Friday, March 8, 2013

Spain's paradors face austerity

The scope of government activity varies tremendously across different countries.  The US federal government spends most of its dollars on income maintenance programs (Social Security and Medicare mostly) and defense.  Except for USPS and the national park system, the feds tend to stay out of businesses that compete with private enterprise (ok, there's Government Motors too). 

Let's hop the pond and take a look at Spain where the national government runs a high end hotel chain.  For decades the government has purchased historic structures (churches, castles, convents, monasteries and the like) and turned them into upscale resorts.  NYT ran a travel piece last weekend about how these properties are holding up now that Spain has to make significant spending cuts.  The travel reviewer visited four properties and gave them all a thumbs up. 

The article also touched upon the business and political difficulties facing the paradors.  Initially Spain wanted to close seven paradors and have many more close for at least four months each year.  But this ran into a buzzsaw of criticism from the unions representing the employees and part of the plan was scuttled. The paradors do have new management and they are trying to update the marketing approach and manage costs more effectively.  They have their work cut out for them:
As a government enterprise, the paradors also have a bulky and inflexible staff ...  As government workers, they expect to be employed for life.  “If you have 12 people eating in the dining room, do you need 15 people in the kitchen? A private chain would adapt to the off-season numbers, cut back on staff or close for a time. But the paradors have not been doing that. They have been paying 200 people to work full time on union business alone.”
Yet as the Spaniards try to get more bang per buck on their paradors, what will happen to the staff who get downsized?  Will they be able to get jobs in hotels and restaurants in the private sector, or will they be stigmatized for their government employment?  No easy answers.   

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