Nine EU countries presented a joint statement calling for the adoption of a European tourism recovery plan. The news barely made the headlines. On the contrary, the press, which is becoming increasingly narcotic, tells us that there will be a return to family tourism, which is essentially national, as if little had happened. But the data and economic history tell us otherwise.
The "Spanish miracle"
Sectors and employment generated by them in Spain. 2018 data published in December 2019.
According to the latest official data, tourism contributes 12.3% of Spanish GDP and 12.7% of total employment. Spain and Portugal are, every year, the countries in which the sector represents a higher percentage of the GDP. Although there is no official data, it is very likely that at the beginning of this year it practically doubled as a percentage compared to tourism’s part in the Italian GDP.
Tourism in the Spanish balance of payments during the years of growth and stabilization plans.
relative surplus value|increase labor productivity
The first million visitors were recorded in 1951 and absolute increases were very rapid: 2,522,402 in 1955, 6,113,255 in 1960, 14,251,428 in 1965, 24,105,312 in 1970 and 30,122,478 in 1975. According to data provided by official statistics, the number of visitors had increased 12-fold in 20 years. An equivalent development had taken place with income: the $296.5 million recorded in 1960 had increased tenfold in 1973, reaching $3,216.1 million.
"The Boom of European Tourism in the Spain of the 1960s", Esther M. Sánchez
"Country of waiters"
Evolution since 1960 of GDP per capita at constant prices in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal
One of the classic clichés of the Spanish left - which, like the bourgeoisie itself, identifies modernization of capital with progress - is that the Spanish drama is a short-sighted orientation of the national capital that would have made Spain a "country of waiters".
relative surplus value|increasing exploitation in relative terms
decadence|current historical stage
Spanish capital has lost a limb
Income from foreign tourism (equivalent to exports).
Tourism accounted for 71 billion in exports in 2019 to be compared with 290 billion in goods exports and the small numbers (just over 5 billion in 2017) of non-tourist service exports.
For Spanish capital, the fall in tourism is not a "social problem"... it is losing a limb and heading for a deficit in the trade balance that will accelerate the trend towards the devaluation of national capital, as happened in 2009. With one difference: in 2011 tourism had already surpassed the 2008 income level, the last year of "prosperity", because a good part of the big Spanish hotel groups had managed to survive the financial crisis. In 2022, when tourism is expected to recover, it is very likely that a large part of the sector will have gone bankrupt or sold its assets at a loss.
Workers and the crash in tourism
Evolution of salaries in Spain by deciles (groups representing 10% of the total) between 2008 and 2014. The lowest deciles, those who earned the least, are those who lost the most in the crisis.
And again the question: what alternative application could Spanish capital find to obtain a similar amount of export earnings? None. The Spanish bourgeoisie's obsession with "reducing dependence on tourism" is like a trout from a stream dreaming of reducing its dependence on water. It would be desirable for it not to suffocate during every drought. But it cannot change millions of years of evolution at will.
As in 2009, the only way to recover export capacity within its reach is to lower real wages so that sales can be made more cheaply. With the world market at a minimum and without tourism, that means a much stronger blow than in 2009. For Spanish capital, the alternative to the "country of waiters" is a country of unemployed and ultra-precarized people earning less than the current minimum wage.
During the health crisis we are witnessing a brutal choice between saving lives and saving investments. And there has been no lack of impudence on the part of the spokespersons of capital to assert, in the midst of the massacre, the priority of capital over human life. The needs of capital are increasingly antagonistic to universal human needs. In "reconstruction" that is not going to change. Instead of contagion we will be talking about wages, instead of hospital beds and working conditions. But in the end, time and again we will be in the same: needs of capital exposed as "economic laws" against universal human needs exposed as universal workers' demands.