Spanish tourism aims to tap into the luxury market

 Thursday, October 25, 2018 

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indexVerónica García Castelo’s family history speaks of the Spanish tourism industry and its changing ambitions. In the 1960s, her grandfather founded a sprawling three-star hotel in Madrid’s Plaza España. Then, in the 1990s, the family took over a deteriorating hotel project not far from the city’s Prado museum and relaunched what is now known as the five-star Hotel Orfila.

Today, Ms. García Castelo runs the new Heritage Madrid Hotel in the upmarket Salamanca neighbourhood, where the 46 rooms cost from €250 to €1,200 a night. The guests at the hotel, where 1920s Great Gatsby-style luxury is combined with 18th century royal portraits and Goya etchings, are not budget tourists or first-time visitors but rich Europeans and Latin Americans who are on the lookout for a mix of Michelin-starred gastronomy and high-end shopping.

Ms. García Castelo said, “My family’s idea with this hotel was to do a sort of homage to the Madrid of art and culture. It seemed to us that Madrid had what was needed for high-end cultural tourism. We have to take advantage of the competitive advantages that we have as a city — which is Real Madrid and the great well of culture we have as the capital of an empire in its day.”

Spain has long been a low-cost destination. Mass tourism came to the spotlight in the 1960s, under the dictator Francisco Franco, and its wine and olive oil was cheap and cheerful. In recent years, tourist numbers went up. In 2010, 52.7m foreign tourists visited Spain and spent €48.9bn, while 2017 saw 81.9m visitors who spent €87bn, according to government data. This makes Spain the world’s second most visited country, behind France.

Directly and indirectly, tourism accounts for almost 15 per cent of Spain’s gross domestic product, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council report. However, with cheaper countries trying to poach tourists and locals complain of drunken foreign revellers, there is a compulsion to tap more into the luxury market and upgrade Spain’s image. Although this drive has delivered promising results, the country is still far from catching up with luxury hotspots like France and Italy. Hence, it aims to tap into the luxury market to keep up with its competitors in global tourism.

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