Spain rejoices at visitor growth


EXHIBITING at Arabian Travel Market was just one of the many activities the Instituto of Turismo de Espana had planned for 2012 as part of its approach to the Middle Eastern market. With an aim to position Spain as one of the top main European tourist destinations for the region, the Spanish Tourism Board has intensified its promotional activity. Already welcoming over 57 million international visitors, Spain is Europe’s second most visited country and places fourth in world rankings.

While traditional markets for Spain include Germany, the UK, France and Italy, marketing efforts in the Middle East are starting to pay off, reflected in the recent Emirates announcement of a new daily route to Barcelona starting July 3, 2012 and doubling its frequency to Madrid from July 1. Qatar also flies daily to both Madrid and Barcelona from Doha.

Ignacio Angulo, director of the Tourism Office in Rome and responsible for the GCC countries, said: “Accurate visitor data from the region is difficult to get because several tourists enter Spain on Schengen visas from other European countries, however there has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of visas issued over the last 12 months.” 

With its natural beauty and diversity of landscapes, Spain is boosting awareness among Arab travellers, says Angulo

Communication in the region includes both above- and below-the-line activity to drive awareness. Outdoor advertising of the destination was seen throughout May on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, UAE, while the Facebook page, which was launched in September 2011, has reached 5,700 fans in barely seven months. Other activity has included stands at the Spanish Pavilion of Dubai’s ever-popular Global Village and Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari Word Park. These initiatives were designed to encourage people to ask about Spain and create brand awareness on the destination through brochures and other tourist orientated collateral. Further afield, the ‘Spanish Week in Kuwait’ showcased ten days of Spanish culture with chefs cooking Spanish dishes and delicacies and flamenco dancing. It was also the ideal opportunity for visitors to receive tourism advice and information.

From a business to business perspective, the Tourism Board has also been engaging the travel industry through two familiarisation trips which took place in the first quarter of 2012. In conjunction with Qatar Airways and Leading Hotels of the World, agents were invited from Qatar and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to experience the Mediterranean destination. Future scheduled trips also include a visit to Southern Spain for the Kuwaiti market and a press trip to Madrid and Barcelona. 

Training is a priority within the communication calendar and following similar previous successes, a Spanish delegation will visit the Middle East in November, 2012. Angulo explains the rationale: “We believe that it is very important to focus on training the professionals in the tourism sector so that they have a better knowledge of our country.” The delegation will present the main leisure destinations in the country and its tourism highlights. The Spanish Tourism Board and its efforts to drive awareness of the region can only be made easier by the similarities between the Spanish culture and the Middle East.

“Spain has a deeply-rooted historical and cultural relation with the Arab world. Our cuisine, monuments, music and even some words used in our language indicate this relationship,” explains Angulo.

In addition, the climate, natural beauty and diversity of landscapes have all contributed to the increase in visitors which has been enhanced by a strategic approach to the development of tourism infrastructure. Transport links make it easy to get to and move around the destination; 47 airports, three of which are among the top 15 in Europe, are supported by 11,000 kms of modern highway and a high-speed rail network. Suiting the GCC market’s inclination to luxury, the four and five star accommodation offers over half a million beds.

Spain is renowned for its diversity, from culture to climate, language to landscape, and the Spanish Tourism Board is confident in its ability to continue growing and working with the Middle Eastern market.  “Our country is becoming more and more attractive to the Middle East and the Middle East is becoming more an interesting market for Spain. There are many opportunities to work together,” concludes Angulo.

By Karen Osman