Employees at Spain's luxury Parador hotels, which are set in some of the country's most picturesque castles, monasteries and palaces, began a two-day strike on Friday to protest job cuts and possible closures.
The hotel group, which opened the first Parador in 1928, said a drop in demand could leave it with accumulated losses of €107 million ($140 million) by the end of the year. "The company's financial situation is untenable," it said in a statement, adding it intended to cut 644 jobs out of a workforce of 4,400. The company said that if the group did not take measures, losses would reach €139 million in 2013.
Trade union spokesman Antonio Ruda claimed the losses are partly due to the cost of refurbishing hotel buildings that don't even belong to the chain. He said most of the buildings are classified as part of Spain's national heritage and leased to the hotel chain.
"Workers are being asked to sacrifice their livelihoods to justify repairing church-owned buildings likely to be sold." Ruda noted it cost about €48 million to refurbish the Parador in the southeastern city of Cadiz, a sum accounted for as a running cost.
He said that apart from the job losses, 948 other staff would have their duties reduced to part-time work and up to seven hotels would be closed at a time when Spain's tourism industry was "the only one, more or less, surviving the financial crisis."
Government statistics published in September said a record 7.9 million tourists arrived during the peak vacation month of August, 5 percent up compared with the same month in 2011 and around 200,000 more than in the previous record month, July.
Tourism represents around 11 percent of Spain's gross domestic product and the government is trying to boost trade and create employment after the 2008 collapse of the property market, which triggered a deep financial crisis.
There are 94 Parador hotels in historic buildings in some of Spain's most beautiful locations. Among the most famous is the former Royal Hospital in Santiago de Compostela, a stunning palace with four beautiful cloisters built in 1499 to house pilgrims arriving to visit one of Christianity's most venerated shrines.
Another is situated within the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, the luxurious palace used until 1492 by southern Spain's former Islamic rulers. When Gen. Charles de Gaulle, France's military leader and late president, decided to write his memoirs, he secluded himself in Jaen's Parador, a former Moorish fortress perched atop a mountain overlooking the olive groves and hills of Andalucia.