Spain enjoys early movers advantage

Alcazar (Moorish castle), Cordoba

Vaccinated travellers – regardless of country of origin – have been visiting Spain from June 7, making Spain one of the first European countries to open international tourists. The story of return to tourism – ‘You Deserve Spain’ – has been a positive one, with tourists flocking different parts of the country for a much-needed European break.

We speak to Daniel Rosado, Director of the Spanish Tourism Office for the Gulf region, to get more insight into the initial tourist response post border opening.

“As long as visitors are fully vaccinated at least 14 days before their trip with either an EMA- or WHO-approved vaccine, including Sinopharm, it is easy to access Spain – you just need to fill an entry form.” For those who need a tourist visa to enter, the process has been running smoothly since borders opened in June but Rosado advises travellers to “plan ahead of time, as it takes some time to be processed.”

The main Spanish gateway cities of Madrid and Barcelona are connected around the year with all the different hubs of the Middle East. “We have had great connectivity even during the worst part of the pandemic. There are direct flights with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Saudia.”

Malaga is another Spanish city with great connectivity with the Middle East. “This year all seasonal flights with Malaga have been reactivated and we even got one more flight, as Etihad launched its new route to Malaga this year. Even with the Covid-19 situation, demand for Malaga is really high, and we can even say that this year it has been the year with the best connectivity in terms of number of airlines flying to Malaga.

“This is simply great news. We still do not have official data, but if we take the case of the UAE and look at the statistics provided by ForwardKeys, we can see that there has been a great interest in Spain as a touristic destination. More people from the UAE have travelled to Spain this year than in 2020, which is something we expected, but we were very happy to see that for the month of July, numbers where even higher than in July 2019. This is a great sign – it means we are right on track to increasing the numbers.

“Clearly people see Spain as a safe destination, a place for enjoyment and to disconnect from it all.”

This summer has seen a lot of interest in the classic destinations of Spain: Andalucía, Madrid and Barcelona have been popular hangouts among tourists. “The islands have been doing very well, specially Balearic Islands,” Rosado tells us, adding, “although Canary Islands with Tenerife in the lead are starting to get attention. Something that comes as a consequence of the new situation is a stark interest in places steeped in nature and spaces that are less crowed: we have thus seen a rising demand for Green Spain, located in the north of Spain and well known for its landscapes, gastronomy and marvellous natural beauty.”

Meanwhile, Madrid, at the heart of the Spanish experience, is redefining itself as a luxury destination. “We have recently seen the opening of the first Four Seasons in Spain, the opening of a Mandarin Oriental in the city, Rosewood is also coming this autumn, to name just a few new luxury projects. Not just from the hospitality perspective, but the shopping experience is also getting redefined, combining the traditional Madrid stores, with new luxury concepts such as Galeria Canalejas, that together with El Corte Ingles or Las Rozas Village from Bicester Village Collection, gives the city a new whole shopping experience.

“The city offers a great variety of leisure options, cultural and family activities and great gastronomy, which makes it a complete destination. Recently, it has also been awarded with a Unesco recognition of one of its emblematic spots.

Forward Madrid, an event taking place in Madrid this October, is where some of the main companies and players, national and international, (including Dubai Tourism and other GCC players) will come together and debate the future of luxury travel. This forum will connect Madrid as a luxury destination with all its source markets.