It's almost as if Tenerife designed the model of mass tourism. For twenty years millions of visitors came to the island to take advantage of its year-round warm weather and low cost holiday options. During the 1990's significant levels of foreign investment was poured into the island and whole resorts sprang up quickly to cater for the demands of increasing tourist volumes. Massive hotels together with endless lines of bars and restaurants could barely cope with the numbers of visitors. By 2001 over 10 million people were coming to the Canary Islands, almost all of them arriving by air. This created the need for larger more modern airports and new terminals buildings were built. That peak in 2001 has never been repeated but Tenerife and the other islands have remained a favoured travel destination for Spanish, German and UK tourists ever since. Until 2009 that is.
The shock of a 15 percent reduction in visitor numbers has been difficult to adjust to on an island that relies so much on tourism and related services. The travel industry makes up a third of the island's commercial activity and the poor figures for 2009 have placed around a quarter of the island's population out of work.
The reasons for the big drop in tourists are fairly clear. The global recession has hit every country, including the three that provide the bulk of Tenerife's visitors, but another factor has made things even harder. The strong Euro has made the cost of holidays in the euro-zone countries increase by almost 50 per cent. This is a situation affecting not just Tenerife, but also other destinations around Europe, but the island and it's neighbours of Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura are particularly reliant of UK holiday traffic.
But the change in fortunes for this holiday destination is being taken as an opportunity for modernisation and reinvention by some businesses. Perhaps for the first time in twenty years shutting down their businesses for much-needed repairs and modernisations will not cost them too much in lost revenue. The slowdown could just be perfect timing, with many hotels still running with facilities and décor that may have been fashionable in 1990, but not today. Tired and worn hotel rooms, that have each welcomed thousands of visitors over the years can finally be given a new makeover.
Some hotels have already taken the decision to target completely different market sectors. Perhaps they already realise that the mass-market discount sector may never be the same as it one was, and that the future generations of holidaymakers will be lower in number, but more discerning and prepared to spend more on their holidays for better accommodation and service.
When the financial pressures ease and the tourist numbers start to build back up again, the businesses on Tenerife will experience a new level of competition. Theirs is little doubt that things will improve, particularly because resorts that have an all year holiday climate like the Canaries are few and far between.
With some foresight it seems the authorities on the island have been preparing for exactly the situation they find themselves in. Even with reductions in revenues from business rates, additional investment is being made in transport infrastructure and public areas are being improved. There is little doubt that this would not be possible unless the authorities had budgeted for them in advance. The island is not prepared to let go of its main commercial activity without a fight.
The tourists that come to Tenerife in the future may find a quieter location, but an improved one for that. Beaches will be cleaner and better looked after, restaurants will deliver higher quality food with better service and there are likely to be more luxury hotels that ever before. The primary market is still likely to be those seeking an averaged priced holiday, but there may be a new style of tourist coming to Tenerife. Wealthy tourists from Russia and other areas less affected by the recent financial situation are more likely to venture down to the Canaries for a winter sun holiday, whereas in the past they could have visited places like Egypt and Dubai for their winter breaks.
About the Author
Cheap flights to Tenerife have always made the island a desirable winter sun destination. Mark Bartley reviews the changing look of tourism on Tenerife.