As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Spain’s tourism officials have confirmed that they have a vested interest in staying competitive.

“After decades of success in attracting millions of visitors and expanding tourism beyond its beaches to all 17 of its autonomous regions, Spanish tourism officials realized new policies and approaches were needed to adjust to current societal needs and to ensure that tourism continued to be a mainstay of the country’s economy,” Spain’s Ministry of Tourism said. “Even before sustainability became a buzz word in environmental and conservation circles, tourism officials were taking an inventory of Spain’s tourism infrastructure and carefully making plans for future development.”

According to the Spanish Ministry of Tourism, officials last year laid the groundwork in a comprehensive strategic document, “Tourism Plan Horizon 2020,” designed to improve the quality of the country’s tourism product by the year 2020.

The plan is to ensure that Spain stays competitive in today’s marketplace. “Officials understand that it is vital to develop business models that are environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable,” the tourism ministry added. “Protection of the country’s natural scenery as well as its wealth of cultural monuments is vital.”

Spain’s Ministry of Tourism has confirmed it has allocated $1.9 billion annually and identified a number of measures to be adopted, including encouraging social responsibility about conservation and the environment and develop cutting-edge prototypes that break new ground in terms of sustainability; planning strategically and manage the growth of regional destinations through careful development and a shared public and private sector dialogue; enhancing “mature” destinations to entice different types of visitors and create an attractive environment with more economic, social and environmental benefits for residents and visitors alike; fine-tuning the impact of tourism by extending the traditional tourist season; raising visibility for lesser-known areas of the country to balance the number of visitors throughout its 17 regions; adopting “best practices” methods that will be most effective in relieving the effects of climate change; and continuing to create an innovative tourism product.

According to Spain’s Ministry of Tourism, Spain welcomed some 58 million visitors by the end of 2008. “A slight decrease from the record year of 2007, but certainly acceptable given the current world economic crisis which began last fall. American arrivals are expected to be over the million mark, which is basically the same as last year. Tourism revenues last year were $56.86 billion, and the industry currently contributes 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”

During the first tourism boom which kicked off in the 1960s, Spain focused on drawing visitors to its beautiful Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and its islands.
Spain’s tourism officials have realized that in order to remain competitive, they must focus on promoting other aspects, such as Spain’s rich patrimony of art and architecture. In the last five years, museums there have doubled in size and striking new cultural centers have debuted.

The Spanish Ministry of Tourism added that another focus of Spain’s strategic plan is enticing visitors to Spain’s lesser-known and less-developed regions. “Interestingly, several areas that have taken the initiative are in regions of the country that are not that familiar to American travelers, like the wine area of Ribera del Duero, the northern region of Asturias and Aragón.”

The Spanish hotel sector has been in the forefront of the push towards sustainable tourism. Solar panels dot the roofs of luxury five-star resorts and properties throughout the country are refurbishing and renovating with the intention of conserving energy, Spain’s Ministry of Tourism said.