The home of Spanish pride

Alan Gallop

Guidelines Public Relations Ltd for the Spanish Tourist Office

Spain - still top of the travel pops

Spain has nudged out the United States as the world's second most popular tourism destination after France, according to the World Tourism Organization.

The US remained the world's top tourism earner, with $427 billion in l995, followed by Spain, France and Italy. Spain welcomed 65 million foreign tourists in 1995 - an increase of 4.38 per cent, compared with 60 million for France and 44 million for the US.

But Spain still remains the number one foreign holiday destination for British tourists, according to a recent survey conducted by UK-based travel agents Lunn Poly, which early in 1996 predicted that 42 per cent of all 1996 inclusive holidays would be to the country. Spain's nearest rival is Greece with a market share of 15 per cent, followed by Turkey (seven per cent), France (five per cent) and the US (five per cent).

Spanish destinations also appear three times in Lunn Poly's top five travel destinations for British travellers. The Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza) are right at the top of the travel pops, followed by the Canary Islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife and La Palma) in fourth place and destinations in mainland Spain in fifth position ahead of Florida and the Caribbean.

But growing numbers of tourists from Britain and elsewhere are discovering that there is more to Spain than sunshine holidays on the beach. Mainland Spain's huge interior is no longer a secret enjoyed only by a few specialist travellers. More and more people are now visiting the country to experience the beauty, history, culture, folklore, traditions, food and wine, flora and fauna of this part of southwestern Europe.

The Spanish capital of Madrid and the Catalonian capital of Barcelona are now popular weekend break destinations for British visitors, rivalling Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. A wide choice of scheduled and charter airline services from all parts of the UK have now made most Spanish regions highly accessible and affordable. Air fares start at just £49 for a one-way ticket to Barcelona (with EasyJet and Debonair from Luton) and other airlines flying to the country include Iberia Airlines, British Airways, GBAir and Air UK.

With 504,788 sq.kms of land to explore, shores bathed by the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and Cantabrian Sea and with thousands of years of history to draw its inspiration from, Spain is confident that it will hold onto its number one tourism poll position as Europe moves towards the dawn of a new century.

Firm relations between Spain and the rest of the world have also resulted in the country being a popular destination for business travellers. From an economic standpoint, Madrid has experienced remarkable growth during the last few years. The city's unique features have made it the hub of Spain's service industries and the country's second largest industrial centre after Barcelona.

Madrid is also one of Europe's leading business centres. This is borne out by the rate of growth experienced at the Olivar de Hinojosa district, where the Campo de las Naciones (Municipal Conference Centre) and the IFEMA industrial fairgrounds have been constructed.

The Spanish capital is well equipped with world-class hotels and can accommodate over 40,000 people in four-star hotels and another 9,400 in three-star properties. There are hotels for every taste from classic or monumental to functional and even avant-garde in choice locations scattered around the financial business or recreational districts.

Although most of the larger properties offer facilities for meetings and congresses, Madrid has one of the widest selections of conference venues available in Europe, with a large infrastructure ranging from the ballroom of a former royal palace to a number of large purpose built venues which also stage trade and consumer exhibitions.

Madrid had been placed in bottom position in a new survey looking at business travel costs in 25 international cities.

The survey, conducted by the European Union's statistical office Eurocost-Luxembourg, identifies the world's most expensive cities for overnight business travel. The most expensive was found to be Moscow, where business travellers spend around $543 for a 24-hour period, staying at a four or five-star hotel, eating lunch and dinner. Tokyo, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong were next in line - with Madrid in 25th position.

The survey reveals that Madrid is the least expensive city for visiting business travellers. A day and night in the city costs an average $2 1, including $142 for a four or five-star hotel. "We are thrilled to be last in the survey because, for once, last is first," said Mrs Covadonga Quijano, Managing Director of the Madrid Municipal Tourist Board. "Madrid offers quality at realistic prices and, as a result, hundreds of international companies are now choosing the city for international meetings, conferences and exhibitions."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country in the northeast corner of Spain, the nation's second largest city of Barcelona is where an economic success story has been taking place. Thanks to a number of urban renewal projects in recent years, the 1992 Olympic Games and the emergence of Catalonia as a leading European centre for the manufacture of automobiles, electronics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the region is now riding the crest of an economic wave.

Barcelona is also proud of its image as a leading European cultural centre. It has been the home of such prominent figures as architect Antoni Gaudi and painters Picasso, Miro and Tapies. Large collections by these and other artists can be found in the city's numerous museums and galleries.

A high percentage of Barcelona's visitors are business travellers attending exhibitions and conferences. The city now ranks among the world's top ten in the number of conventions organised annually. Last year over 100,000 people travelled to Barcelona as delegates to nearly 200 conventions or congresses and the city welcomed nearly four million international visitors. Over one million more travellers are expected to visit the city in 1997.

The city's main congress hall is only ten minutes away from the airport and close to a number of top hotels. The multi-purpose auditorium seats 1,200 and two conference rooms can handle another 1,000.

In the last five years the number of hotels in Barcelona has increased to nearly 150 and over 20,000 beds are now available. In addition to hotels in all categories, another 11,500 visitors can be accommodated in pensions, boarding houses and youth hostels.

The city's theatres, concert halls, museums and art galleries are also proving popular with tourists seeking cultural attractions. Two new museums were opened in 1995 bringing the number available in the city to 45 and a new National Theatre and refurbished Opera House opened this year providing Barcelona with over 30 venues for plays, opera, ballet and music.

Thanks to its geographic locations, Catalonia boasts two different types of cuisine. Food from the coastal areas is typically Mediterranean, making liberal use of olive oil, wine and salted ingredients while dishes from the mountain regions often consist of tasty stews and other savoury dishes, using meat and beans browned in lard and simmered slowly. Barcelona is well-known for the quality and variety of fresh fish dishes, which rank among the world's best.

Business or leisure travellers are now taking time out from Spanish commercial and cultural centres to visit Europe's newest theme park, Port Aventura, in Salou on the Costa Dorada, close to Barcelona. In its first year the new tourist attraction welcomed 2.7 million visitors - 100,000 more than expected - with an average 14,900 daily visitors.

A full programme of events for 1997 is available from:

The Spanish National Tourist Office
57-58 St. James's Street
London SW1A lLD
A 24-hour information request line is now available on 0891 66 99 20

Spain is also available on the Internet.

'Discover Spain' is the name of a new source of up-to-date information for travel agents and the general public looking for information on social customs, transport, national parks, cities, accommodation, sports, fiestas and gastronomy. Under accommodation, for example, descriptions are included about hotels and hostels around the country as well as luxury hotels located in historic buildings in all parts of Spain. The URL (web address) for details on Spain by the Spanish Tourist Authority is