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Tourism must make ‘tremendous cultural change’ to recover responsibly

The UK director of the Spanish National Tourist Office says it is crucial for tourism to return in a more sustainable way, which he believes will involve “tremendous cultural change” for the industry.

Manuel Butler told Abta’s Travel Convention that the UK is the “most advanced” tourism economy and must help destinations recover tourism in the aftermath of Covid in a responsible manner.

He said: “To make a business sustainable we have to understand the benefits for all the stakeholders, not just the shareholders. That means a huge and tremendous cultural change.”

Butler pointed to Spain’s €4.25 billion investment over the next three years in its inbound tourism and said the country is “making tourism part of the political agenda”. The industry represents 12% of Spain’s GDP.

The first goal is recovery after two years of interruption caused by the pandemic, he said. But he stressed it must “no longer be business as usual” and encouraged travel companies to be “open to new ideas”.

He said Spain was looking to “spread the geographical distribution of tourism” to tackle over-tourism in certain destinations – which would involve “working with the UK travel trade” and especially travel agents” to promote Spanish destinations that receive less British tourists.

Butler said Spain was looking to create “circular economies” in tourist destinations, and meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement of reducing carbon emissions.

Speaking to UK travel industry leaders, he said: “The UK is the most advanced country in tourism in the world. What happens in the UK will later happen in the rest of the world.”

He compared the upcoming changes surrounding sustainable and responsible travel to the “transformation” of the industry over the last 20 years in terms of how booking over the internet has “completely changed the landscape”.

Addressing the impact of Covid, Butler said tourism has become “more complex” with entry barriers in place to protect against spread of the virus. But he stressed: “Tourism has to be more responsible, and take on its responsibility to be sustainable.

“Not only do we need to face the changes of climate change but also social sustainability. We need to put people in the centre of our economies.”

His two main lessons from the pandemic were learning how resilient the travel industry was, and the importance of working with partners, such as Abta, he told the Travel Convention.

“Our purpose is for happier tourists coming back to the UK after their holidays in Spain,” he said. “Not just for today but for the many years ahead.”

He added: “We count on all of you, the British tourism industry. You know you are a transformative force.

“We must transform not what we do – there are great global benefits from tourism – but transform how we do these things. I’m excited to be part of this amazing journey.”

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