With iconic cities spread across breathtaking landscapes, a treasure trove of History and culture shaped by multiple civilizations and religious identities combined with its pulsating energy and unique way of life, Spain continues to be one of the top visited countries in the World – in 2018, the country welcomed more than 82 million tourists, staying over 460 million room nights and bringing in a whopping 89.5 Billion dollars of tourism revenue into the country.
Amongst these impressive figures is also a steady increase of visitors from the GCC region. Over the past years, GCC travellers have doubled their arrivals into Spain – from 119,000 in 2014 to 240,000 tourists in 2018. “While UAE ranks No:1 in terms of arrivals – close to 100,000 tourists, Kuwait visitors have doubled in the last 4 years – In 2017, we had more than 39,000 tourists from Kuwait”, states Mr. Miguel Nieto-Sandoval, Tourism Counsellor for the Spanish Tourism Office in the GCC.
A major contributing factor for the growth in arrivals is the increased connectivity with Spain. In the past 2 years, many national airlines have increased their frequency, capacity and routes to Spain. Currently, 3 cities – Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga all have direct connectivity with the GCC region. Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, has announced its first touch point in Spain with a seasonal flight to Malaga this summer.
Besides the growing number of tourists, GCC nationals are also one of biggest spenders during their visit to Spain, spending on an average $1,413 per trip. Countries like UAE & KSA feature among the top spenders in Spain and their average spend is 45% higher than the next highest country globally. “Spain has now recently introduced a digital procedure (DIVA) and eliminated the minimum ceiling spend for claiming VAT refunds. This combined with the fact that Spain offers a great choice of Spanish designer brands, luxury shopping villages and street labels should hopefully encourage more tourists to indulge in a shopping spree during their next visit to Spain!”, adds Mr. Nieto-Sandoval.
Focus for the Tourism Board
Mediterranean cruises and the love of football has placed Barcelona as the top city favoured GCC travellers in Spain. This is followed by Madrid and the city of Malaga on the Costa del Sol. “Our aim as the Tourism Office of Spain is to educate and highlight other beautiful locations in and around these cities that are highly accessible by high speed train (AVE) or are a short ride away, thereby increasing the average length of stay in these cities. For eg, cities like Toledo, Segovia and Cuenca outside Madrid are an average of 30 minutes away from the capital by AVE and are steeped in charm and History. Similarly, Barcelona is a gateway to explore the breath taking Costa Brava, PortAventura-Ferrari Land theme park, Monsterrat or even to head out to the Pyrenees mountains.” explains Mr. Nieto-Sandoval.”
Similarly, while majority of the tourists visit the coastal town of Malaga and Marbella, known for their beautiful beaches and luxurious retail and leisure pursuits, the Tourism Board aims to encourage tourists from the GCC to explore the region of Andalucia itself. “Home for over 800 years to the Moorish Empire, exploring the Arab legacy in Andalucia from the Cordoba Mosque to the Alhambra Palace in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville is an absolute must do for anyone from the Gulf Region!”, recommends, Mr. Nieto-Sandoval.
Other destinations that have good potential for the GCC market are the Balearic and the Canary Islands. Tenerife, the most popular of the Canary Islands is ideal for both families and honeymooners looking for a premium island getaway with activities for all ages. The Balearic Islands is most famous for Ibiza, a party lover’s paradise, and just an hour´s flight from the mainlad.
The Tourism Board is working actively on ways to provide accurate and relevant information for tourists researching their next visit to Spain. “We are also one of the few tourism boards who have invested in creating a website with information specifically tailored for the GCC traveller – www.spain.info/gcc/ ”. Available in both English and Arabic, the website highlights places to be explored around the most known destinations, recommendations for families, shopping, halal restaurants, mosques and also offers a link directly to the BLS website, the company responsible for processing Schengen visas to Spain.
The general trend so far from the GCC is to visit Spain in the summer months of July and August. The Tourism Board recently ran a successful online winter marketing campaign to showcase how Spain can be a fantastic option for a winter vacation. “Our figures from October to December in 2018 from the Gulf Region has shown a steady increase month on month from previous years – 18 % on an average, and I believe that the GCC traveller is slowly awakening to how Spain can be an all year round destination to enjoy. Not just the Christmas markets and traditions that are unique, but Spain also offers fantastic weather year round in places like the Canary Islands or the Costa del Sol. Also, unlike most destinations that wind down during winter, the streets of Spain are still bustling, with shops and restaurants open till late night with an active festive calendar.”
Spain Travel Roadshow
The Spanish Tourism Board (TURESPAÑA) helds its GCC Travel Trade Roadshow, the Spain Travel Roadshow, in Dubai and Kuwait on the 01st and 2nd May 2019. Bringing in over 15 Spanish entities from local tourism boards, hotel chains and boutique hotels, DMCs to theme parks, the roadshow was organized in partnership with Gulf Air in both cities. The aim of the workshop was to offer opportunities for one to one interactions between the local trade and the Spanish partners in a professional workshop setting.
Besides the popular tourism board of Costa del Sol, the roadshow also had Tenerife Select showcasing the beautiful island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Seville Tourist Board as well as Turismo de Galicia, from the north of Spain – a yet to be discovered region for the GCC market.
Amongst accommodation providers, there were the well known Spanish hotel companies of NH & Iberostar as well as the Barcelona Hotel Association and Eco Lodge from Ibiza.
DMC group included companies that provide all services like Across Spain, Guest Incoming, Premium Incoming & Spain Travel Express as well as those specialised in MICE, like Alo Spain, or in escorted holidays, like Europamundo Vacations.
PortAventura World, a very popular and innovative them park located just an hour away from Barcelona also participated in the workshop.
These companies and boards represented a relevant part of the wide offer that Tourspain’s headquarters has gathered to let the GCC markets get to know the Spanish tourism products and destinations. It’s a step forward to increase the business between both parts.