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"You don’t live twice: can Spain deliver a Bollywood happy ending?"
By Gour Saraff
Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Spanish economy that provides a necessary boost to an economy currently undergoing a dramatic decline. Cutbacks in healthcare, education and public services are rampant and those lucky enough to still have their jobs are often faced with longer work hours and reduced wages.
Far fewer Spaniards are traveling--domestic tourism and the amount that Spaniards spend on their vacations have decreased sharply within the last few years. In 2011, foreign tourists were almost twice as likely as Spanish residents to stay in a five-star accommodation while twice as many Spaniards stayed in two-star hotels as foreign travelers.
Not surprisingly, Spain has become more dependent on international tourism and needs to diversify its market to generate growth in this sector. Tourism is not only important for its profits but also for the direct employment that it creates and indirectly in other sectors as a multiplier.
Traditional tourism as expressed in the form of sun and beaches is in the process of being transformed into higher value added sectors.
Spain is redesigning its focus towards medical, sports, cultural, linguistic and gastronomic tourism. In the Spanish plan for Tourism in 2020 “Turismo 2020” several tendencies are highlighted, explaining the strong and weak points in the tourism sector.
Spain boasts an impressive rail system and well-developed inner city transportation options; however, when catering towards India, it does not facilitate an easy arrival as there are no direct flights between the two major cities Madrid and Mumbai. Furthermore, for Indians the process of obtaining a tourist visa to Spain can be much longer and more arduous than to neighboring countries such as France or Italy.
They are also more frequently postponed or denied, which may delay or ruin a long-awaited holiday. In fact, the Tourism Spain India conference in Valladolid Spain had to be postponed from June to September because the Indian speakers had difficulties obtaining their visas.
On the flip side, India plans on endorsing a Visa upon Arrival option to 13 more countries in the near future which would include Spain, according to the Times of India. Furthermore, the Consulate of India in Spain has employed a private agency, ARKE, to streamline the visa application process for Spaniards traveling to India thus ensuring that this process runs smoothly and that visas are prepared in a timely fashion.
Spain has to take note of its shortcomings to maintain a steady flow of tourists from India.
Given that India’s middle-class has the purchasing power to travel to the destination of their choice and in numbers will soon rival the entire population of Europe it is in Spain?s interest to court this consumer base.
The UN’s World Tourism Organisation estimates that by 2020, some 50 million Indians will be taking holidays abroad each year.
The growth in India and the economy’s contraction in Europe present a logical conclusion: Spanish-Indian cooperation in regards to tourism could prove to be a very lucrative venture for both parties.
The emergence of the middle-class family structure will encourage tourism from large developing countries like India, Brazil and China and Spain must be prepared to facilitate a family centered vacation while confronting the bureaucratic hurdles these tourists face on visa issues.
But let’s pause and think, why would Indians want to go to Spain anyway? Spain has beachfront but India has plenty of beaches too; Andalusia has sunny, warm days year round but India doesn’t lack sunny days either. Kashmira Commissariat, a chief operating officer of the leading travel tour company Kuoni India, said that after the release of the much acclaimed Bollywood film set in Spain, "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (You Don’t Get to Live Twice), Spain’s popularity soared as a tourist destination. In 2011, Indian tourism in Spain increased by 32% especially to the featured locations in the film and in 2012, 60,000 Indian tourists visited Spain, 50% more in comparison to the previous year.
The demand to see the Tomatina festival was so great that Kuoni India organized a special package deal expressly to celebrate the festival in the tiny town of Bu?ol, Valencia. Festivals and extreme sports were a draw such as the Tomatina, flamenco shows, bullfights and skydiving.
Tapas, flamenco shows, football matches and museums are also appealing. Clearly these experiences, if not singular to Spain, are largely provocative of the lively and varied image tourism in Spain boasts. Another selling point for Spain is its culture: the people have a friendly, open attitude and are easy to approach. Many know English or are tickled to hear a tourist attempt to ask a question in Spanish.
This trait is not something that all European nations can claim and as Indian native shares on her blog, “the warmth of love, care and friendship I received from people here was same as I found in India.” In an interview from expatica.com with Indian native who lives in Madrid comments that the only thing she would change would be the food: “To me, it tastes rather bland with a lot of meat and fish.
I guess my Indian palate is more attuned to stronger spices and flavours!” She reiterates the welcoming culture and likens it to her own saying, “There is a very warm and welcoming ambience that makes feel very much at home here.”
Whether it be directions to the nearest ATM, a conversation with the hotel receptionist about the weather or a profound discussion, Spaniards are ready and willing to chat, which is a meaningful benefit for the Indian tourist.
Alternately, Spain is the third most popular destination for business meetings and trade-related conferences worldwide according to the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association). MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions/Events) is prevalent in Spain due to its well-developed infrastructure, modern and traditional venues, internationally renowned accommodations and cuisine.
Their slogan in this sector is “The weather affects my mood…and my business” which insinuates that the businesspeople prefer traveling to a sunny destination for work purposes and thus would be inclined to be more productive and warmer in their business dealings.
Word of mouth is an invaluable resource when it comes to tourism. 40% of tourists who have visited Spain have returned at least 10 times.
These statistics may refer to English or German tourists who summer in Spain, perhaps own residencies there or visit expat family.
However, such a high percentage of return visits bodes well for the prospects of Indian tourists spreading the word to family and friends after an enjoyable vacation.
Sites like expat-blog.com and couchsurfing.com offer socializing opportunities for the younger generation and solo tourists.
Not limited to but focused on 20 and 30 somethings, couchsurfing.com provides travelers with community activities and mingling opportunities with other globetrotters. Expat-blog.com allows Indians to search out other Indians living or traveling in the city where they are for some comfort or to find people of other nationalities if they want to share ideas and experiences over a coffee.
And so, the seeds have been sown for a flourishing relationship between Spain and India but they must be sprouted.
Spain is an attractive country with lots of diversity to offer but to take full advantage of this potential, it must first tackle bureaucratic obstacles to facilitate tourists’ arrivals and stays in Spain. If so, Spain will be well on its way to enjoying the many benefits of an enormous tide of new tourists from India . After all you don’t get to live twice...
Gour Saraff is Director, Europe India Chamber of Commerce, Spain
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