Aug. 17, 2021


Antoni Riera Font

Spain

Antoni Riera Font

Director, Fundación Impulsa Balears

“The economic recession has been the most significant in the history of the Balearic archipelago, and it has been the most impacted of the autonomous communities.”

BIO

Antoni Riera Font, Technical Director of the “Fundación Impulsa Balears” and Professor of Applied Economics at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB). Much of his academic career has been linked to the Research Group on Economic Analysis of the Impacts of Tourism (AEIT) and the Centre de Recerca Econòmica (CRE), from where he has directed several publications and developed contracts and research projects financed with European, state or regional funds in the field of environmental economics and regional economics. He is the author of more than fifty articles published in internationally renowned journals. He has also received several awards and is currently a member of several entities and editorial boards.


How does the Fundación Impulsa Balears serve long-term planning and decision-making for the benefit of the economy and society of the Balearic Islands?

Fundación Impulsa Balears is a platform of strategic knowledge related to the decision making process for public and private organizations. We play an important role in boosting collaboration and fostering public-private interaction. Our position on the archipelago is unique, as there is no any other institution tasked with the same objective. We have been inspired by existing platforms in Europe similar to ours, and work to promote economic, digital, and ecological transition. The Balearic Islands is a region in Spain that has achieved significant milestones of prosperity. At the start of the 21st Century, we were among the 50 richest regions of Europe. But since then, we have seen a decline in terms of GDP per capita and the region ranks 98th today. We have slid many positions in the European ranking of GDP per capita, in part due to a decline in our levels of competitiveness. One of our main tasks is to monitor the level of competitiveness of the archipelago, in order to improve those rankings. In order to do so, our organization shuns short-term factors and promotes long-term planning for the Balearic Islands based on knowledge, trends, and data and with the input of a wide array of stakeholders. All of our analysis and projects have a mid-to long-term outlook.

SMEs are positioning themselves as the backbone of many local economies. How do you work to support this important sector?

SMEs represent 99.9% of the economy in the Balearic Islands, which is a high percentage. Of that percentage, only 6% are mid-sized companies. Numerous micro and small companies represent 93% of our economy. The reality is such that it is impossible to achieve economic change without taking SMEs into account. However, with our work we provide support to any size of company. We assist in legal matters, but also in terms of labor, digitalization, coaching and research, and do so with a sector-specific approach, be it chemicals or agriculture.

Which sectors are better positioned to support economic diversification of the Balearic Islands?

Our standpoint is that each economic sector can contribute to the transformation of the region's economy; none should be left behind by this transformation. We have analyzed several factors to identify the most relevant sectors for the transformation process. In tourism, and specifically in the industry of experiences we see many opportunities to interconnect numerous areas of knowledge that the archipelago has, in terms of accommodation and leisure, for example. We can compare those areas with other bodies of knowledge that would add value to the tourism offering in terms of experience-related tourism. There are also many opportunities for the film industry. And meanwhile, we are big supporters of the so-called blue economy, which pertains to sea sports.

With tourism the main economic sector of the Balearic Islands, how do you propel its transformation toward a more sustainable business?

Sustainable tourism is among our main objectives. In our view, sustainability and competitiveness are not at odds with one another. Countries need greater competitiveness to become more sustainable and vice versa. In fact, we view sustainability as a tool that fosters sustainability. The circular economy is paramount to our organization, and it is important to apply its principles in the service sector. Much has been said about the circular economy in the industry sector, but not that much about how those principles apply to a hotel, for instance. We have worked with the World Tourism Organization and global tourism company and hotel group Iberostar to develop a circular framework to better comprehend how those principles apply to the tourism sector. It includes a business tool enabling constituent companies to conduct their own analysis. This analysis helps them to perform self-diagnosis. It helps establish a benchmark to understand how their efforts to promote the circular economy evolves, as compared to other enterprises within the sector.

What is your vision on the economy of the Balearic Islands in light of a recovery in tourism and the arrival of EU Next Generation funds?

The economy of the Baleares has been severely impacted by the pandemic. The economic recession has been the most significant in the history of the Balearic archipelago, and it has been the most impacted of the autonomous communities. Spain has recorded an average GDP decline of 10%, while in Baleares that number is about 24%. Yet, we are entering a recovery stage. With that being said, certain structural reforms are still required in the region. We are now starting to design and develop our post-COVID scenario. We are working with all stakeholders to design this scenario, as well as in accessing the Next Generation funds. We are also working on a number of transition projects that we are promoting for the organization.

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