Will tourism bring almost 3 million jobs ever again?

5 August, 2021


After putting all its diplomatic weight on the table, the Spanish government managed to get Spain out of the British government’s latest round of travel restrictions. An oxygen balloon for tourism, a sector that has been the mainstay of accumulation in Spain since the 1960s and for whose results there have been precipitous restriction de-escalations which caused new pandemic waves. But this time, a year and a half later, it seems that “normality” is further away than ever. A good part of the tourism jobs will not come back anymore.

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2020: The collapse of tourism cripples Spanish capital and wipes out millions of jobs

Beach in Gran Canaria during the first weeks of the pandemic. The confinements signified the transition towards a "Zero Tourism" situation.
Beach in Gran Canaria during the first weeks of the pandemic. The confinements signified the transition towards a “Zero Tourism” situation.

In 2019 tourism provided 2,720,000 jobs in Spain, 12.9% of all jobs. The outbreak of the Covid pandemic and the “Zero tourism” situation sent all those workers into inactivity and cut off one of the legs of Spanish capital.

Read also: Zero Tourism, 4/28/2020

Since then the pattern has repeated itself several times over the last year: de-escalation after de-escalation ahead of time in the name of “saving the season” and enacted insufficient measures, all in order to “avoid the -metaphorical- death of businesses” even at the cost of the real death of thousands of people. A supposed “balance” that brightened the earnings only to end up unfailingly producing a new wave that slashed them again.

Result: international tourism in the first half of the year was half that of 2020, 5.4 million tourists. The 38.1 million of the same period of 2019 remain far, far away. Moreover, their total spending was 85% lower than in the year prior to the pandemic. The goal of the sector’s large capital for the remainder of the season, although modest, seems really unattainable.

The wreckage of tourism ominously presides over the figures for Spanish capital and what it holds in store for workers. Of the 447,000 workers left under temporary layoffs, 40.3% are in just two activities: “Food and Beverage Services” and “Accommodation Services”.

Tourism will never be the same and jobs will never be the same

Global tourist arrivals. 2019 compares with 2018; 2020 and 2021 with 2019.
Global tourist arrivals. 2019 compares with 2018; 2020 and 2021 with 2019.

It is by no means a problem exclusive to Spanish capital.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has published this month its global tourism barometer. Its estimates for this year are even worse than last year’s results. International tourist arrivals will fall compared to 2019 by between 95% in Asia-Pacific and 72% in the Americas. Only China and Russia have maintained or increased their passenger air transport capacity. In the rest of the world it’s all state bailouts of airlines.

Only Mexico, which is regaining a confident US “vaccinated tourism” has slightly less outrageous recovery figures… and nonetheless 40.6% lower than those of 2019. And if that wasn’t enough, summer is no longer what it used to be in the old world. As of today, The Eastern Mediterranean –Turkey, Greece, CyprusItaly and Croatia are suffering massive fires in tourist areas and Tunisia is in the throes of both a coup and peaking Covid.

No capital can withstand the pull of such a drastic drop in demand for two years without being brutally devalued. From India to Spain, hotel companies, major tour operators and airlines are pitching in agonizing stock prices.

But the fundamental thing is always the future. And tourism’s future cannot be rosy when there is an entrenched pandemic. It was clear from the beginning of the lockdowns that capitalism was not going to be able to provide a global answer to the pandemic.

The main lesson the unfolding epidemic can teach us as workers is that the threats we face as a class are global: the virus, like the crisis, knows no borders, and what happens in each place affects the rest. There are simply no national solutions. Even “coordination” is not to be expected; the interests of each national capital prevent the ruling classes from being able to provide truly global solutions. They will always have incentives to “wait a little longer”, call us to “get on with normal life” first and then call for “individual responsibility”… as long as they do not lose their competitive position.

Saving lives, not investments, Emancipation communiqué, 3/14/2020

The vaunted Covax program is not only late, it articulates a laughable number of vaccines. But nothing else was to be expected, even within the EU imperialist interests have taken precedence over vaccination needs. It is evident today to the national capitals themselves that it is this systemic incompetence to face a global problem, which actually produces the “variants”… and this is not surmountable within capitalism, so capital begins to internalize the idea that the pandemic is going to last for a long time and that a global “reconversion” is coming to tourism.

The Green Deal will reduce tourism… and its jobs

Ursula von der Leyen, Timmersmans and three commissioners - Kadri Simson, Paolo Gentiloni and Adina-Ioana Valean - present the "Fit for 55" package in Brussels under the slogan "Delivering the European Green Pact".
Ursula von der Leyen, Timmersmans and three commissioners – Kadri Simson, Paolo Gentiloni and Adina-Ioana Valean – present the “Fit for 55” package in Brussels under the slogan “Delivering the European Green Pact”.

The great hope of global capital today is the Green Deal. Accelerating it with plans like Biden’s or the EU’s “Fit for 55”, has become more urgent than ever for capital.

But such a move involves bringing into the emissions market – the same market that has driven the price of electricity spiraling into the stratospherehotels and airports as buildings, aviation fuel and cruise ship fuel… not to mention the general rise in costs.

In other words: low cost tourism will not be able to hold its current prices. The laughable rates of the financialization era that had become unsustainable with the 2008 depression of the financial markets and led to the bankruptcy of some industry giants, simply will not return… and neither will the associated jobs.

A structural problem for the “tourism powerhouses”

Hotel on Quemado beach, in Al Hoceima, one of the latest investment destinations of Spanish capital.

For national capitals such as the Spanish one, this is a real structural problem which is leading them headlong towards a deficit in the balance of trade, which will speed up the trend towards the devaluation of their investments.

The problems of Spanish capital are transposable, scaled up, to those of its peers in practically all the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. That is to say, the “priority destinations” where the European tourism multinationals had expanded. For all these national capitals, from Cuba to Turkey via Morocco or Montenegro, the question is time and again the same.

And again the question: what alternative application could Spanish capital find in order to obtain a similar amount of export revenues? None. The obsession of the Spanish bourgeoisie with “reducing dependence on tourism” is like a brook trout dreaming of reducing its dependence on water. It would be desirable not to drown during every drought. But you cannot change millions of years of evolution at convenience. […]

As in 2009, the only way to recover export capacity within its reach is to lower real wages in order to sell abroad more cheaply. With a world market at rock bottom and no tourism, that means a much bigger blow than in 2009. For Spanish capital the alternative to the “country of waiters” is a country of unemployed and ultra-precarious people earning below the current minimum wage.

Zero Tourism, 28/4/2020


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