Some people are lucky enough to come to the Costa Blanca to enjoy a well deserved retirement, but others come over here still needing to make a living.
Amongst these less fortunate folk are quite a number who are willing to chance setting up a small business. Anyone who has done this in Britain knows the value of being in contact with others in the same position and this is even more important here in Spain where you are confronted by a complicated bureaucracy in a foreign language, and need to be guided through the maze of legal requirements. All this probably sounds like fairly obvious common sense, and those who are engaged in small businesses usually set up their own network of contacts to cover these kinds of needs. However, there is one avenue of support which many people fail to think about when running a business in Spain, despite the fact that it can offer all these benefits, and a great deal more.
What I am talking about are the number of local business associations already formed by the Spanish. They know how the system works, they have personal contacts with town council and local government officials, they keep abreast of all the latest legal changes and they understand the local market. Perhaps even more importantly, they are made up of people who are like-minded, striving for the same ends and who understand each others' problems and challenges. So why do we not make more use of them? Well, one obvious reason is the language barrier, (but with a little good will and help from friends this can be overcome), another might be nervousness about working with people whose cultural attitudes and approaches to work seem alien to us, (but, after all, we have chosen to live and work in their country) but what I suspect is the main reason is probably just lack of awareness. We simply do not realise that such associations exist, that they are open for us to join, and despite their best efforts to advertise themselves, somehow do not quite manage to cross the cultural barriers that we ourselves may have put up.
One such organisation is the Torrevieja and Vega Baja Association of Catering Businesses or AEH (Asociación de Empresarios de Hostelería de Torrevieja y Comarca) and I went to talk to the president of the association, a man by the name of José Antonio Chazarra. Mr. Chazarra told me that the AEH, which exists for the benefit of business people from all sectors of the catering industry including restaurants, bars, cafés, pubs and hotels, is over 50 years old, and is the oldest association of its kind in Torrevieja. At present it has more than 300 members and is very easy to join. You need to have bought or rented your business premises and have obtained your opening license (licencia de apertura) from the town hall. You can then take these papers and a photocopy of your passport or identity card (or your company deeds if you have formed a company) along to the office at 145 Ramon Gallud to register as a member. There is an initial registration fee of 150 euros and monthy payment of 18.76 euros paid by direct debit. For this you will receive a whole range of services.
Firstly, they will process your registration with the Valencian Community government according to your category rating. Normally you would have to go to Alicante in person to deal with this, but the association is able to apply on your behalf, and issue you with all your necessary documentation within about a week. Should you wish your category to be altered at any time, the association will advise you, explain any necessary regulations and process your paperwork. Through the association you will receive up-dates on changes in the law, information about grants or subsidies, free consultation on all aspects of tax, labour and marketing laws as well as discounts on any legal work undertaken on your behalf.
The association provides many short courses free of charge for members, such as computer studies, management, wines, cake-making, customer attention and so on and they give a discount on obligatory government courses on food handling and health and safety. At the moment the association shares its building, which is equipped with computer room and two modern classrooms, with the Centre for the Development of Tourism, or CDT (Centro de Desarrollo Turístico). However, Torrevieja town hall is in the process of building a new premises for the CDT near the Municipal Police Station in Torrevieja which is due to be completed next year, and will house the best catering training institution in the Valencian Community. There will be a huge range of short courses dealing with all aspects of the hotel and catering industries, including language courses.
Since my main aim in talking to Jose Antonio Chazarra was to see how his organisation could be of interest to the English speaking readers of CB Friday, I kept bringing him back to the question of how useful all these things were to people who did not speak fluent Spanish. He told me that there are already a small number of English-speaking members of AEH and that they would like to receive more. Everyone in the hotel and catering industry in Torrevieja is used to dealing with English people, so although the two full-time office workers speak little English, they often phone up members to ask for help when they run into language difficulties in the office. I must say that as I sat there waiting for the interview I noticed their willingness to offer help and advice of all sorts to members who were calling in.
As far as the courses are concerned, there are also ways around the language problem. When the course is an official government one, it is only for a few hours a day for two or three days, and consists of going through regulations which are also laid out in an official booklet, so the person can take it away and work through it in their own time. More interestingly, we got onto talking about the short courses which will be available when the CDT centre is up and running. Mr. Chazarra told me that if a group of about 15 members got together and requested a specific course then the local government would endeavour to run it for them. This could be a course in Spanish language for English-speaking hotel and catering workers, or any other topic (the example he gave was cooking paellas) taught in English.
José Antonio Chazarra has worked in the hotel and catering industry in Torrevieja all his life and at his last restaurant, El Tiburón, eighty per cent of his customers were English. As a result he has many English friends, is able to speak the language and has visited the UK many times. For him the English visitors to Torrevieja make good customers and have brought many benefits to the town. Mr. Chazarra is keen to make the association more accessible to English people and during our conversation he agreed enthusiastically on a number of points where the interests of English-speaking members would need to be catered for. The association has considerable weight in Torrevieja, working alongside the town hall to improve the industry's presence, participating in promotional activities in the town and negotiating on behalf of its members.
In my opinion after having talked to Mr. Chazarra at some length, if you are running a bar or restaurant in Torrevieja and the Vega Baja area you could do a lot worse than make yourself a member of the AEH. You could save yourself a lot of time and expense, and you might well find that the benefits of being part of a local association of this kind far outweigh any initial difficulties of making yourself understood. And of course, the more English speaking members there are within the association, the greater voice you will have in making things better for everyone.
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com