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TOURISM

FOCUS: How Spain’s staff shortages spell trouble for tourism

In normal times, Pablo González would never have considered closing his restaurant at the height of summer. But this year, he's been forced to do just that for one day a week due to a lack of staff.

spain staff shortages tourism
Aware of the problem, Spain's left-wing government announced an easing of the rules for foreign workers at the start of June. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)

“I advertised online… and I’ve asked everywhere, but until now I haven’t had any success,” says González, who runs the Taberna Andaluza in Benidorm, a hub for mass tourism on Spain’s southeastern coast.

At full capacity, his restaurant can seat 120 people, but he is currently two waiters short among a staff of 16, making it “impossible” to open seven days a week.

“My staff need to rest,” he says with a shrug.

Whether it’s chefs, bar staff or dishwashers, many bars, restaurants and cafes across Benidorm are struggling to recruit workers, generating a new source of tension after two years of pandemic.

“It looks like it’s going to be a great summer,” says Alex Fratini, watching tourists sit down on the terrace of his cafe, one of eight establishments he runs in Benidorm.

“But the lack of staff is really problematic.”

“We’ve always had problems finding people, but we’ve never seen it this bad,” he told AFP.

“Two weeks ago, we’d lined up 10 people for interview, but none of them showed up!”

spain staff shortages

The decreasing interest in jobs in the hospitality sector has affected the entire industry, from the Balearic Islands to the Costa Brava. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

A job with little appeal

Diego Salinas, head of Benidorm’s Abreca association that represents bars, restaurants and cafes, believes there are some 1,200 vacancies in the sector, saying “various factors” were to blame.

Among them were the seasonal nature of employment, the lack of training and the after-effects of the Covid crisis.

“With the pandemic, many staff left and haven’t come back because they found work in other sectors,” he told AFP.

And the situation has been exacerbated by Benidorm’s lack of housing, with many empty flats “turned into tourist apartments with very high rental costs”, Salinas explained.

“So it is very difficult for workers to find housing.”

For Francisco Giner, a union representative who works at a hotel in the town, Covid merely served to put a spotlight on problems that already existed, such as “low salaries” and “somewhat awful working conditions”.

During the lockdown, “many people realised they didn’t want to work in this sector,” where the work is “intense” and “difficult to balance with family life”.

Former waitress Lucia Camilia, who lives in Barcelona, agrees, pointing to the “job insecurity” in the sector.

“You have to work at weekends, you miss birthdays… and you just don’t feel valued.”

READ MORE: Why no one wants to be a waiter in Spain anymore

A widespread problem

Before the pandemic, Spain was the world’s second most popular tourist destination after France, with the sector accounting for 12.4 percent of its economy.

But the decreasing interest in jobs in the sector has affected the entire industry, from the Balearic Islands to the Costa Brava.

Employers’ organisations say there are some 50,000 job positions unfilled, in what is a paradox given Spain’s 13.65 percent unemployment rate — one of the highest levels in the OECD.

The problem is “widespread” and can only be solved through “major reforms”, says Emilio Gallego, secretary-general of the employers’ organisation Hosteleria de Espana, calling for “emergency measures” to be put in place.

Aware of the problem, Spain’s left-wing government announced an easing of the rules for foreign workers at the start of June.

staff shortage spain tourism

There are an estimated 50,000 waiter vacancies that haven’t filled in Spain ahead of the key summer season. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz has also encouraged the sector to raise salaries.

But it’s a message which has angered some restaurant owners in Benidorm, where after talks with unions they have just agreed to implement a 4.5-percent salary hike.

“If the problem was down to salaries, the market would adapt, because those who pay more would have more workers,” which is not the case, says a clearly frustrated Fratini.

“When there are no workers, there are just no workers,” says Angela Cabañas, who told AFP she was now offering “up to €2,000 ($2,139) a month” to find seasonal kitchen staff for her restaurant.

But even that hasn’t worked, and this summer, she will only open the bar.

“It’s a drastic decision, but I’ve no other option,” Cabañas said, admitting the situation has left her feeling very “discouraged”.

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DISCOVER SPAIN

Six beautiful villages and small towns which are close to Barcelona

Barcelona is an exciting city to live in, but it's also great for weekend getaways. Here are six of the most beautiful villages and small towns within a one or two hours' drive from the Catalan capital.

Six beautiful villages and small towns which are close to Barcelona

Whether you prefer hiking in the Pyrenees or strolling on the beaches of the Costa Brava, there are plenty of lovely places to visit just a short drive or train ride away from Barcelona.

In fact, if you live in the Catalan capital, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to ideas for weekend getaways. Here are six of the most stunning pobles (villages in Catalan) that are definitely worth a visit.

Sitges

Sitges is a popular weekend seaside destination for Barcelonans and foreigners alike, and for good reason. The town has plenty of restaurants and shops as well as a beautiful seaside promenade and beach. Don’t miss a visit to the Maricel Palace, one of the most emblematic buildings, which also houses a collection of painting, sculpture and medieval art.

A beach in Sitges. Photo: sytpymes/Pixabay

2. Castellar de n’Hug

Located on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, this village is near the waterfalls that are the source of the Llobregat river, which reaches the Mediterranean just south of Barcelona. Its well-preserved cobbled streets and stone houses are typical of the region, and if you board the Tren del ciment (the “cement train” that used to lead to a former cement factory) you can visit the nearby Artigas Gardens, designed by none other than Antoni Gaudí.

The awe-inspiring vistas of Castellar de n’Hug. Photo: Josep Monter/Pixabay

 

3. Begur

Begur is one of the Costa Brava’s most picturesque villages and its turquoise beaches attract many tourists in the summer. Surrounded by rocky cliffs and pine forests, the town has a colourful historic quarter dating back to the 15th century, but it’s also known for its grand colonial built in the early 20th century with a distinctive Indies style.

Begur is a sight to behold. Photo: Enquire/Pixabay

4. Miravet

Nestled on the slope of a hill and on the banks of the Ebro river, Miravet is a tiny village of just 700 inhabitants in the province of Tarragona. It strategic location meant it was occupied by a long series of settlers, but its 12th century Templar castle is the main attraction. The warm springs of Fontcalda are a 40-minute drive away and well worth a visit.

Miravet is as picturesque as villages come. Photo: Ryan Hogg/Pixabay

5. Peratallada

Just 22km east of Girona, this picturesque village takes its name from its stone buildings (the Catalan words pedra tallada mean ‘carved stone’). As one of the most significant centres of medieval architecture in Catalonia, it was declared a historic-artistic monument.

Find peace and quiet in Peratallada. Photo: Jaime Alcolver/Pixabay

6. Besalú

If there’s one place that exudes the Catalan middle ages, it’s probably Besalú. This town’s rich medieval legacy includes the 12th century Romanesque bridge across the Fluvià river, the Cùria Real and the residence of Cornellà, with its vast arcaded gallery, as well as several churches. A trip to the village could be followed by hike in the Volcanic Zone of La Garrotxa Natural Reserve, which includes 40 dormant volcanoes.

Travel back in time during a visit to Besalú. Photo: Adolfo Rumbo/Pixabay

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