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Business in Spain – important changes in the pipeline 

Is Spain open for business?

Shop in SpainIn 2017 Spain overtook the U.S. to become the second most visited country in the world, just behind France.  And since 2017 the number of international visitors has kept growing, finishing 2018 with an all-time record of 82.6m.  That’s a lot of people wanting to do business in Spain – spending money in the shops for example.

So it has always surprised me that with this huge number of people wandering around looking for ways to spend their money Spain’s retail sector remains firmly stuck in the past as regards opening hours, even in the busiest tourist destinations.  I accept there have been minor modifications in recent years, such as limited Sunday opening in July and August and in the run-up to the Christmas and Easter holidays for department stores and supermarkets in the cities. However, apart from that nothing has really changed.

Most shops still close between 2 and 5 on weekdays.  As a result, it is not necessary to look at your watch to know what time it is. The sound of the shutters coming down will tell you it is 2pm.  In addition, at the weekend most open only on Saturdays mornings, even at the height of the season.

Changes in the pipeline

However, the government wants this to change and the Business Secretary has put forward proposals forcing the autonomous regions to comply.  Fourteen important tourist destinations have been identified on the basis of: i) at least 200,000 inhabitants, ii) at least one million hotel nights per annum or iii) a minimum of 400,000 cruise ship passengers docked per annum.  This last one is interesting.  Málaga is the fastest growing cruise port in the Mediterranean and is well on the way to 1 million passengers docking annually.  However, if you have the misfortune to dock at the weekend you are in for a very dull time indeed with the city centre virtually a ghost town.  All shops and most restaurants are closed.

Other Andalucían cities on the list are Seville, Granada and Córdoba. They must specify those areas with the highest tourist footfall.  Within these zones seven day trading will be permitted.  In addition, opening hours of big stores is extended to 90 hours weekly, up from the current 72.  Other locations that want to benefit from these changes can apply to be designated as tourist destinations.  Countrywide, the individually owned shop with premises less than 300 square metres will be free to set their opening hours and the minimum number of festival days when shops must open is increased to 10 per year.

The hope is that these changes create employment and increase spending.  In general, department stores and supermarkets think these proposals don’t go far enough.  On the other hand, small businesses feel threatened.  What is a fact is that tourists usually have money burning a hole in their pockets and want to buy stuff. Unfortunately, far too often in Spain’s biggest tourist destinations they see shuttered shops in the middle of the day.

Siestas are nice but…

business in SpainSiesta fans make the point that shops stay open late in the evening but most overseas visitors want their dinner rather than trail around shops at an unfamiliar time.  Going home for a lie down instead of parting a tourist from their money has to stop and it will be interesting to see if these proposals are implemented and how effective they are.  The retail business in Spain may be about to get a bit of a shake up.

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