Spain official unveils marketing campaign, 'Net programs

Spain is set to reinvigorate U.S. marketing efforts scaled back after Sept. 11. Travel Weekly Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski discussed the new tourism climate with Juan Jose Guemes, the country's secretary general of tourism:

Travel Weekly:What sort of hit did Spain take in terms of tourist arrivals last year?

Juan Jose Guemes: Our performance was better than most of Europe's. For all 2001, we attracted 1.7 million more tourists than the previous year -- a growth of 3.4% -- mainly because Spain is a favorite of Europeans.

But from the U.S, we first saw a dip due to the [poor] economy. Obviously, that impacted on families' budgets and the travel industry. And then, of course, Sept. 11 had a psychological impact.

TW:Are you seeing a rebound in arrivals from the U.S?

Guemes: An economic recovery is now under way, and after Sept. 11, U.S. society restored its confidence ... and the desire to travel is back.

We see a growing tendency among Americans to first travel domestically, then to nearby markets like the Caribbean and, finally, to Europe.

TW:Last year, Basque terrorists staged a campaign against some tourism targets in Spain. With Americans still jittery after Sept. 11, does that pose a marketing challenge?

Guemes: What we've learned in the past few months, in a dramatic way, is that terrorism is a global problem.

I'm going to ask you a question: Do you think what happened [in New York] on Sept. 11 is a reason not to visit the U.S.?

It is a problem we have to fight together. Today, we cannot say that one nation is the [sole] target of terrorism.

TW:How were U.S. arrivals for the first three months of this year in comparison with last?

Guemes: January and February arrivals were almost at the same level as in 2000, but I must be honest -- I'm not so interested in month-to-month figures. I think it's a mistake to look only at a three-month picture; we must look at the next 18 months and plan ahead.

Among our strategies are to increase our budget to promote Spain and to provide the trade and consumers with informative tools -- such as our new Internet portal.

Our task now is to take advantage of the economic recovery and continue to do what we've done for years, which is to gain market share.

TW:According to the Tourist Office of Spain, some $2 million will be spent on the new promotions, compared with almost $5 million last year.

Guemes: Yes, but that will be spent in just four months. Again, 18 months; when we plan for investments in ads and marketing, we have to think in terms of that period.

And we've already decided to spend in 2003 a much higher budget than in 2001.

TW:ASTA and Spain had a bit of a falling out after the World Travel Congress was moved from Seville to New York. How are relations now with ASTA, and with travel agents in general?

Guemes: Spain's good relations with travel agents -- we have built strong relationships with individuals through initiatives such as the Spain specialist program -- is one of our competitive advantages.

What happened with ASTA is best forgotten. It's anecdotal now, but the decision taken by the directors of ASTA was not [made] by every individual member.

But let's move on to what we see now, which is huge opportunities to work together with U.S. travel agents.

TW:Can you describe some of these opportunities?

Guemes: We are going to [reinvigorate] our advertisement campaign; it's another way to help agents sell Spain. It will be nationwide but focused on the main origin markets.

And in creating our new Internet portal, in which we invested $8 million, one of the goals was to provide agents with tools to plan travel to Spain.

The U.S. market is five years ahead in using the Internet as a way to plan trips, but I think in some way we're innovating and we'll be leaders in that worldwide.

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