PART V - CASE STUDY 12.2
Regional tourism planning in Spain
Regional tourism planning in Spain
Despite its position as a primary international destination and the critical significance of tourism to the Spanish economy, the general absence until very recently of effective tourism planning has been remarkable (Garcia et al., 2003). The expansion of Spanish tourism in the period between 1960 and 1975 took place under the dictatorship of General Franco and in the framework of an authoritarian, centralised state (Baidal, 2003). Developments were shaped by macro-economic policies and boosterist approaches, with high levels of speculation and little or no regulation of physical development and its impacts. Plans, where they existed, were usually considered as study documents rather than instruments for direct implementation (Baidal, 2004) and the consequences in terms of rapid deterioration of many tourism areas was, in hindsight, entirely predictable.
However, following the death of Franco in 1975 and particularly since about 1990, the Spanish government has recognised the need for a more informed, planned and sustainable approach to tourism (Burns and Sancho, 2003). This has been pursued as part of a wider policy of progressive decentralisation of power in which the regions that comprise the Spanish state have acquired an autonomous status in a wide range of policy areas, including tourism (Pearce, 1997). This regional approach has been reinforced following the entry of Spain into the EU in 1986 and subsequent access to the various support mechanisms within European regional policy.
Initially the regional plans were expected to reflect national priorities to support, in a more structured way, the expansion of tourism and, in particular, the diffusion of tourism from heavily used coastal areas to other regions that were receiving comparatively low levels of use. Part of this process has also been directed at diversification of tourism products, to capitalise on undeveloped sectors, such as rural tourism (Mintel, 2003b). However, as the regional approach has matured, regional plans have also come to reflect – as one would expect – specific regional issues. Thus in the Balearics, for example, the regional plan is focused by the extreme pressures of growth that have been exerted on destinations such as Mallorca and emphasises policies such as limitations on the growth of urban resorts; increases in the extent of protected areas; stricter controls on building in rural areas; and restructuring of mature tourism regions on the coast (Baidal, 2004).
In the process of strengthening regional approaches to tourism development, the impact of EU regional policy – particularly the European Regional Development Fund – has been especially important. In the 1990s almost three-quarters of Spanish territory qualified as Objective 1 regions (in which GDP per person was below 75 per cent of the EU average) while smaller areas qualified as Objective 2 regions (areas affected by industrial decline) or Objective 5b (areas of rural development). These designations gave a significant boost to regional policy and planning in the autonomous communities, as well as a considerable increase in the availability of economic resources (Baidal, 2003).
The application of ERD funding has provided further impetus to the identification of specific approaches in different regions. Baidal (2003) notes that whilst there are several strategies that are common to tourism planning across all 17 autonomous communities (for example, a general commitment to developing tourism’s growth potential and addressing territorial imbalances), different issues now provide a focus for planning in communities with established or emerging tourism industries. Hence in the communities with established tourism industries (such as Catalonia, Valencia and Andalusia), regional programmes are typically focused round issues such as strengthening of competitiveness, modernisation and overcoming structural defects – especially in older resorts. In contrast, in areas of emerging tourism development (such as Aragon, Galicia and Castilla-la-Mancha), issues such as economic diversification, capacity building and the development of new forms of tourism around nature, culture and heritage tend to shape the regional agenda.
Overall assessments of regional tourism policy in Spain (e.g., Pearce, 1997; Baidal, 2003, 2004) suggest some significant areas of benefit around quality improvement in traditional coastal resorts; the spatial diffusion of tourism into emerging tourism regions and an associated diversification of regional economies; and the development of new tourism products in sectors such as urban, rural, events, sports and heritage tourism. However, although regional planning has played an essential role in establishing the basis for all of these areas of gain, a number of evident weaknesses around the processes of regional planning have been recognised as impediments to progress. Several areas of concern have been noted.
The devolution of power has not, in practice, produced entirely clear demarcations of responsibility between national, regional and local levels of governance. Although all the autonomous regions have developed regional tourism strategies that are intended to guide local implementation, the powers invested in the local municipalities within the regions allow local areas considerable discretion in defining their own strategic directions. At the same time, the Spanish government continues to influence strategic planning directions at a national level. It retains a responsibility for the promotion of tourism abroad (Pearce, 1997) and, as a consequence of the Law of the Coasts (1988), the state also retains authority over the development of the Spanish coastline (Burns and Sancho, 2003). So whilst regional policy is envisaged as a ‘bridge’ between state objectives and the local agendas of the municipalities, articulation across these planning levels is, in practice, less than perfect.
Second, regional tourism plans and land planning processes have not been integrated in a consistent fashion and, indeed, in several regions – for example, Cantabria, Castilla y Leon, Murcia, Nararre and Valencia – tourism and land planning are quite independent. This weakness has been reinforced in many areas by a marked reluctance to develop and apply legally enforced planning regulations (Baidal, 2004). There is still a sense in which the hesitancy and lack of urgency that characterised Spanish planning in the early phases of tourism development is still present and Pearce (1997) has expressed doubts over the capacity of some of the autonomous communities to deal effectively with the rising number of EU directives that require translation into law and implementation.
Regional planning approaches have also suffered from familiar problems that occur in many institutionalised systems of being complex, slow and lacking in flexibility. Moreover, the coordination that is essential in planning a complex area such as tourism is often missing. Baidal (2004: 329) notes that ‘tourism plans often contain proposals that are hardly viable because they involve various administration departments which, on many occasions, have not even participated in the preparation of the plan’. This problem is compounded by the way that tourism planning responsibilities have been incorporated into the administrative systems of the autonomous communities.
The normal pattern has been for tourism to become a part of a larger department and only one region – the Balearics – saw the need to establish at an early stage a special Department of Tourism in its administrative framework (Pearce, 1997). Thus whilst the Spanish example demonstrates quite well the transformative potential of a regional approach to tourism policies and the ability to shape planning directions to suit contrasting regional and local needs, it also highlights the importance of effective coordination and integration of policy between the different levels of governance and within the organisational frameworks that are responsible for delivering planning on the ground. Without the latter, the potential of the former will only be partly realised.