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The low impact of the high-speed train on international tourism

August 31, 2018

At the height of the tourist season, a study by the Applied Economics & Management, Research Group, based at the University of Seville, is a pioneering analysis of the relationship between the high-speed train and tourism in Europe, in contrast with tourism's relationship with the plane.

For the Economics Professor, José Ignacio Castillo Manzano, there is undeniably a complementary relationship between air travel and the high-speed train, which would justify the development of joint strategies, starting with rail connections between airports and railway stations with high-speed connections, and going as far as joint plane and high-speed train tickets, as are already sold by one airline. However, and although both means of transport favour tourism, European experience indicates that their influence is very different.

The plane has a close and direct relationship with both national and international tourism. Additionally, not only is it related to a higher volume of visitors, but there is also a relationship with longer stays, especially for international tourism.

In contrast, according to Castillo Manzano, "the relationship the high-speed train has is mostly with national tourism, and it lacks any significant influence on international tourism". For the professor, in the case of Spain, "a larger presence of foreign tourists on the AVE in Spain would act as a mere optical illusion on the supposed relevance of this means of transport on international tourism as, really, the great majority of these tourists have come via the many and cheap flight connections that our airports offer. If the AVE network did not exist, these tourists would instead travel around the country using the greater number of and more frequent domestic flight connections that would exist if the AVE wasn't there". According to this study, there is not even any empirical evidence that, thanks to high-speed train connections, foreign tourists extend their stays in the country.

Of course, the relationship of the high-speed train with national tourism is much closer and more positive than the plane's. But, for Castillo Manzano, the share of earnings that are generated by our high-speed train in the fomentation of domestic tourism remains to be studied. Giving as an example the first AVE line between Madrid and Seville, he explains that "although there is no doubt that this was very important in Seville being able to attract many more tourists from the centre of the peninsula, especially in the nineties, while the planned high-speed train network has been developed, incorporating new cities, it is very probable that the more significant part of the money earned goes to Madrid. Doubtlessly, what has happened is a significant improvement in access facilities from our country's main cities to the capital. Thanks to the AVE, Madrid is now the easiest place to organise a national conference, a work meeting or for ordinary Spanish people to have a weekend break to, for example, see a musical or a new exhibition at the Prado. However, tourists that come from Madrid do not only head for Seville, rather they visit different cities on the AVE".

On the other hand, the study also concludes that those countries with a lower per capita income and lower prices in the tourist sector are those that attract more foreign tourists, whereas the more developed a country is, the more national tourism it generates. So, for the professor, encouraging the economic development of a country is also a magnificent policy for promoting domestic tourism.

In contrast, if we are speaking about attracting foreign tourism, for Castillo good airport management and infrastructure is fundamental. "There are few more effective tourism policies than the setting of optimal airport taxes that favour the opening of new routes and increased flight frequency and combat the highly seasonal nature of the tourism industry". In this way, "the good working of the pairing of transport and tourism is the best guarantee of the future of the sector, hence the need to contribute to finding long-term solutions to problems related to transport that threaten, as with the taxi sector, systemic delays at some airports, or labour problems as experienced by Ryanair".

This research was financed via competitive bidding by the Economy Ministry and published by the leading scientific journal Annals of Tourism Research. Its many authors were the researchers José Ignacio Castillo Manzano, Mercedes Castro-Nuño and Lourdes López-Valpuesta from the University of Seville and Diego Pedregal from the University of Castilla-La Mancha. The study used a wide database from the 28 countries of the European Union and used panel dynamic data models with fixed effects, of both time and country.

University of Seville

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