Spain woos niche Indian tourists


New Delhi : With cartoonist Mario Miranda as its brand ambassador, Spain, a nation of 43 million that attracted 58 million tourists last year, hopes for an annual 10 percent rise in Indian inflows from the current 50,000.

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“We are the second most visited country in the world, a niche destination for the discerning traveller. We hope to increase arrivals from India by 10 percent annually,” Enrique Ruiz e Lera, director of the Spain Tourism Board for India, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, said at a media presentation here Thursday.

“We are growing slowly but step-by-step at a good pace,” he added of the effort to attract more Indian tourists.

Towards this end, Spain has taken a number of initiatives like improving air connectivity, easing the visa regime and opening a full-fledged tourism office in Mumbai, Singapore-based Ruiz e Lera, who is also the tourism counsellor of the Spanish embassy here, added.

“We had re-negotiated our air services’ agreement in 2006 to provide for 49 two-way flights a week. Jet Airways have promised to start a flight to Madrid via Brussels. We are also in talks with Kingfisher Airlines to make Madrid their European hub,” he pointed out.

Currently, only Qatar Airways that operates 48 flights to and from India a week offers four Doha-Madrid connecting flights.

Other foreign airlines offer non-connecting flights to Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish destinations from their European and British hubs.

A visa hotline has also been activated at the Spanish embassy here and will function 10 hours a day.

“We have also identified some reputed travel companies whose recommendations for visas we will accept.

“We want to attract more tourists from India but we also have to address security concerns,” the official maintained.

Speaking about the Mumbai office, Ruiz e Lera said a Spanish director and seven Indian staffers would man it.

“This will be one of our largest tourism offices worldwide and shows how serious we are about the Indian market,” he added.

“Given the immense potential, large dimensions and dynamics of the outbound Indian market, the Spanish government deemed that this office was necessary to handle the new opportunities that India will bring,” the official maintained.

“The location was selected for its good connectivity with the rest of India as well as being a financial and economic hub,” he added.

The potential was revealed during a yearlong Spanish government-funded survey conducted of the Indian tourism market.

The survey encompassed 1,024 one-to-one interviews in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Additionally, 46 interviews were conducted with MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) agents and conference and meeting organisers.

Buoyed by the findings of the survey, the Spain Tourism Board conducted a four-day workshop in Goa Oct 26-29 for 88 Indian travel agents and tour operators to expose them to what the country has to offer.

Nineteen Spanish officials represented the country at the “very successful workshop”, Ruiz e Lera said.

Spain’s 58 million visitors in 2006 earned the country a whopping 48 billion euros ($69 billion), with each traveller spending on average 852 euros ($1,229) during a stay of 9.4 nights.

Tourism is Spain’s main economic sector, accounting for 11 percent of its GDP, employing 12 percent of the workforce and reducing the trade deficit by 40 percent.