|Sevilla Tourism Week was a four-day conference looking at the present and future of this key industry in the city.|
A couple of weeks ago, a new tourism conference was held in Seville, organised by dynamic Tourism Director Antonio Jimenez.
Based around talks and round-table discussions, with plenty of robust questions from the audience, Sevilla Tourism Week (15 to 18 November) addressed a number of key issues relevant to Seville, its booming visitor numbers, and the potential for sustainable development as a tourist destination.
- How can we capture, and utilise, data about the visitors who come to Seville, such as which countries they come from, where and how long they stay, and how much they spend?
- Who is the "perfect tourist"? What is a "quality tourist"? Is it someone who stays at a luxury hotel and spends a high amount eating and shopping, or is it someone who respects their destination, regardless of their travel and spending budget.
- Should we consider limiting the number of visitors to the city, or capping the number of hotel rooms available the historic city centre, as Barcelona has done? Venice was cited as an example of a city which has been adversely affected by an unmanageably high amount of visitors.
- What methods can we use to move the pressure of visitors away from the area around the Cathedral and Alcazar, which get extremely busy and crowded during high season?
- How can we convince people to stay here longer? We need to offer more (paid-for) tourism products, according to Antonio Muñoz, Culture and Tourism Delegate of Seville City Council. And we need to seize advantages to distinguish ourselves from other cities - if Murillo 2017 (see below) goes well, we can plan other such events.
- How can we make the most of important anniversaries in the city, such as the Año de Murillo 2017 - the anniversary of the birth of Murillo, the Golden Age painter (1617 - 1682)? What is the best way to bring this major cultural event to the attention of potential visitors? What other parallel events could be organised around the theme, such as music, dance and gastronomy? This thought-provoking talk was given by Victor Cobos, Sponsorship Director of M&C Saatchi London, who was part of the team behind the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in 2012, although as with many such talks, the direct relevance to Seville, along with actionable advice, was lacking.
- Impact on the city
- How can we ensure the impact of tourism on the residents of the city remains positive, ensuring that the city is a living entity, not a ciudad museo?
- How can we avoid the historic city centre being swamped (and thereby visually affected) by fast food outlets, mini-markets and souvenir stalls (especially prevalent in barrio Santa Cruz in Seville). In Rome, a group of academics has written to the city council asking that a ban be placed on allowing any more such retail outlets in the areas around historic monuments, claiming "the historic identity of the city" is being "damaged". In Florence, meanwhile, they have insisted that restaurants in historic areas must sell a minimum of 70% locally-sourced food. When the Florentine City Council denied McDonalds permission to open an outlet in the Piazza del Duomo, the fast-food global giant responded by suing the city for $20 million.
- How do we ensure standards of quality among tour guides, when some (unlicensed ones) are ill-informed and unprofessional?
- What is the best way to make better use of the river Guadalquivir, Seville's artery, and the area around it? How can the weight of visitors around the monumental area be redirected towards the river? As a port city from where many trading ships left for the New World, the river played a key role in the city's Golden Age prosperity and power, as well as being the departure point in 1519 for Magellan's round-the-world voyage. Current plans include the soon-to-be-finished Tourist Information Centre on the Paseo del Marques de Contadero, the riverside area between the Torre del Oro and the Triana Bridge, which will include a scale model showing the geographical relationship between the river and barrios of the city, and also the river-s historical significance. Sadly, the riverside Noria (big wheel) next to the Aquarium was not a success, and is being taken down. In this discussion Manuel Aranha of Porto City Council explained how key the river Douro is to his city's tourist offering, including being able to travel by river to visit wineries.
- How can we be more family-friendly - restaurants should provide baby changing tables and hotels baby baths - this was brought up Seville Con Peques, an excellent website on things to do with kids in Seville.
Some illuminating observations from the four days:
- millennials are more concerned about having good WIFI coverage than a shower where they-re staying
- being a "destino intelligente" with free WIFI spots is key
- young Chinese prefer to save their money to travel, than to buy a house
- 30% of UK travellers list need a list of thing to see, do and eat which they can check off - such as gazpacho and flamenco
In 2016 Spain will have received around 120 million visitors, up from 109m in 2015, with that number set to rise to 150m within the next few years.
Some extremely interesting discussions came out of these talks, and the widely varied but uniformly passionate audience of hoteliers, restaurateurs, taxi drivers, tour guides, rental property owners, tour operators, travel agents, bloggers and others, entered into lively exchanges with the panellists.
The general agreement was that the conference was a major success, although it may have raised more questions that it answered. Which is not necessarily a bag thing, as such broad and fundamental issues are constantly developing and evolving, and need to be addressed in a flexible and creative way.