Travel Agent recently paid a visit to the Tourist Office of Spain in New York City, where we met with Paloma Notario (the Office’s director) and Director General Manuel Butler Halter. We caught up on some new developments within the country, including new hotels, new high-speed rail links between cities and unexpected interests from travelers.
New Hotels, Attractions & Infrastructure
Spain will get its first-ever seven-star hotel next year when the Hotel Bahia Fenicia opens in Granada (pictured right). We hear the property will also have a cooking school attached as well as a medical spa for helping guests lead a healthier lifestyle.
The Hotel Ushuaia Ibiza opened last year in the coastal city of Ibiza and has rapidly become a model of how hotels can implement a wide range of technology: Guests don’t even need credit cards when ordering drinks or perks; they can pay by simply scanning their fingerprints. And the more socially networked will like the Facebook sharing system, which lets guests sync their Facebook profile to a wristband that they can scan at seven pillars throughout the property. Each check-in is posted to Facebook and visitors can also upload photos or update their status instantly.
Looking further ahead, Four Seasons will make its Spanish debut in the next four years when several historic Madrid townhouses are converted into a luxury hotel (pictured below).
In Ronda, Philippe Starck is designing a facility for tasting olive oil, learning how to press one’s own oil and taking cooking classes that involve the oil. Details are vague right now, but keep an eye out at TravelAgentCentral.com and LuxuryTravelAdvisor.com for more information as the opening date nears.
Back in January, we reported that the 500-mile high-speed line between Madrid and the French border was completed, leaving Spain second only to China in the size of its high-speed rail network, with 1,864 miles in service. The trip from Paris to Madrid now takes nine hours by train—down from 15. Next month, high-speed service will connect Madrid and Alicante, bringing travel time between the two cities to less than two hours. The tourism board is also setting up a program for cruise passengers to fly into Madrid, stow their luggage and hop a train down to Malaga for their departure. When they return, their luggage will be waiting for them.
Spain’s tourism board has invested heavily over the last year in learning just what attracts travelers to the country, and how to appeal to the travelers. “The first step is to know who they are and what they want,” Butler explained. Notario said that the team was very surprised to learn that many travelers to Spain were interested in the country’s natural resources—which is good to know, because Spain has the second-largest number of national parks and protected areas of any country in the world. The final report is still forthcoming, and will reveal what people enjoyed most about their trips to Spain. “Once we have that, we can determine what kind of support is needed,” Butler said, noting that fam trips, presentations and focused newsletters might be coming up.
The ongoing “I Need Spain” campaign has worked well for the Office, Butler said, and has put Spain in the front of travelers’ minds when they consider a trip to Europe: International visits are up by more than 10 percent, and visits from the United States are up by more than 9 percent. While there is no US-specific campaign as yet, Butler says that there may be one next year.
Then there’s that elephant in the room: Spain’s economy has struggled in recent months (even years), but Butler says the situation is not as dire as the New York Times makes it seem. For example, since last July, the country has seen a surplus in exports. Private debt has been driven down by more than €8 million, and the public debt is also falling dramatically, which is helping the country's overall credit rating. This, he added, makes it easier for Spain to get international funding for major products. Butler did acknowledge the need of the Office to be objective about Spain’s financial situation, but added that there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. (And it is not an AVE train.)