormous geographical diversity and great richness of history and heritage. But sometimes it does perhaps need stating, as it will be being stated right now because of a tourism that is every bit as diverse.
At the congress on Friday, Reyes Maroto announced that the government’s plans for tourism sustainability will involve the spending of 615 million euros this year. Prime Minister Sánchez announced the same at the congress for PSOE in the Canaries the next day. These 615 million come from European funds and by the end of December - giving the government only a short time therefore - the whole windfall will have reached its various destinations. There will be other European handouts to follow.
In Mallorca, the government, the hoteliers and the rest of the tourism industry will eagerly anticipate receipt which, were the funds to be distributed equally, would mean a bit over 36 million each - add Ceuta and Melilla, then rather less. The distribution probably won’t be even, as Spain’s tourism isn’t even. There are the big six of Andalusia, the Balearics, the Canaries, Catalonia, Madrid and Valencia. And these all, with the exception of Madrid, have one main thing in common - sun and beach. It’s as if the sun never shines on the beaches of Asturias.
Economically, it does absolutely make sense - and justifiable sense - to skew the funding. But tourism sustainability is more than the economics of specific regions. At the Tourism Innovation Summit in Seville a couple of weeks ago, consultants Deloitte set out requirements for recuperation and transformation of Spain’s tourism - the whole country’s. The bill? 31,000 million euros. If so, then the drummers of Asturias were not drumming in celebration.