Spain’s tourism sector: where do we want to go?

The tourism sector has experienced an energetic start to 2023, leaving behind the aftermath of the pandemic and surpassing the occupancy and revenue levels of 2019. The evolution in the remainder of 2023 is an unknown, but so far the projections are extremely favourable, although not without challenges. The main challenges facing the sector are sustainability, digitisation and talent retention, and together with three experts in these areas we look at how they have experienced them and where we are heading.

It is time to reflect. What happened this summer?

The newspaper El País analyses these positive results and claims that this summer’s bookings show a remarkable increase of 30 %, backed by a successful easter and a high flow of foreign tourists during 2022. The favourable tourism outlook drives an increase in economic growth projections for Spain, backed by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and BBVA bank.

The sector confirms that it has recovered but they are also mindful of several aspects that have changed as Merce Sanchez, COO of The Net Revenue, comments: 

“The consumer feels a great need to travel, the mentality of people has changed, deciding that the best investment of their money is to live experiences, travel and enjoy. This change is forcing hoteliers and tourism managers to improve their offerings. We are in a process of transformation in consumer expectations of tourism services.

At The Net Revenue, we have seen great growth, especially in ADR compared to previous years. Other factors, such as rising costs, have forced us to increase selling prices. Have we reached a ceiling in terms of prices? No, but they will be better received if they are accompanied by improvements, upgrades, service and a strong commitment to sustainability and digitalisation.

Let us take advantage of this “boom” in the number of travellers, who are very interested in our country, to reinvent ourselves and improve our services. Let’s capture that potential client who values our cultural and gastronomic offer, our beaches, mountains and cities. Let’s give more value to our extras, let’s improve our human quality and stand out for being an excellent host destination. Let’s take care of our employees and offer the necessary training. Only in this way will we be able to offer a “rounded” product, where the quality-price ratio will be above many other tourist destinations”.


Digital trends

Adapting to new times and new tools that make our work easier is an effort and an investment that companies make in order to maximise their profits over a period of time. It is essential to detect the problem to be solved from the outset in order to effectively choose the solution that best suits. The lack of a precise definition in terms of what, how and when to invest can be a significant obstacle to achieving positive results, whether one chooses to invest indiscriminately or not at all.

Technological discoveries and the change in society’s behaviour since 2020 has led to the creation of practical techniques that help the analysis of the sector by creating new, more specific procedures thanks to the information they provide us with about the consumer.

Algorithms such as the famous Artificial Intelligence, collect a large amount of data with which to make more precise decisions, generating results and helping us to perfect processes such as updating and managing reservations, more precise loyalty programmes, direct marketing and customer services that are more personalised to the profile of today’s consumer. Technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) combined with Big Data allow the incorporation of sensors in various objects that can be used to collect data on their condition so as to analyse and improve the quality of tourism services. Finally, teleworking, a modality that allowed us to continue to generate and cooperate during those months of confinement, is here to stay. Today’s professionals are looking for the flexibility to work from anywhere and at any time with the aim to be able to combine their personal and professional lives, so offering a fast and secure connection is an essential requirement that customers are looking for in hotels.

Sustainability in tourism supply

After the global slowdown in 2020, both businesses and consumers have become aware of the environmental impact caused by the industry through water, waste and energy management and have advocated the need to improve the quality and sustainability of tourism. Many companies have been aware of this situation for years and have actually taken steps to modify their business strategy to achieve a lower impact, while many others continue to practice greenwashing.

From the consumer’s point of view, sustainability is a concept that concerns them, and in terms of price, a decisive element when it comes to travel, they are willing to pay a difference of 2% to reduce their carbon footprint. This interest in caring for the planet leads them to check at the time of booking the company to which their money is going and to look for alternatives in terms of accommodation or transport that are more sustainable. Maribel Esparcia, Managing Partner at European Sustainable Hospitality Club informs us that: “The fact of having certifications (b2c) helps to guide guests who are aware of these certifications and to “position” the hotels, however, it must be taken into account that many of the certifications are not verified by third parties and do not comply with the requirements of more recent laws such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, CSRD, in the European framework. Certification is a tool, but not the goal. The objective should be to create value for different stakeholders in the long term, I understand that needs change over time and in each hotel the impact has to be understood according to its context”.

The decarbonisation of the economy is both essential and complex for the tourism sector and measures such as eco-fuels for aeroplanes, responsible for 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions, generate an increase in prices, creating a tourist profile that is willing to pay more but more demanding and greater competition. Maribel argues that: “Measuring the environmental and social impact is essential, but it is not enough as there are other aspects, such as measuring hotel food waste, that can have an equally significant or even greater impact. An example of a just transition is the protection and adaptation of hotels protecting guests and employees from extreme weather events. The debate of quality over quantity is nothing new, but we continue to see how in many destinations in Spain the carrying capacity of the destination is still exceeded. To change the current situation we need to invest in technology, refurbish existing asset stock and train staff to improve the efficiency and positive impact of hotels”.

As Maribel told us, in order for sustainability to be an integrated theme in a company, each of its employees must work under the same philosophy, put it into practice, with the aim of promoting these same behaviours to customers, be influential and little by little more companies will contribute to the same cause in a real way. Companies such as revbell | N&C have implemented sustainable practices in their day-to-day business such as the use of the train as a means of transport for the mobility of employees on their business trips or incentives to the team for taking personal holidays using less polluting means of transport.

Talent retention

The closure of hotels and companies in the tourism sector in 2020 caused a disconnection of many employees and generated disappointment in the way many companies were acting. Escarrer (CEO of Meliá) argues that this feeling experienced by many people, mostly young staff, made them rethink their careers and flee to other sectors.

This imbalance already began to be analysed in 2017, when several companies found it difficult to fill vacancies. This year 2023 represents a continuity of this recovery and improvement of the reference sector in this country along with the people who form it, as indicated by the Head of People and Culture of the Smart Rooms Company, Cristina Nogales:

“In a radiant summer both for the weather and for our sector, in the area of People & Culture we have been very aware that, although tourism continues to recover strongly, the pulse of true success is still set by the internal talent that takes care of the customer. The pandemic brought about a clear restructuring of values globally, with not only tourists prioritising the enjoyment of the now, but also employees.

In this context, more and more often in recruitment processes, we find a common echo of candidates who prefer work-life balance, personal fulfilment and a good working environment, even over economic conditions. However, this variable should not be forgotten with the general price increase we experienced at the beginning of the year.

For this reason, in addition to flexible remuneration platforms and advances that improve purchasing power and liquidity, during these months we have put energy into creating spaces for communication and feedback, digitalisation to allow more flexibility and leadership training. It is especially in summer and high season that our aspiration to exceed the expectations of customers looking for unique experiences should also inspire and guide our work with the expertise of our staff.”

Skilled staff play a key role in the development of a more sustainable, higher quality and more profitable tourism model, but there are several reasons that are questioned as to why this talent does not decide to stay, realising that this is a sector-wide problem in several countries. There are several reasons why talent decides to leave, such as remuneration, lack of flexibility or lack of recognition in the company.

Tourism sector : where are we heading?

The hospitality industry is undergoing a crucial transformation in its approach to sustainability, driven by growing environmental awareness and customer expectations. To embrace this evolution, investment in technology has become a key pillar, enabling efficient resource management and a more personalised experience. In addition, we should not underestimate the role of human talent in this process. Adapting the workforce to changing demands is essential for success in this new era.

The combination of sustainable management, highly skilled talent and the latest technological innovations will not only drive business profitability, but also contribute to ultimate customer satisfaction. In this exciting journey towards a more sustainable future, the collaboration of human talent and strategic vision will be key to start defining the unknown that is the future of the hospitality industry’s success.


Keywords: tourism sector, hotel, Spain, The Net Revenue, Sustainability, Talent retention

Written by Roser Ruiz Priego

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