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‘Only the rich will travel’: How EU rules could cost Spain 11 million tourists

EU measures to reduce the aviation sector's net emissions by 2050 could have a huge impact on Spain's tourism industry and economy, the country's main airline and tourism associations have warned.

'Only the rich will travel': How EU rules could cost Spain 11 million tourists
For a country like Spain, whose tourism sector makes almost 13 percent of its overall GDP, the socioeconomic effects of the EU's new emissions law could be dramatic.(Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

Leading airline bosses have warned that EU plans to reduce the aviation industry’s net emissions to zero by 2050 could have a major impact on the Spanish tourism sector, with potential losses of 11 million international tourists a year, according to a report.

The startling figure comes from a report made by consulting firm Deloitte, who estimate that the loss of tourists could mean a reduction in Spain’s GDP by around 1.6 percent (roughly €23 billion) and the loss of 430,000 jobs by 2030. 

The economic impact would be felt across different sectors, too, with the hospitality sector projected to lose €3.6 billion, and the new tax measures on aviation alone would mean a 0.9 percent drop in GDP and 236,000 jobs lost.

READ ALSO: Spain eyes tourism record after ‘dazzling’ summer surge

For a country like Spain, whose tourism sector makes almost 13 percent of its overall GDP, the socioeconomic effects could be dramatic.

Spain is the second most visited tourist destination in the world, with over 80 million visitors a year, and it is expected that it could be one of the countries most effected by the incoming changes to the aviation sector as eight out of every ten international visitors to Spain come by plane.

The Deloitte report was presented at an event jointly held by the ALA, Spain’s airline association, and the CEOE, its business federation, during which the presidents of both bodies met with the bosses of some of the biggest airlines in the Spanish market.

‘Only the rich will travel’

The environmental measures wouldn’t only have an impact on the Spanish economy or its big airlines, however.

At the meeting Jesús Cierco, Corporate Director at Iberia Express, expressed his fear that “these measures will make only the elites able to travel,” suggesting that any increased costs to the aviation industry could be passed down to the consumer. These include the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) , the restriction of emission rights, the application of a tax on kerosene and the possible application of a €7.85 tax on airline tickets.

The Deloitte report suggests that the use of sustainable fuel to meet the 2050 deadline, which is as much as 6 times more expensive than normal fuel, combined with a tax on kerosene and reduced CO2, which will also become more expensive, mean that costs could rise for the consumer – in this case tourists hoping for cheap flights abroad. 

READ ALSO: How Spain is imposing caps on visitor numbers for its top attractions

Javier Gándara, president of ALA, explained that “airlines are committed to achieving zero net emissions by 2050 and we are already on the path of decarbonisation.”

“The sector agrees with the environmental measures that contribute to achieving this goal,” he added, “and we are willing to assume an extra cost to the extent that they contribute to the decarbonisation of the sector.”

Gándara did however warn that the measures could have an “impact on the tourism sector,” something he considers “an economic pillar for Spain.”

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10 percent of Spain’s free train travel tickets are used fraudulently

Spain's state-owned railway has offered free train travel on certain lines but some commuters are taking advantage of the rules.

10 percent of Spain's free train travel tickets are used fraudulently

Around a tenth of the free Media Distancia train tickets offered by Spain’s state-owned rail operator Renfe are being used fraudulently, according to Raquel Sánchez, Spain’s Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda.

Speaking at the EU Council of Ministers in Brussels, Sánchez explained that some cheeky travellers are reserving a place that they then do not use, filling up carriages, reducing the number of available seats and leaving other commuters without a way of travelling. In total, the Minister suggested that this fraudulent practice has only affected 3 percent of the total 2.2 million free tickets issued so far (including all the different lines) because Cercanías trains don’t require specific seat reservations.

Spain’s free train travel offer came into force on September 1st and was originally due to end on December 31st 2022, but it has now been confirmed it will be extended until at least December 2023 when the measure’s economic and environmental impact will be evaluated. 

The offer is available on trains operated by the state-owned train network Renfe, including Cercanías, Rodalies (in Catalonia), and Media Distancia (local and medium-distance journeys).

Crucially, it’s only offered on special multi-journey tickets, not on single journeys or high-speed AVE trains. 

GUIDE: How to get free train tickets in Spain

But according to Sánchez around 640,000 Media Distancia free passes have been issued so far, which means around 64,000 people have been reserving seats that they ultimately do not use, and some even do it on several trains to give themselves greater travel flexibility.

READ ALSO: Spain’s free train tickets to continue throughout 2023

Now, it seems, the Spanish government have had enough of commuters taking advantage of their kindness and are introducing sanctions for fraudulent use of their free tickets. Punishments, something Sánchez told her European colleagues were a “necessary measure,” will now be levied against repeat offenders.

Sanctions

Crafty commuters who are caught making multiple reservations and not using them could have their free travel withdrawn or their deposit taken.

These punishments have been brought in, according to the Spanish government’s Official State Gazette, to discourage certain users who on “at least three occasions have not cancelled the formalised trip at least two hours in advance and do not make the trip.”

Standing room only?

As you might expect, the offer of free train travel has proven extremely popular across Spain, and in order to keep up with demand, Renfe are set to introduce limited standing space quotas of 10 percent on high-demand routes where specific seat reservations will not be available.

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